What’s the new handshake? Predictions for conducting business in the age of COVID-19

If you’re anything like us, you’re getting tired of hearing the term ‘new normal.’ While many people took the pandemic day-by-day for a while, waiting for life as we knew it to circle back, the reality is we’re starting the third quarter of the year already. As many offices come up with contingency and re-opening plans, professionals reimagine job applying and interviewing via Zoom, and everyone adjusts to life through a COVID lens, it’s vital to accept that many aspects of conducting business may be impacted for the foreseeable future. Take, for instance, the handshake. Considering it’s not recommended to go within six feet of another human, greeting someone this way isn’t safe either.

So how will we network? What will matter to keep employees engaged? How can companies attract top-tier talent? Here, predictions from leaders:

Bowing or nodding may replace the handshake.

Leadership and business coach and founder of Growth Warrior Lenore Kantor predicts new possibilities to incorporate embodiment techniques as an effort to facilitate connections during distanced meetings. As she explains, this means using symbolic gestures or mindfulness practices to replace the old handshake. One idea could be bowing, nodding or hand movements that are commonly used in yoga. If you’re familiar with conducting business in Asia, you know that bowing is already considered a way to illustrate respect, so carrying this custom to the west is an easy way to cross borders. “While these shifts may feel strange to those accustomed to more traditional business environments, we have already seen how quickly social customs can change under challenging circumstances,” she explains.

Another option may be placing your hand over your heart as a way to say ‘hello’ when meeting a colleague from afar. “While, of course, the gestures may vary by environment and corporate culture, every organization is likely to be rethinking multiple aspects of their human resources policies now and how we connect with those we know and those we have yet to meet will likely change over time,” she adds.

Video sharing will increase.

Before 2020, video conferencing wasn’t widely used across all industries. But this year has made this skill that much more imperative. Even once we are able to congregate in person again, video is here to stay, according to John Constantine, the president and CEO of ARCpoint Franchise Group. Part of this is due to the versatility that it offers: connecting with your current employees in a personal way, screening possible candidates for opportunities without putting them at risk, or in the future, without requiring them to commute in, and so on.

In fact, Constantine has started sending video messages to his employees instead of long-winded emails. This is less time-consuming, raw and real—something many appreciate in today’s workplace. “People are getting to know each other better than they would through emails alone because they’re seeing and hearing each other, and presenters are able to show some personality. Many are also showing vulnerability, recording from their homes and home offices, sometimes even allowing cameos from kids and pets,” he continues. “These videos are helping us all come across as real people, even in a business setting, and I think that’s a really positive thing.”

Digital elevator pitches will become paramount.

With the shift to more virtualized digital business, Kantor says making real connections based on trust and relationships will be more valuable than ever. And part of doing this is approaching every career opportunity or meeting with confidence. Especially with a high unemployment rate, competition is more complicated and intense, making specific candidates stand out better than others. Kantor says people will focus on several elements to set themselves apart, but one of the most impactful is having a clear elevator pitch for yourself. “This helps people understand who you are, what you do and how you add value. Strong communications skills, a compelling story and clarity around one’s focus can help you build connections more smoothly,” she shares.

People will have a thoughtful approach as to which calls are video vs. audio.

Back in March, employees greeted Zoom with glee. It was a way to see your coworkers instead of being alone at home, without any human interaction. (Or for working parents and couples: someone who wasn’t under your root and making noise.) Fast forward to August, and everyone is exhausted from always being on display. Much like old conversations in the office included considering if a conference room or a quick huddle was necessary, choosing between audio and video will become a business practice now, according to Daphne Hoppenot, the founder of The Vendry.

Recently, a business call was on the phone only, and Hoppenot felt instant relief since she could keep her speaker on as she made tea and sat back on the sofa. “In a twist of events, we were able to precisely keep things to audio because it wasn’t an introductory call and we already knew each other. With more and more conversations moving from conference line to video call, keeping things to audio-only can be a signal of keeping it casual,” she continues. “My advice: for the sake of your Zoom fatigue, remember that phone calls are an option.”

Having an online presence will become more vital.

Your LinkedIn and online portfolio are in significant need of an update if you intend to land a job during this unpredictable time. As Kantor explains, maintaining a substantial online presence will be important as people look for ways to validate who you are. And remember, it’s just as important to invest in various platforms as it is to have your own dot com. “While websites can be thrown together in a day and people will increasingly question the credibility of digital solutions that have not been fully vetted, established trusted business and personal networks have more value,” she continues. “LinkedIn, Facebook or other forums and associations show connections based on some type of common interest, business association, friendship or other shared affiliation.”

She predicts the most successful networking will happen through trusted communities that understand how to deliver value and connect their members in ways that facilitate stronger relationships.

Curated video-networking events become the norm.

Pre-pandemic, did you frequently have lunch dates with friends? Or check-ins with mentors over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee? Those small touchpoints may not have seemed significant, but they challenged you to remain relevant within your field, and they still matter now. Hoppenot is part of at least six professional groups that conduct regular, monthly sessions via Zooms. They are small and curated by a lead, and surprisingly, foster more dedication and frequency than what would have been possible in person. “They involve folks from all over the United States, if not the world, and as mothers, they let me build and strengthen my network from home over a glass of wine while my child sleeps,” she shares. “Think of a few professional contacts who share similar interests and challenges and would be willing to show up regularly, and set up a monthly catch-up with that group.”