What to Do When Handshakes are a Don’t?

handshake alternatives

Handshakes and business go together like li-hing mui and pineapple. What started in ancient times as a way to check a stranger’s hands for concealed weapons has become an engrained practice of everyday life. We shake hands to greet people, introduce ourselves, and finalize business transactions.

But since our hands carry a plethora of bacteria and germs, experts argue that the handshake is one of the most unsanitary greeting forms. In a time where social distance is crucial in keeping our community safe, hugs and kisses are also not an ideal greeting option.

We spoke to our Safety Consultant Justin Kurihara, who advises healthcare staff on the frontlines, about the best alternatives for handshakes, hugs, and kisses.

No Contact Handshake Alternatives

“Currently we recommend keeping a physical distance of 6 feet or more whenever possible,” says Kurihara. “The below no contact handshake alternatives are great options to maintain that physical distance.”

The Wave

So simple, yet so effective. Waving allows you to greet people from a distance and the busy hand motion makes it almost impossible for someone to initiate a handshake with you—double win!

shaka alternative to handshake

The Shaka

Shaka, brah. The shaka is a greeting that is universally understood and commonly used in Hawaii. Perfect for saying hello, goodbye, and when you just need to tell someone to “hang loose.”

air hug alternative to handshake

The Air Hug / Kiss

For close colleagues or acquaintances that you would typically greet with a hug or kiss, take it back a little and try a hugging or kissing motion from a safe distance. It might be a little awkward at first, but the gesture will convey your sentiment.

bow alternative to handshake

The Bow

Already practiced in many Asian cultures, the bow is a form of greeting that shows respect and requires no physical contact! If you find yourself in a setting where bowing could be seen as culturally disrespectful, as some cultures practice certain bowing etiquette, err on the side of caution and chose an alternative.

nod alternative to handshake

The Head Nod

The head nod is another simple, no contact way of acknowledging someone. It could come off as smug or stuffy, so pair the head nod with a smile in professional situations.

finger guns alternative to handshake

The Finger Guns

Finger guns are the perfect greeting for the office jokester who likes to spread some fun around the workplace. Of course, you might want to opt for something a little more serious if you’re meeting an important business partner for the first time.

peace sign alternative to handshake

The Peace Sign

The peace sign is another great way to greet someone from a safe distance. Similar to the head nod and the finger guns it might come off a little casual so be sure to use it as appropriate.

Low Contact Handshake Alternatives

But what if someone is already closing in, ready for that handshake? Kurihara recommends to “let them know you don’t feel comfortable shaking hands or suggest one of the following low contact alternatives instead.”

“After physical contact, don’t touch your face, personal items, or other environmental surfaces until after you have followed proper hygiene measures,” suggests Kurihara.

elbow bump alternative to handshake

The Elbow Bump

We’ve seen politicians across the world adopt the elbow bump as the new handshake.  What’s great about the elbow bump is that it’s physically impossible to touch your face with it afterward. One thing to keep in mind however is that people are encouraged to sneeze into their elbows and many now use their elbows to open doors or touch other surfaces. So when in doubt, don’t bump it out.

fist bump alternative to handshake

The Fist Bump

Though they still require physical contact, fist bumps spread 90% fewer germs than a traditional handshake. They require a smaller surface area, shorter contact, and you’re less likely to touch your face with your knuckles than you are with your palms. While opting for a no-contact option is preferred, the fist bump is a good alternative for situations in which someone has already extended their hand out to you.

high five alternative to handshake

The High Five

Similar to the fist bump, a high five spreads 50% less germs than a traditional handshake. That said, you might still want to hold off on high-fiving your employees and business partners for the time being.

foot shake alternative to handshake

The Foot Shake

The foot shake, which quickly gained popularity in China after the coronavirus outbreak, can be another good handshake alternative. While probably not realistic in most business settings, it can be a fun ice-breaker for the awkward “how do we greet each other if not shaking hands-” moments.