Complex Made Simple

Etiquette, business or otherwise, has changed because of COVID-19. Here’s all you need to know

Forget etiquettes of the not-so-old days. Everything has changed. Business etiquette and how you conduct yourself in public require a new set of behaviors

Use “the grasp and greet”, clasping your hands together and putting them over your heart as you approach someone It can be tempting to read and send emails or check your social media while other people are talking Sneeze into your mask, rather than removing it before a sneeze; then replace it with a clean one.

Some experts are saying that we will return to shaking hands, just not until 2025. 


How about sneezing in public, or meeting virtually? How about telling office workers how their mask should be worn? 

We have the answers and more.

When business calls

A firm handshake, a kiss on the cheek, the clink of glasses at a dinnertime toast, are among the polite gestures now on hold indefinitely because of social distancing guidelines intended to keep people safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

But etiquette experts point to safer ways of showing respect for one another, like swapping out handshakes for head nods, that have emerged in the past few months and that will likely remain with us for some time to come. 

Handshakes and greetings

Shaking hands at a time when staying 6 feet apart is the norm and even something like an elbow bump means making contact with another person and might not be appropriate. 

Instead, use “the grasp and greet,” clasping your hands together and putting them over your heart as you approach someone and the “stop, drop and nod,” standing still, dropping your hands and putting them behind your back, then nodding to say hello.

The Hindu bow with hands in a prayer position, a staple in yoga classes, seems like a good idea because it can be done at a distance. 

Invitations, events, and RSVPs

International etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer says the rules around declining events have become a bit more flexible.

“Long-standing etiquette and social graces have always dictated that if you accepted the RSVP and said you would attend, you must,” she says. “However, in light of the coronavirus, you can change your RSVP to decline if you cannot attend.”

Covered face gestures  

Interacting with others with half of your face covered means losing some of the nonverbal ways we rely on to express ourselves, like smiling.

That’s where gestures come in like a simple thumbs-up or a mock salute. 

Read: The outdoors, indoors, and security corridors of today’s remote workforce

Read: How to support the mental health and well-being of your employees

Working from your computer and using office space

If you are working from home, chances are that virtual meetings have become a regular part of your week

With online business meetings increasingly becoming the norm, it is important to be aware of the specific etiquette rules that apply. 

Being punctual, as well as starting and finishing on time, are etiquette shared between physical and virtual worlds, but make sure to keep the following meeting etiquette tips in mind.

Virtual meetings with clients

1. Mind your body language

Adopt a good seated posture by placing your feet flat on the floor and not leaning on the desk or back in the chair. Try not to fidget, look into the camera when you speak, and don’t forget to smile.

2. Minimize distractions

To reduce potential distractions, make sure that you are in a quiet spot where you are unlikely to be disturbed by pets, housemates, or other family members. Turn off your phone and avoid rustling papers or eating.  Keep your microphone on mute when you are not speaking. 

3. Keep a professional appearance

Simply rolling out of bed and switching on the computer is not going to show anyone at their best. 

A good rule of thumb is to dress the way you would as if you were meeting in person.  

4. Don’t multitask

It can be tempting to read and send emails or check your social media while other people are talking but try to focus fully on the meeting.  

Office etiquette

When remote working or whether back at the office, there will inevitably be many changes to take on board. Things that we previously took for granted, such as sharing a packet of biscuits with colleagues or shaking hands with a new client, are suddenly fraught with uncertainty.  

Here are the new expectations. 

1. Be clean at the office

Regularly wash your hands using hand sanitizers and keep your desk and workstation clean.

2. Be understanding

Understand other people’s situations and listen to their individual concerns. Many people will be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety, not only because of the global pandemic, but also the increased threat of redundancies due to the economic slowdown.

3. Respectfully remind to keep a distance

Others may be finding it hard to adjust to a new way of living and working. Politely remind people that the new workplace etiquette requires everyone to observe a two-meter distance and wear masks in enclosed spaces. 

Sneezing and other etiquettes in public

What do you do if you have to sneeze or cough? 

It’s important to cover your sneeze or coughing in some way.

Sneeze into your mask, rather than removing it before a sneeze; then replace it with a clean one. For this to happen, always carry more than one mask. 

What do you do if you encounter someone who isn’t wearing a mask or is wearing one incorrectly?

In case the person is not wearing it, suggest you lend a new one (so have more ready to give away). For mask adjustments, it’s a bit trickier. Knowing the person makes it easy to remind him/her of the adjustments but with a stranger, you may be inviting a fight, so alerting responsible management or security is better. 

At restaurants, when with clients, co-workers or family, should you tip the waiter?

Post food reporter Tim Carman wrote that “it’s more important than ever to tip restaurant workers/servers well, even if you do takeout and have, basically, zero interaction with a server. Why? Because these folks are frontline workers, helping to feed us when we’re too tired or too busy to feed ourselves. They interact with many people during the day, increasing their risk just to give us something to eat. They deserve to be tipped well.”

When paying using credit cards, place the tip in advance on your credit card is great for a no-contact transaction.