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The return of the handshake…?

Diane Hall


2 young men doing a socially distanced handshake wearing face coverings

Hands up how many of you shook the hands of a new contact before Covid.

Keep your hand up if you gave your business cards out by the handful at networking events before 2020.

It’s likely that you’ve dropped one of these practices, if not both, since the pandemic came along.

Granted, for a good portion of the pandemic, we were all inside—away from other human beings, bar our families. But now that we’re tentatively mixing with others again, we may need to devise new etiquette when meeting someone new.

The humble handshake originated in the fifth century. Back then, when meeting others on your path, a handshake was not simply a way to exchange pleasantries, it was also a method of showing the other party you were not holding a weapon. Obviously, in the twenty-first century, handshakes are not used in this vein (though in some areas, maybe they should be, given the rise of knife crime), but as a way to greet someone.

When Covid came on the scene, physical contact was heavily discouraged, for fear of passing on the virus. Cash payments almost disappeared for this very reason.

Fast forward to today and the majority of people are double jabbed with a vaccine that greatly reduces the risk of serious illness, should they contract coronavirus. This doesn’t negate the risk, of course, but statistics show that those who have had the vaccine are unlikely to be as poorly from Covid than those who choose not to be jabbed.

Because we’ve lived with the coronavirus for well over a year, it’s perhaps natural that some of our habits have changed. It’s not a slight if you don’t offer your hand when meeting someone new—in some cases, you may be better thought of for doing just that…more responsible, perhaps.

2 people exchanging a business card and shaking hands

2 people exchanging a business card and shaking hands

Giving a business card to someone could be seen of equal risk to a handshake. But how do you pass your details easily to a newcomer so that the course of (business) nature can still occur?

There are a few options, though perhaps none of them as effective, convenient and well-loved as the traditional business card exchange. One is to still carry a business card, but one that bears a QR code that the other party can scan with their phone. This does rely on the third party having the appropriate technology, i.e. a QR code scanner that feeds into a CRM, or an alternative app that can store the scanned information.

This method could prove more effective than the swapping of paper cards, which easily became lost or put in a drawer and forgotten about. Even if you remembered they were there, it was often a bind to upload/enter the details from the card into your CRM system. Scanning a QR code with your phone means the other person’s details will always be with you and can be instantly retrieved. And no one gets Covid either. Result!

That’s the business cards sorted. But what about an alternative greeting? Some people opt for elbow bumps in lieu of a handshake, but I can’t see this catching on; it’s often done in jest, as if to demonstrate the absurdity of not being able to do something as simple as shake someone’s hand. Of course, there are many other ways of greeting people without touching them: a simple smile, a contained wave, open body language and a verbal greeting. Maybe this is enough?

A straw poll in this office suggested that handshakes have made a comeback. Just as masks have become a thing of the past for some people, the freedom to go out and mix with other humans has seen a lot of the precautions slide that became second nature during the early part of the pandemic. Handshakes are apparently happening across personal situations, if my colleagues are typical of the rest of the UK.

Though handshakes may still be scarce in the business world, this age-old customary greeting between two professional people could herald a return soon enough.

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