Much has changed in the business world since the pandemic wreaked havoc in our lives. Remote work has become the norm for office workers; in-person meetings have morphed into often mind-numbing virtual meetings and conversation has been replaced by chaterruptions. Business casual is now business sweats and networking is pretty much non-existent. Some of these changes are positive, some are not.
As more of the population becomes vaccinated, we will start to see new changes in the corporate world. Companies will slowly bring employees back to the office, but not in the same fashion as before COVID. Since employees are demonstrating they can be productive while sitting at the kitchen counter on their laptop, telework is now seen as a viable and cheaper alternative than having everyone in the office at the same time. Many businesses will adopt a hybrid work model where employees will work part time remotely and the rest of the time in the office. Workers will share “hot” desks rather than having a dedicated cubicle or office. Meetings will continue to be conducted on video meeting platforms but there will be some people meeting in-person and some videoing in. Old customs will be replaced with safer practices, such as how we greet each other. Diversity, inclusivity and equity will become very important which will require employees to have a greater understanding of biased communication and behaviors. All of these changes will create etiquette challenges and opportunities.
While we etiquette consultants don’t have answers to every question we are facing, I can share some of what I know and expect to happen.
Video meetings will continue to be the way we interact and it will be vital workers know how to present themselves professionally on these tools. Let me say right now that I’m a big believe in keeping your video on in meetings; otherwise, have a conference call if no one is going to show their face. I think people send a negative message when they keep their video off. And, there are many points to heed when using chat, such as not sending continual chat messages during a meeting. It’s like having a side conversation in an in-person meeting.
Additionally, to ensure meetings are productive, all participants will need to feel included and safe to share. This means making an extra effort to involve and engage remote workers. And as organizations become more diverse through hiring and promoting people of color, women, LGBT and older people, staff will need to respect, listen to and encourage diverse points of view.
Employees will be expected to keep shared desks and spaces tidy and sanitized when they come and go to keep from spreading germs. Expect to see a lot of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer throughout the office.
Updated Attire Norms
Work attire will become more casual except when interacting with clients and VIPs. Your yoga pants and favorite hoodie will not be appropriate in those situations whether you’re in-person or virtual. But what I like to call smart casual, which is one step down from business casual, will be acceptable in other settings.
Masks will likely be expected in the office when social distancing is not possible. Keep masks off shared surfaces such as desks and conference room tables. When in doubt, put your mask on your lap. Take note, a masked person has the right of way. Which means, if you aren’t wearing a mask in a shared space it will be incumbent that you move away or change direction when passing another person.
Elevator Dos and Don’ts
Only two to three people will be allowed to ride in one elevator at a time. Be sure to wear your mask and try to face away from others when you are less than 6 feet apart.
The handshake will disappear, at least for a while, and people will use alternative greetings. From the consensus of my clients, the wave seems to be the most popular safe greeting.
These are just a few of the etiquette changes we can expect to see as we make our way through and out of the pandemic. I am now offering a training that addresses these and other topics related to the new work norms. Make sure your staff are ready for these work shifts and are reflecting positively on your brand.