Office Etiquette For The Times

To shake or not to shake hands? As in-person business life re-emerges, it’s an important question along with other considerations such as properly riding elevators and managing voice levels. Learn some options.

08.03.2021 - Fiduciary Trust Canada

To shake or not to shake hands. That is the question. The answer was a resounding no, during the height of COVID-19, but as in-person business life re-emerges, it is a question that is garnering attention and creating some angst.

The handshake, which is thought to have been around since the ninth century B.C., was adopted as a means of confirming that when two people were greeting each other, neither was concealing a weapon in their hands.[1] Today, that concern has been replaced with worries about closer contact and airborne germs. So, people have become creative, using elbow bumps, foot bumps, waves, nods, or the namaste pose to replace the handshake. But what if you are not quite ready to shake hands and, for the first time in a long time, see a colleague coming towards you? What then? You might try slowing or coming to a stop, dropping your hands behind you, and use a warm smile, direct eye contact and a welcoming voice to let the person know you are happy to see them.[2] This option is designed to telegraph your desire not to shake hands while avoiding the awkward moment of an unanswered, outreached hand.

The right greeting is just one of the office etiquette challenges people are facing. For instance:

  • After endless hours of video calls, one might want to adjust the volume of their voice when sitting socially distanced at a meeting. Some research shows that people tend to speak 15% louder on video calls.[3]
  • The absolute polite thing to do when coming down with a cold: Stay home. Take advantage of how comfortable people have become working with each other remotely.
  • When it comes to riding the elevator, this is the place where being polite and antisocial at the same time is very acceptable. Today, there are ample tips on how to ride an elevator safely and with finesse. Some include using a pen to push buttons, riding facing the wall, and standing away from opening doors to avoid the typical accompanying gust of air and allow folks room to exit.[4]

We have learned to improvise throughout COVID-19. As we return to in-person life, it will be a while before the rules of office etiquette are crystal clear. In the meantime, kindness, patience, and a sense of humour will go a long way to helping everyone learn the steps once again. Whether COVID-19 marks the end of the handshake once and for all is something only time will truly tell.



  1. Evan Andrews, “The History of the Handshake,” History, August 9, 2016, Updated March 16, 2020,
  2. Lyndsey Matthews, “What Should Replace the Handshake When the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Over?” Town&Country, April 14, 2020,
  3. Bartleby, “The post-pandemic office etiquette,” The Economist, April 24, 2021,
  4. “Abco – 3 Tips for a Germ Free Elevator Ride,” Vimeo, June 20, 2020,


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