Business Protocol May Change in a Post-Pandemic World

72% of workers may avoid shaking hands with business contacts
Disinfecting an office desk

Employees have had to adjust to a new normal amid the coronavirus crisis, as remote working and stay-at-home orders have kept many from interacting in the workplace. Now, a new survey is suggesting that employees will have even more changes to deal with once they return to the office.

With multiple states in the beginning stages of re-opening their economies after shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing firm Robert Half conducted a survey to get a sense of how the workplace will look when employees finally do return to their offices and cubicles. The survey found that not only have employees’ attitudes about working in the office changed, but many procedures and customs may shift as well.

Social distancing in the office

More than half of professionals surveyed — 56% — said they are worried about working in close contact with their colleagues. Some plan to change their work behaviors as a result.

The customary business handshake, for example, may soon be a thing of the past. The survey found that 72% of respondents said they will reevaluate their habit of shaking hands when they meet business contacts. Others may avoid stopping to chat at the water cooler, as 61% of respondents said they would spend less time in common areas to stay socially distant from colleagues.

Work colleagues may be spending less time together overall. Meetings may become less frequent — at least those that are in-person. Nearly three-quarters of respondents — 72% — said they would schedule fewer in-person meetings. On top of that, 73% said there would likely be fewer in-person social and team-building activities with co-workers. Some employees may choose to even limit their in-person after-work socializing and host virtual happy hours instead.

Business gatherings outside of the office, as well as industry events, may also take a hit. The survey found that 59% of respondents said they would reconsider attending in-person business events, and 57% said they would reevaluate whether they needed to travel for business.

When asked what measures they felt their employers should take to keep them safe, respondents suggested the following:

  • Let employees work from home more often (79% )
  • Institute more thorough cleaning procedures (79%)
  • Hold fewer in-person meetings and trainings (70%)
  • Put employees on staggered work schedules (55%)
  • Mandate that employees wear masks (52%)
  • Change the layout of the office (46%)

A new appreciation for working remotely

The extended period of time outside of the office has given many employees the opportunity to see what it’s like to work from home on a regular basis. An earlier survey released in April found that as employees have adjusted to new work routines at home, a majority have found they enjoy working remotely.

The Robert Half survey reinforces that notion, as 74% of respondents said they would like to work from home more frequently than they did prior to the pandemic. Interestingly, parents were more enthused about remote working than non-parents, as 79% of parents said they want to telework more frequently after the crisis compared to 68% of those without children.

However, some employees pointed out there was a downside to working remotely. More than half — 55% — said they believed it would be more difficult to build strong relationships with their co-workers if they were not all in the same location as often.

Methodology: Robert Half surveyed more than 1,000 adult workers between April 17-22. All respondents typically work in an office setting. Of those surveyed, 77% were working from home at the time of the survey.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.