From Handshakes to Fist Bumps: The Future of the Business Greeting

Ms. Meier has instructed her clients to try alternatives she calls a “grasp-and-greet” (hands clasped at chest level, combined with a polite nod) and the “stop, drop and nod” (hands clutched behind one’s lower back, with a nod).

We could also look to a higher plane of consciousness.

At a recent networking event for entrepreneurs in Carlsbad, Calif., Elaine Swann, the founder of the Swann School of Protocol, a manners consultancy with offices around the country, noticed many mask-wearing attendees observing social-distancing protocols with a namaste. “The absence of the handshake can feel quite distant when interacting with one another,” Ms. Swann said. “The hands-in-front-of-the-heart gesture can convey connection and warmth toward the other individual.”

Or we could look to sports. The fist bump, reputedly popularized by a high-energy N.B.A. swingman of the 1970s named Fred Carter, has already become a common greeting in industries that skew young and cool: tech, entertainment, and, yes, sports, Ms. Swann said. The gesture may prove a useful half-step back toward the relative intimacy of the handshake, since it offers a hint of touch (and implicitly, trust), without actual finger-to-finger contact which might spread pathogens to the face.

It’s an open question whether these alternatives will serve as a temporary pandemic stopgap, like masks and jumbo bottles of hand sanitizer, or a permanent feature of the corporate landscape.

A lot of that depends on whether professionals returning to the office — presuming they do return — still find modern utility in this centuries-old greeting, or carry over the casualness of remote work and come to see the handshake as another 9-to-5 anachronism, like the embossed business card.

By one view, the old-school Don Draper bone-crusher already started to seem a little OK Boomer — even, by some arguments, sexist — in increasingly millennial professional circles.