CEO Letter | Love in the time of Coronavirus

The 2020 Walpole Book of British Luxury looks into the future for trends and themes that will help the business of British luxury evolve and grow. ‘This year, the world is in the jaws of history,’ writes astrologer Neil Spencer, in his Yearbook essay ‘Written in the Stars’, but even he could not have predicted the impact and disruption of the Coronavirus. God willing, we will all stay safe, but business is in for a bumpy ride, with markets, supply chains and consumer confidence all affected. With reports out of China suggesting manufacturing is picking back up, we can only hope that the duration of the virus will be reasonably short, and recovery swift, but there are challenging times ahead. 

Walpole is keeping calm and carrying on – we have the Yearbook launch party at Fortnum and Mason this Wednesday, and the Women in Luxury breakfast on 17th March (Lift as You Climb: Women and the Art of Ambition, by Viv Groskop), and as a team we have the cleanest hands imaginable (our current favourite is Noble Isle’s Rhubarb, Rhubarb handwash, which smells so delicious, and reminds me so much of God’s Own County, there’s happiness as well as practicality in every two-minute handwashing session).

The advice we have is that these gatherings are safe to attend, and we are looking forward to seeing you: whilst there may yet come a time where the advice is to keep one’s distance, the support, camaraderie and friendship of fellow members is a huge tonic when the news is troubling, and how we support each other over the coming weeks will make a huge difference to the robustness of the recovery.

Of course, one tricky thing is the etiquette of greeting each other – the automatic cheek kissing or hand-shaking may not be something everyone is comfortable with, and over the last 10 days I’ve experienced everything from a funny toe-tapping dance (apparently called the Wuhan Shuffle, but could do double duty as a new dance on Strictly if worked up into a longer routine) to a shoulder punch (still got the bruise), and a few awkward waves (emphasis on awkward). I’m sure that, like me, you’re still very keen to greet people in a friendly and fond way, whilst being respectful of the other person’s boundaries and anxious not to spread any germs one might have unwittingly acquired on one’s journey. Walpole has asked the experts, Debretts, to share with us a business greeting etiquette guide for our times – do let me know what your preferred new form of greeting is, or show me when I see you at Fortnum & Mason tomorrow.”

Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole
@walpoleceo

Greetings from Debretts

In the space of only a few weeks, the impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt by businesses around the world. Major events have been cancelled or postponed, and many organisations are choosing to delay travel plans and instructing staff to work from home.

Increasingly, individuals are also taking the precaution of avoiding skin-on-skin contact when greeting others. Last week we saw Angela Merkel’s offer of a handshake rather publicly rejected by her interior minister, and the fashion world’s beloved double-kiss was replaced with a friendly shoulder-squeeze at Paris Fashion Week.

Uncertainty over the right approach at this equally uncertain time can lead to both parties in a business interaction feeling awkward, marring that all-important first impression on a client.

So assuming you’re still taking a ‘business as usual’ approach to business meetings, what is the best way to greet people? Here are three pointers to bear in mind:

1.) Take your lead from the other person

If you are still comfortable shaking hands, wait to see what the other person does and follow suit. If he or she goes in for the shake, keep your grasp firm and confident as you would usually. If the other person seems reluctant to shake hands (or if you are), a smile, nod and friendly verbal greeting will usually be adequate substitutes.

2.) Address the issue head-on

Awkwardness can be assuaged by mentioning the current situation at the outset. Saying something like ‘Shall we adhere to best practice and avoid a handshake?’ will acknowledge the issue and smooth the interaction.

3.) Smile!

A smile will project a message of warmth and welcome, and helps to lessen any feeling of offence caused by a rejected physical greeting. That said, be wary of smiling too much in certain countries, including Russia and Ukraine, where it could undermine your authority.

www.debretts.com/academy

Above: HRH Prince Charles used yesterday’s Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey to demonstrate a creative way to greet fellow guests: the customary Indian ‘namaste’. A solution at Walpole’s forthcoming events, perhaps? Read advice from the experts at Debretts by clicking below.

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