Elbow Bumps and Foot Shaking


So, what is your company doing to combat coronavirus? I trust you will forgive me for returning to the subject so soon, but given the state of emmergency declared by the government on Wednesday, I think the reasons are obvious.  

At a business event last week I met Dale A. Martin, the winner of the HIPA Partnership Award at the BBJ Expat CEO Gala, whose photo was on our cover page in the last issue. Instinctively we went to shake hands, before he raised his eyes in mock horror and asked “Are we supposed to be doing this now?”

We experimented with elbow bumps and foot bumps (the so-called “Wuhan shake”) before we did a quick mental risk assessment of people we had met and places we had been recently before deciding it would be OK to shake hands after all. It was all very light hearted, trivial even, though the health crisis behind it is far from that. When we next meet, perhaps we won’t shake hands at all.

In our office block, a dry hand sanitizer appeared in the reception area this week. I walk the eight floors to our office every day and via the deeply unscientific analysis of looking through front doors can confirm that at least two of our fellow tenants have their own sanitizers right by the doorway, a third company has a sign indicating handshakes are unwelcome, and a fourth has a notice taped to the door asking you not to enter if you have traveled to coronavirus hotspots or been near someone displaying flu like symptoms in the past 14 days, and rely on email or virtual meetings instead.

The Italians and French have been advised to be “a bit less expansive” in their greetings. Not so long ago, you might have been frowned upon for not greeting a friend with a hug or a kiss on each cheek. Now you are more likely to be ostracized for doing that self-same thing.  

(The British are generally thought to be more standoff-ish in such matters, so no one has bothered to warn them against excessive cheek kissing.)

That brings us back to respecting personal space (not breathing and spluttering all over each other) and, more importantly, hand hygiene. Whether you think it a risk to shake hands to conclude a business deal or not, you might like to consider a fact that the Guardian newspaper put out in a piece on the “the new coronavirus etiquette.” Citing Nicky Milner, director of medical education at Anglia Ruskin university, the paper said on average we carry 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on our hands. And that’s before coronavirus came along.  

At its heart, the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is now ranked, is a very serious public health issue. But it could also become a matter of life and death for otherwise viable businesses that are cash poor or reliant on cash flow. Those employed in the gig economy in part time or temporary positions will have real concerns about unpaid leave and mortgage repayments if required to self-isolate. And while trendy media companies can relatively easily navigate around home office work patterns, it can quickly become pretty hard to manufacture something if enough key staff are missing from your factory.

Whatever you do, keep healthy, keep profitable, and keep your distance. Now, go and wash your hands.

Robin Marshall


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