Since March 2020 we’ve adjusted to masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and work from home. Now, it’s time to readjust, to public transport; social outings; and to in-house meetings. As with all aspects of professional life it’s always best to listen to the experts, so here’s Certified Etiquette Consultant Orla McAuliffe’s advice on post-COVID meetings and business protocol:
Obviously, the changes in office life extend beyond the meeting room walls. Before you even enter a professional space – whether your own or someone else’s – you should take the time to familiarize yourself with their interpretation of guidelines. Wearing a mask in shared areas, making sure to sanitise at the appropriate place and time, maintaining distance; adhering to queues or one-way pathways, and ensuring you don’t overcrowd escalators or elevators are all now necessary basics of office etiquette.
It is reasonable to assume that in-person meetings will be less frequent than they were before. Equally, they are beginning to happen again, and it is important to note when scheduling that this in itself is an adjustment for people. Provide people with plenty of notice, and make sure the meeting is necessary for everyone involved. Be clear about the running time, so people can prepare accordingly. If it’s a longer meeting and refreshments are required, then flag this up in advance. People may want to bring their own or just not feel comfortable partaking straight away, as it inevitably involves removing one’s mask.
On t he day itself, your main responsibility as a host is to make sure your guests are provided for, instructions are clear, and adaptations are made in a safe and non-judgmental way. As host, make sure you stand to greet people and let them know immediately what your preferred greeting is. Handshakes are still out, so whether you use a head nod or eye contact, clearly announce your intentions and give your guests time to respond.
Make sure the room chosen is large enough for people to maintain distance; has been thoroughly cleaned; has visible sanitiser options; and ideally does not mean people have to sit directly across from each other. If supplies are provided, make sure they are clearly clean and new, and provide instructions as to whether guests are expected to dispose of them or keep them for repeated use.
For guests, your responsibility is to follow the hosts guidelines, and to your own safety. Communicate clearly what your boundaries are, and be aware that in the current climate, health and safety really do come first. Nobody wants to be seen to cancel or postpone a meeting, but if you are sick then that is absolutely what you need to do. Polite and prompt notice will always be appreciated, and people will be reassured that you are taking this seriously and respectfully.
In general, many people are excited to see the return of in-person meetings. They are excited to see their co-workers again. Of course things will be difficult – we won’t be sharing birthday cakes in the break room anytime soon, for instance – but well-managed meetings will be an important reassuring factor in a potential return to office life.