The State of the Handshake: Make non-contact greetings work for you

Sharon Mak Career Tips, HR & Recruiting Advice, Management Best Practices 2 Comments

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we live, do business, and how we interact – while it is important to practice non-contact greetings for keeping yourself and others safe, this may cause awkward moments in a professional setting.

Many are aware and respectful of the physical distancing recommendations, but it is easy to forget since handshaking has always been the “go-to” way of greeting in a business setting. While it’s perfectly okay and socially acceptable to decline a handshake right now, we understand it can feel awkward – and even disrespectful – to reject a greeting that was once so second nature.

So, here are some ways to address the handshake (or lack thereof) and some examples of other non-contact greeting methods:


  1. Acknowledge the lack of a handshake, recognize that it feels different, and then move on. You can always say in a warm tone, “We can’t shake hands right now, but it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
  2. One of the most powerful non-verbal communication tools is your smile. When you first meet someone, give a genuine smile to convey you are a positive person and eager to meet them.


  1. Simple wave – Whether this is in person or over video chat, it is commonly used to greet each other, to acknowledge another’s presence, or to say goodbye.
  2. Air handshakes – Just like you would for a regular handshake, extend your hands out and shake in the air.
  3. “Namaste” – Often used in India and in other parts of Southeast Asia, the greeting is used to welcome guests, acknowledge strangers, and to say goodbye. Simply press your palms together and smile. It is used to express honor, courtesy, politeness, hospitality, and gratitude to the other person.
  4. Head nod or slight bow – The bow is most prominent in Asian cultures and can be done simply by lowering the head. Like several other hand gestures, this act is not reserved for greeting; it can also be used to express respect, sincerity, and remorse.
  5. Fist and palm greeting – The traditional Chinese greeting is both respectful and polite. It involves making a fist with one hand and then cupping it in the other hand in front of the chest.
  6. Hand heart – A gesture in which you form a heart shape using your fingers. Hand hearts are usually more popular with the younger generations.
  7. Spock’s Vulcan salute – A gesture popularized by Star Trek. It consists of a raised hand with the palm forward, thumb extended, and middle and ring finger parted.

The pandemic is causing a change in our social habits, but how you greet someone will depend on who it is. Remember to read the room, as not all forms of non-contact greeting will be welcomed (or understood) by everyone you meet. Keep it lighthearted, acknowledge the awkwardness, and make it your own. What do your non-contact greetings look like?

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  1. Hi –

    Forgive me, but I can’t tell if you’re joking about using Spock’s salute. I thought so when I saw the diagram, but the fact that you later describe how to actually DO it… now I’m not so sure.

    Joke or serious?

    Thank you,

    1. Author

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for asking – that is a great question! As we mentioned in the article, it’s important to read the room regarding non-contact handshakes as not all forms of non-contact greeting will be welcomed (or understood) by everyone. It would also depend on the company culture of each individual organization. For an example, perhaps in some smaller companies, family-owned, or casual workplaces, maybe it is appropriate to use Spock’s salute as a fun way to greet people. We hope this helps!

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