Etiquette in a Social Distancing World – Part I Communication

These are extraordinary times. Humans by nature are social beings, yet social distancing has become necessary to avert the spread of the Coronavirus (covid-19). Interaction is limited to screens as well as physically staying 6 feet apart. It is understandable that this may create confusion or concern over what is the appropriate etiquette. Naturally, one feels weird, awkward or invariably impolite creating distance; however, it is necessary to put safety first.

We at The Manners Advantage would like to share some advice on how to balance staying safe while adhering to principles of changing social etiquette.


Did you know that 93% of communication is conveyed through body language and tone of voice? When you limit, or take this out of the equation completely, you must rely upon words to communicate your intention.

  • Video Communication

Video conferencing has become a necessary tool. Fortunately, when speaking on screen you still have the capability of using tone of voice and facial expression. Maintain a confident, upbeat tone of voice along with a genuine smile. Keep in mind that others may be feeling increased anxiety. Speak clearly, pausing to allow others to interject and comment. Maintain eye contact by looking into the camera when talking instead of looking at yourself. This helps to create an environment where everyone feels engaged and present in the conversation. Mind your body language, for example, no fiddling with your hair, eating or drinking during a meeting. Ensure you have a clean, work-appropriate background (not a pile of laundry) and minimal background noise. Always be on time and double check your audio and video settings. If you are hosting the meeting, introduce everyone at the beginning and wait until everyone has left before disconnecting.

  • The Written Word

Social media texts, tweets and emails can easily be taken out of context without non-verbal cues. Before hitting send, pause to proofread an extra moment in order to avoid unnecessary confusion. It is easy to blur the lines of professional vs relaxed while working from home. For example, jokes or kitschy comments can be mistaken. Emoji’s aid in conveying emotion, however, are not appropriate in business communication.

  • Physical Distancing 6 ft Apart

Compassionate gestures can be comforting and helpful in places such as the grocery store or pharmacy. A simple nod to the store clerk who has sanitized your cart, or to the employee stocking shelves will convey your gratitude. While recently grocery shopping, I had a fellow shopper politely alert me to the arrows on the floor of the isle. I was going the wrong direction. She was not rude, on the contrary, she was immensely helpful and prefaced the comment with “Pardon me.” Keep in mind that we are all in this together and it will take a cooperative effort to overcome the pandemic. Offering a gentle reminder to wash your hands, use sanitizer, cough into your elbow, or stay 6 ft apart is acceptable and should be welcomed with respect.

  • Greetings

What feels natural when greeting someone, using a handshake, hug, or pat on the back is no longer acceptable. The CDC recommends reducing physical contact with others, and as a result, “germ-free gestures” have become the new handshake. A nod of the head, prayer hands, wave of the hand, hand over your heart, peace sign, or even a bow has become an acceptable alternative. If someone attempts a handshake, it is perfectly acceptable to politely decline. For example, “I am avoiding contact, but is so nice to meet you.”


The principles of etiquette remain the same during these trying times, courtesy and mindfulness of others. The golden rule, “treating others as you want to be treated” applies more than ever as we navigate life during a pandemic. Together, we can use communication to alleviate social distancing anxiety through kindness, compassion, patience, and mutual respect.

Kim Osborne, Managing Director