Cover Photo: Khairul Imran/Malaysia Tatler

While shaking hands in public is still discouraged right now, we look at other simple gestures that demonstrate courtesy, grace and confidence, with help from image consultant and author Datin Sharifah Shawati

Whether it’s dressing up for a Zoom call or levelling up your table etiquette during a catch-up with friends, the new normal has forced us all to adopt certain habits that, pre-pandemic, would have been deemed eccentric.

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But times have changed. Where we would previously have lifted an eyebrow at the thought of someone declining a handshake or keeping their distance, it's encouraged now.

Helping us to view these changes in a more positive light is former television personality and founder of Adamaya Consultancy Services, Datin Sharifah Shawati Syed Mohd, who offers tips on navigating the new normal smoothly.             

“To me, the new normal simply means being more cautious and considerate of your surrounding,” remarks Datin Shawati, who is also a motivational coach and the author of Smart Women, Foolish Choices, a self-help book about managing relationships with the opposite sex.

"Practising personal hygiene is now part of your main etiquette," adds the consultant, whose industry experience is highly sought-after in the corporate and government sectors.   

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What not to do with your face mask and hands

In addition to washing your hands frequently, certain other habits are best avoided for now – from shaking hands and cheek-to-cheek kisses to adjusting your face mask incessantly.

When you have to take off your mask, keep it in your bag, not on a table or any shared surfaces where others can come into contact with it. Sharing face masks with your family members is also a big no-no.  

"Social distancing is crucial right now. Handshakes can be replaced with a nod of the head to acknowledge an acquaintance or placing your right hand on the left side of your chest," says Datin Shawati. 

Remember this when working from home

Many employees today still have the option to work from home. Whether you're working from the comfort of your living room or communicating with someone who is working from home, keep these in mind for the sake of professionalism.

"Regardless of the time given, always be dressed presentably and appropriately for a Zoom meeting – that shows respect for yourself and what you do as well as respect for your audience," says Datin Shawati. "Make sure your background looks neat and tidy. Try to be at least 10 minutes early for every Zoom meeting to prepare your working tools and check your audio quality."  

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The reality of modern work life is such that many of us are used to receiving work texts and emails even outside office hours. Is it still rude to WhatsApp your colleagues after hours? Are you crossing a line by sending emails out at 1am?

Datin Shawati's opinion on this is clear: "Unless agreed upon by all parties involved, restrict business calls, meetings and text messages, or WhatsApps within office hours so as to respect the other person's privacy."

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Being considerate in the office

No matter how tempting it is to flout social distancing measures in the office, think twice before doing this—or before removing your face mask when in the company of friends, cautions Datin Shawati. 

"Wear your mask. If you're sick, let your superiors know and don't go into the office," she says. "Respect each other's personal spaces, and do not touch your co-workers' belongings. Even if you have to wash your hands 100 times a day, do it."  

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Dinnertime etiquette

Whether it's dining with friends or family, sharing cutlery, napkins, glasses or chopsticks should be avoided.

"If you need to take a portion from a shared serving plate, use the cutlery from the serving plate and not your own cutlery – it isn't hygienic or ethical to put something that you've placed in your mouth onto a serving plate shared by others."

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"We all tend to take things like walking in the park, going to the grocery store or being able to have coffee with friends for granted," muses Datin Shawati. "The last few months have taught me to be more grateful than ever of this life. It might not be as easy as before, but some adaptation is necessary to fit the new norm of living and the changes in habits."