Elbow bump or namaste?

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

It's no wonder people are anxious... they don't even know how to say hello any more.

Many years ago, I was a columnist for my student newspaper. It wasn’t particularly insightful stuff – mainly juvenilia (insert your own joke here) – but I became embroiled in a bitter rivalry with another columnist, whose name I’ll spare, that drove me on. 

He was quite pompous – again, go for your life – and once ponderously opined in the paper: "You can tell a lot about a person from their bookcase."

Bookcase? We were students! My possessions at the time were restricted to a bedside lamp and anything I could get into a single black bin bag to take home at the end of term.

Covid-19 has impacted our lives in multiple and now tediously familiar ways – we’ve all done the dance of the coronavirus in busy shops or shot death stares at street sneezers in the fear that their likely hayfever isn’t a fatal sternutation.

The easing of lockdown has meant that we can "enjoy" more freedoms, but social interaction remains an awkward affair. Quite how agencies, staffed by people who have adopted bear-hugging as the default greeting or the powerful handshake as a sign of dominance, manage is an interesting question.

Do you raise your elbow and jab it, hoping that your opposite number does the same and isn’t more preoccupied by the apparent threat of an impending physical assault? Or do you stand awkwardly and imitate Prince Charles with a namaste greeting? And what’s the etiquette with clients you are eager to impress on those precious moments you can meet? And what if the person you’re doing it to does the opposite? These are very British worries.

It’s likely that some agencies have drawn up style guides to maintain consistency, along with all the other Covid-compliance changes. Quite whether these measures are enough to motivate agency staff who, according to a Nabs survey, are finding that working from home presents considerable difficulties is unclear. Staff are also anxious about a return to the office, despite more then three-quarters of respondents saying they miss the spontaneous conversations, rapport and social aspects of being there.

Diana Tickell, Nabs' chief executive, concludes that businesses must do more to improve employee well-being and that now is the time to recalibrate and rebuild culture. This, she says, will help give Covid-shy employees the confidence to return to work.

Showing staff that you care while large sections of the industry have been simultaneously laying off people at a chilling rate is a difficult tightrope to tread. Maybe the least leaders can do is advise whether to elbow bump or namaste. After all, you can probably tell a lot about a person from their Covid-compliant greeting.

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign

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