By Julie Savarino of Business Devlopment Inc.
Even though business is opening up again, certain pandemic workplace changes are here to stay. At least for a while.
To one degree or another, every person on Earth has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The same is true for every business, professional services firm and other organization.
While many people in the United States have been vaccinated, herd immunity is still months, if not years, away. Also, how long the vaccines are effective and whether they will protect against new variants is not clear.
Business Practices We’ll Be Keeping … for Now
Certain pandemic-related workplace changes are here to stay. At least for a while. Here are five lasting — or perhaps temporary — changes that impact all organizations, including law firms:
1. Handshakes will be fewer.
Many who are vaccinated do not want to hug or shake hands anymore, even if it is safe to do so. Elbow bumps or fist bumps are preferred because they lower the risk of transferring viruses and bacteria, too. For example, at a recent party, where I met new people, some reached out their hand to shake mine, and I said, “I like elbow bumps.” I then reached out my elbow to bump theirs. Why? Because I think it is a much healthier way to greet people than the out-of-date handshake.
2. Mask-wearing may not go away anytime soon.
Many vaccinated people still wear face masks, even though it is not required by law or by the establishment. Some people just feel safer wearing a face mask when out and about; some may have autoimmune conditions. As one professional said, “I am so used to wearing a face mask now, and with the new variants, I plan to continue doing so.”
3. Physical distancing may not go away either.
Similarly, even after they are vaccinated, some people will prefer to maintain physical distance in group settings for quite some time. This may include in offices, at meetings or when attending events. So the need to be aware of, ask about, and be understanding of others’ preferences when interacting has never been more important.
4. Hybrid events are here to stay.
Going forward, all firms, companies and other organizations that are planning events — no matter how small or large — will need to offer them in a hybrid manner, both virtual and in person. We will see organizers offering a physical location for those comfortable with being around others and simultaneously offering an online version for those who prefer not to attend in-person events. Some prefer virtual events because they are uncomfortable meeting in person right now, or because of the time and expense of traveling to events, or for other reasons (e.g., child or elder care). Whatever the reason, hybrid events are not going away.
5. “Let’s meet on Zoom” is the new “Let’s go to lunch.”
The brilliant Chasity Wilson Henry used this phrase during a recent webinar called “Perfecting Your Online Presence & Pitch.” Henry’s point is that given the demands on their available time, many busy professionals, especially parents and caretakers, prefer virtual meetings. Many made this workplace change even before the pandemic hit. It is important to ask your contacts which they prefer, for example, “Would you prefer to meet on video, meet for a virtual coffee, or meet in person at a restaurant?” Remember to treat video meetings as if they were in-person meetings — that is, don’t be late, be sure to minimize distractions, and be on your toes.