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Should you stop shaking hands at job interviews or with clients?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Handshakes are a near universal business greeting, but in the era of COVID-19, we need to come up with a more hygienic way of saying hello.

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With the novel coronavirus beginning to spread to parts and in ways somewhat unknown, the experts agree: the handshake is so 2019. “Just DON’T do it” is the message we are receiving loud and clear from the World Health Organization, along with other medical and public health professionals.

However, we as a species in general are drawn to touch. Handshakes are an ingrained part of business etiquette, especially in the U.S. and other western cultures. This begs the question: what should you do when someone extends their hand in a job interview or business meeting? If you’re the one recoiling from a potential employer’s touch, won’t that affect your chances of getting hired? Or what if you whip out your trusty hand sanitizer immediately afterward, as if to cleanse yourself of the other person’s cooties?

These questions are valid. Neither move is a good look for someone trying to curry favor and make a good impression on a future employer or coworker. Not all people believe that handshakes are problematic or could even be a way to spread the virus. Also, for most of us, the handshake is a deeply entrenched personal and cultural habit. We reach out to others without being fully aware we’re doing it.

Evidence of handshakes date back to the 5th Century. They were common practice in the Roman era. Back then, extending your right hand–the dominant hand for most people–was intended to show you were not packing a weapon. In modern days, it is the top, go-to, person-to-person greeting. Like all habits, it won’t be easy to kick.

Top tips for avoiding getting sick or spreading COVID-19 are still to wash your hands vigorously and frequently, avoid touching your face, cough or sneeze into your elbow,and stay home if you’re sick. Yet, handshakes are rapidly falling out of favor as an acceptable form of greeting. One thing we know about the coronavirus is that we don’t know enough. Decreasing your intentional contact via the primary body part that moves from object to handrail to door handle to person to money, then hand, hair and mouth seems like a no-brainer.

What is the solution? Great question, amigo. Bringing up concerns at the beginning of an interaction might come across as paranoid or rude, but it may be the only way to actually avoid the now dreaded handshake. Expressing something like “Nice to meet you, but I’m trying not to shake hands to help keep everyone safe” is straightforward. It feels counterintuitive, though, and the other person may be initially taken aback.

However, the odds of that person appreciating your candor and cleanliness will likely be in your favor. At best, they’ll be grateful and agree. At worst, they’ll be offended, though honesty remains the best policy. If someone holds an honest, recommended, precautionary measure against you, perhaps it’s a sign this isn’t an ideal match.

Videos and articles are making the rounds on alternatives to the handshake. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the ones I’ve seen.

  • Fist bumps still mean hand to hand contact, but are much quicker, with a smaller contact area. Plus, the back of the hand is less often used to touch your face (which we also need to stop doing).
  • Polite nods are great. They are less personal, yet acknowledge the other person’s presence in a friendly way.
  • Elbow bumps are oddly starting to take off, though the advice to cough or sneeze into your elbow, albeit the other side, leaves me cringing a bit.
  • The footshake looks hilarious and could be precarious for those with a shoddy sense of balance. But they are safer, hygiene-wise.
  • Hand signs are neato and fun, too. Waving or flashing a peace sign is friendly and safe. If you live in Austin, where The American Genius and the University of Texas are based, why not start busting out your “Hook ‘em Horns” sign? You’ll look cool and like a bonafide Austinite.
  • Do like Broadway is doing, and maybe stick to jazz hands?

Another option, and one that appears to be becoming more popular, is to take more meetings virtually. Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and a host of other video-conferencing tools are readily available to anyone with a computer or smartphone. They present a viable, outstanding and totally hygienic choice.

Personally I’d like to see us all wearing hats again. Can’t you see greeting each other like a dandy in the early 1900s, with a jaunty tip of the hat? In any case, with more reported COVID-19 cases in more cities and countries around the world, we should hope to see fewer handshakes and more hygienic ways to say hello.

If you are caught in an awkward situation and feel obligated to shake hands, don’t freak out. Try restraining yourself from touching your face until you manage to perform your 20-second hand washing. Good luck, and until further notice, I tip my hat to you, good sir or madam.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Business News

As masks become optional, businesses find themselves stuck in the middle

(BUSINESS NEWS) One liquor store’s decision on mask policy following changes in local laws has become a recurring story throughout the nation.

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Woman in front of small business with two children, all wearing face masks

The American mask debate has comprised a whirlwind of clashing political ideologies, legal dilemmas, and personal agendas, with businesses placed directly in the middle of the storm. As the pandemic continues to run its course, a disparity in state mandates and legislation is only serving to increase the strain on these establishments.

With increased access to vaccines and several states rolling back their COVID guidance, the option to wear—or not wear—masks is becoming more discretionary, with businesses often having the final say in whether or not they expect masks to be used on their premises. One such business, a liquor store, posted a notice regarding their staff’s decision to continue wearing masks:

“In accordance with Johnson County mandates: Masks are now optional. Please do not berate, verbally assault, or otherwise attack the staff over their choice to continue wearing masks.”

The notice went on to say, “It is painfully depressing we have to make this request.”

That last line epitomizes many business owners’ stances. Places across the country have started allowing customers to discard their masks with proof of vaccination, but if employees choose to keep their masks for the time being, it’s difficult for clients not to view it as a kind of political statement—despite their decisions often being corroborated by local laws.

And, as long as businesses continue to operate within the confines of those laws, their decisions should be free from public scrutiny.

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening as evidenced by the notice posted by the liquor store in Johnson County. The same disparity that allows for some freedom despite COVID still being present in many Americans’ lives often leaves those who choose not to wear masks to conclude that those who do wear them are being judgmental or unnecessarily cautious.

Those judgements work in reverse as well, with businesses who allow their employees to work maskless facing criticism from masked clients. It seems that the freedom to choose—something for which people strongly advocated throughout the pandemic—continues to cause separation.

As businesses change or adapt their regulations to fit state mandates and employee (and customer) concerns, everyone would do well to remember that the decisions these establishments make are usually meant to affect some kind of positive work environment—not to welcome harassment and abuse.

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Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

List of Austin tech companies recalling staff to the office (or not)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Many Austin tech companies were reluctant to send people home when COVID-19 hit – will they be equally reluctant to put employees back in desks?

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The masks are coming off in America and agree with that practice or not, many employers are in an ongoing series of meetings regarding bringing staff back into the office.

Large companies are quickly playing commercial real estate hot potato – we recently broke the story that Dell had not only sold some of their massive campus near Austin, but rented out the third floor of their building to the Army Futures Command (AFC). As the dust settles on these contractions, the next step is bringing humans back into said buildings.

The spectrum of individuals’ emotions regarding this return varies from enthusiasm, to trepidatious, to complete refusal to return.

As the global pandemic hit and employers were responding so differently to sending folks home, our list of Austin tech companies sending folks home (or NOT sending employees home) went viral.

At the time, we noted that keeping humans in the office makes sense for some sectors (service, hospitality, medical, even financial), called it an “impossible situation” for business leaders, but some employers were stupidly insensitive…

One executive told workers as they were allowed to work from home to not expect it to be a “corona vacation” (which did NOT go over well).

Our question is: Will employers handle a return to the office more gracefully than when they sent folks home?

Just as protocols were untested sending employees home, as some employers get the itch to call them back into the office, a whole new set of unchartered protocols will be implemented.

What follows are quotes from employees telling us about their companies’ statuses. We will update this list over time as we learn more. If there are updates to your company’s status, let us know here.

– CDK Global

“100% return to office on 9/13. Vaccines mandatory, but no way to legally enforce that, that I know of.”

– Cognite AS

“As of June 1, remote/on-site as we wish. Fridays in-office preferred for team lunch/team building days. Must be vaccinated with shot record proof uploaded to our HR system to attend in-person events.”

– Dover Fueling Systems

“Currently it’s voluntary to go back in until some time in autumn when it will be required. Hybrid options are available. Masks are still required in the office when not able to socially distance but that might change soon.”

– EpisodeSix

“Devs and project related roles remote. HR in office. C level occasionally in office.”

-Fathom5

“Full return to work date of 6/21. Remote work on exception (heads-down, need to be at home to tend to a matter at home — cable man cometh!, sick kid, relocating).

While not company policy, I look forward to revisiting this in a few months, particularly as it relates to recruiting, and some implementations of tools to improve internal operations & culture; I expect these tactics in the office to improve working together OVER ALL. In turn, I hope to prove out conditions are met, that predict similar outcomes from working remotely.

This is the long way to say that our CEO did not have some positive experiences of WFH, which I suspect had more to do with us not doing WFH well/providing conditions for that. And, now I’m here so things will be even awesomer (technical term).”

– FEMA/DHS

“Currently 100% Telework. Plan to start coming back to office August 31, however, it has not yet been decided that everyone will return to office. Some may continue some % telework.”

– Homeward

“Our company was just getting started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like a lot of businesses, we shifted to remote work, thinking it would be temporary. As we grew from 20 to 200 employees remotely, we realized that a remote workforce offered a few advantages. But we recognize that in-person collaboration fosters strong relationships and sometimes makes problem solving easier. So when it makes sense to be together at our headquarters in Austin, we encourage teammates to do that, too. Employees are required to wear a mask when walking around the office or in common areas (restroom, kitchen, etc.), but masks are optional while working at a desk. Social distancing is encouraged and signage around the office denotes which seats should remain vacant.”

– Indeed

“Currently remote – working on hybrid and fully remote scheduling when offices reopen.”

“No one has to be in an office until at least September. 80% of positions have the ability to be remote or flex (part in person, part in office). Every position can be in person if desired. We are picking now (in June) what we want to do and can change our delegation one time per year.”

– inKind

“We’re back to the office since the team is vaccinated! Still have flexible WFH days but we’re excited to be able to work together again safely.”

– Lightspeed Systems

“All employees are primarily still remote, with the option to come to either office in Austin as desired for majority of employees. Masks encouraged when in common areas, but not required at desk. No plans to require in-office attendance have been expressed at this point.”

– MediaTech Ventures

“Staying remote. No need to be back in office but we would like to be back in office. Cost <> Benefit just isn’t there (which is to say, if space is vastly more affordable, we’d consider it).”

– National Instruments

“Currently: returning to the office requires manager approval with mask/capacity limits within the office
September 1: General back-to-office date with a lot of individual flexibility as to working remotely or in the office. Long-term location strategy is in progress, but will likely be a defined policy allowing a mix of remote and in-office work.”

– Netspend (a Global Payments company)

“Mar 2020—everyone remote, no exceptions, no office visits;
Aug 2020—survey sent about full-time office / hybrid office & remote/ full time remote preferences, split 1/3 in each category;
Oct 2020—closed/sold offices in San Mateo, CA, Alpharetta, GA, and downtown Austin TX (no layoffs/furloughs at any offices), talk of “return-to-office” delayed until new year;
Jan 2021—”return-to-office” talks, but decided to delay, no office visits except req’d/VP-approved personnel, masks req’d, temp scans req’d, social distancing, desks 6′ apart;
Mar 2021—”return-to-office” talks resume as COVID vaccine deployed, still req’d social distance, masks, temp scans, desks 6′ apart, etc., talk of some hybrid remote/office (flex days);
Jun 2021—”return-to-office” open season, masks/social distance optional for vaccinated employees, flex days by team determination. SOP going forward is team-by-team basis, no assigned desks (all flex/hotel stations) except Director & above.”

– NFP

“One week on, one week off since May 1 until they bring everyone back full time. No announcement yet but it can’t be far away. No masks if you’re vaccinated. Verify health status every day with an app.”

“Update: There are now discussions about future hybrid and fully remote work for teams that can do so. No definite plans yet.”

– PayPal

“Continuing with remote work until at least September. Expecting more details on the return to office plan in the next few weeks. Likely it will be a hybrid model depending on the team/business unit.”

– SciPlay

“Until the end of the year, voluntary return 1 day/week per game team at 40%. Temperature check at door. Six feet socially distanced desks and conference rooms. Deep cleaning of desks each night. Masks required. Vaccinations encouraged. Ppe provided (sanitizer, masks, wipes, gloves, etc). 2022 plan to be released soon tm.”

– StitchFix

“Fully remote CX based in Austin (90 mile radius).”

– T3

“Going back to the office September 13 with a hybrid wfh/in-office blend we are currently working on team by team. With this (and the most exciting part) we’re also figuring out meetings days or times vs no fly zones so we can all focus on working time more. Not sure about masks – I think you’d only come in office if you’ve been vaccinated. We’ve also hired a lot of people not in Austin recently, so T3 is very open to remote workers.”

– Trammell Ventures

“Remote Work still; no dates yet for coming back to the office, but there’s talk of a company picnic and/or get together soon for vaccinated employees!”

– Verb

“Currently, the office is open for those who want to use it, but not required. We’re told we’ll be hybrid but we’re still waiting to hear what the stipulations of that are.”

– VMWare

“Office not likely to re-open until September. No firm date yet. Flexibility to be in office or at home depending on type of role. Most will have a choice.”

– Whole Foods

“Starting July 1, required to be in office 2x a week, starting September 1 required to be in office 3x a week. No mask or social distance requirement but we are required to prove vaccination.”


Click here to add your company to the list or to update the information listed above.


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