Humans are meant to be together, especially when it comes to conducting business. We yearn to see each other’s faces in person. And we want to touch and shake hands.
The act of shaking hands dates back to medieval times when the world was a more dangerous place. It was a way to ensure your arms were free of anything intended to harm another.
Millenia later, the Covid pandemic hit and we found ourselves anxiously disinfecting everything in sight, from packages of potato chips to our own kids. As we finally started to emerge from our isolation there were awkward moments in terms of how to greet one another. Why in the world would we allow our sanitized selves to even consider touching another human’s hands, particularly their sweaty palms? Who knows what dangerous bacteria may be lurking on them? Could a simple handshake itself be transmitting a potentially deadly virus?
We seem to have decided that from this point forward a proper greeting in the 21st century would forever be changed to the fist (or elbow) bump. The first few times we giggled at the exchange, but it slowly became part of the “new normal.”
Fast forward a year. I have just returned from the Arabian Travel Mart in Dubai, a travel trade show attended by 30,000. Remember the Covid pandemic? No sign of it here. The show was so packed with people that foot traffic had to be diverted to alternate aisles because some areas were so dense that pedestrian gridlock kicked in. With no proof needed nor any mask mandated, there we were breathing down each other’s necks in a sea of humanity without a clue as to who was fully vaccinated. You were on your own to navigate your own comfort level. A small minority, max 10 percent of the crowd, wore masks. As a freshly 4x “vaxxer,” I made up my own rules and wore the mask when commuting from one booth to another, but removed it once I arrived at the booth. On, off, on, off; like hopping from one piece of land to another to avoid alligators in a moat. Somehow, even though the booths were crowded, my own made-up rule allowed me to believe I was protected — which, of course, is nonsensical.
The biggest surprise, however, was hand touching. There was no hesitation and definitely no elbows or fist bumps; just good old fashioned, germy handshakes. I must have shaken hundreds of hands over the last few days, combined with a few hugs, and with each one I thought of that boxed travel antigen test awaiting me in my hotel room, praying I would test negative so I could return home to the USA.
This trip crystalized a few things. Humans are meant to be together, especially when it comes to conducting business. We yearn to see each other’s faces in person. And we want to touch and shake hands.
The learning is that there will be a time and place for each individual to come to terms with their own comfort level as we return to these kinds of shows and other public events. But be prepared because the one thing I can assure you is that the handshake is coming back. So make sure you bring your Purell.
Carolyn Kremins is the president of Skift who prior to the pandemic logged 100,000 air miles a year representing Skift around the world.