By Jacob Dayan.
2020 may have been the year no one wants to remember, but many things that came out of this year continued to affect us in 2021 and will for the long haul. While countries reacted differently to the virus, many of our social norms evolved and changed over the months we were stuck indoors. As the world continues to slowly return to normal, we wonder if our pre-pandemic norms will return.
People change their behavior, including their social behavior, based on social cues and leadership. For example, when you saw most people wearing masks last year, you realized that you should also wear a mask. Each time you put on a mask it got a little easier until it became part of your daily routine.
Here are the new social norms in the post-pandemic world.
After spending months six feet apart and instilling a no-touching rule when it comes to greetings, we can expect less handshakes to come in our future. Many people still don’t feel comfortable shaking hands and probably never will. Remember that shaking hands was extremely dangerous at one time, so our minds will always remind us that at some point shaking someone’s hand to greet them could make you sick.
By now, most people are conditioned not to shake hands and even keep themselves further away from others, especially strangers. After months of training your brain to stop reaching out to shake someone’s hand, it will be hard to train you to do it again.
At the same time, many people become more comfortable shaking hands, but they are aware that others might feel uncomfortable, so they generally don’t reach out.
Social activities in nearby neighborhoods
Although many people have been able to spend time with friends and family again, they are not comfortable doing social activities in close proximity. Take a desktop environment, for example. Whereas before the pandemic many people would eat lunch together or collaborate closely on projects by sharing desks, they are no longer as comfortable doing so. Instead, people stay at their desks and collaborate through digital tools like Slack and Google Drive.
Remember, we spent at least six months remembering to stay at least two meters away from others. While this was ideal for those who don’t like talking to people up close, for others it was increasingly difficult as they found themselves walking up to people to have conversations. It took us months to stray from our routines, and now we’re being trained to keep our distance from others, even in the post-pandemic world.
Luckily, not invading someone’s personal space was already a social norm, but six feet was a bit further than most of us were used to with face-to-face interactions.
Reactions to sneezing
A social norm we all grew up with was to say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. During the pandemic, however, instead of saying something when someone sneezed, most people ran for the hills. Although many people still said something, they probably backed away from someone who was sneezing.
Although people have always avoided getting close to someone who felt sick, we all started to avoid those people until they felt better. This is something that shouldn’t change anytime soon, as avoiding the sick was something we were already doing.
Being sick at work
While many workplaces say it’s best not to come to work if you’re not feeling well, many employees still feel the pressure to go to work even if they have a bad cold or flu. Now, employers don’t want someone who isn’t feeling their best to come into the workplace, allowing employees to get the rest they need.
When someone was sick at work before the pandemic, many colleagues would not be afraid and would sit close to this person, even invading their personal space. Now, if someone is not feeling well, their co-workers avoid them. Although it may seem rude, it can allow the sick employee to not feel as much stress at work while working with a cold.
Of course, it’s always better not to go to work, but if you’re going to go, then you should socially distance even if you don’t have COVID-19.
More and more social interactions are taking place online, thanks to the pandemic. For example, the interview process has changed dramatically. Remote interviews are more common than ever. While in the beginning, they were initially a way to reduce exposure, many recruiters have found that they make life easier for themselves and candidates. Instead of having someone interviewed in person, they can take interviews in their own home for their convenience.
Another example of a new remote interaction is when you buy a house. Now you can take digital tours instead of attending an open house in person. You can also get a mortgage without even having to visit a lender in person.
These remote interactions provided everyone with a level of convenience they had never had before, making these norms more likely to stick long after normalcy returns.
Arrest people you know in public
When you see someone you know at the grocery store, it was a social norm for you to say hello to that person. Now, most people will spare or not let their presence be known at all. This helps everyone avoid the risk of social interaction that could lead to illness.
While many people in the United States are vaccinated, you still don’t know who doesn’t have the vaccine, so it’s better to be safe than sorry when approaching people you don’t know well just to say hello. Instead, give them a polite wave and get back on your way.
While you may or may not avoid saying hello to someone you know, you now probably avoid strangers at all costs. Before, maybe a stranger approached you to ask you a question or say hello. Now we avoid interaction with people we don’t know. Although the world may seem much less friendly this way, it is also much safer. We’ve been warned about the danger of strangers since we were kids, so it’s usually not a good idea to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know on the street.
Are the new social norms crude?
Although avoiding people and staying more than two meters away from them during social interactions may have seemed rude at first, these are now social norms that most people understand and participate in. While some social norms are here to stay, like being polite and raising your hand in a classroom, others, like handshakes, are likely to remain less popular.
Jacob Dayan holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He began his career as a financial analyst in the financial analysis and structured transactions group of industry leader Bear Stearns. In 2010, he co-founded Community Tax LLC, a tax firm dedicated to assisting clients nationwide with tax resolution, tax preparation, bookkeeping and accounting services. As CEO of Community taxJacob Dayan has assembled a strong team of lawyers, CPAs and registered agents to deliver superior customer service and expected results.