No one is dying from the deadly coronavirus anymore, but that doesn’t mean we can simply go back to normal.
We have to stay six feet apart from each other indefinitely, because the deadly virus could strike at any time.
The Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce in Virginia has restarted its in-person business networking events. Handshakes, back slaps and close talkers are optional these days.
Instead, attendees at the group’s events are encouraged to select a new pandemic-era accessory: brightly colored wristbands or stickers that signal whether they want others to come physically close or stay the heck away.
A plastic display sign provides the code, modeled on traffic lights: Red means “no contact” with “no exceptions.” Yellow means “elbow only,” as in stick to the elbow bump, pal. As for green, the sign says: “Hugs welcome.”
Americans are returning to offices, trade shows, meet-and-greets and wedding receptions, but individual needs for personal space aren’t the same after a long hiatus from face-to-face schmoozing and socializing. Some guests are ready to lean in for group photos. Others favor an extremely distant air kiss or a wave from afar.
Office managers, convention planners and party hosts are distributing color-coded wristbands, stickers or lanyards designed to signal preferences without the awkward conversations. But the new system has created plenty of its own new awkwardness. Having so many colorful characters in one place gets complicated.
Carefree greens can overwhelm the reds, who are often hiding in the corner, throwing shade on the group. Ambivalent yellows might act red around some guests and green around others. Then there are the chameleons—people-pleasers who can’t commit to any particular hue, and don red, green and yellow wristbands all at once.
Patrick McFadden, the chief executive officer of Indispensable Marketing, chooses a yellow sticker when he goes to the Chesterfield Chamber’s events. He says he’s fine swapping elbow or fist taps, but he doesn’t want others breathing on him. Not everyone gets the message.
“You do have those people who ignore stickers,” he says. “You get the frequent hugger who doesn’t care.”
For his part, he says, he’s still trying to figure out the red-sticker group, or what he calls “the six-feet perimeter person.” He has to stand back and raise his voice to chat.
“It’s hard to network with that person,” he says. “You’re like ‘SO, WHAT DO YOU HAVE GOING ON?’ ”
“It just looks weird,” he says.
It does look weird.
The new stickers and wristbands are typically optional, though organizers say they are quite popular. Still, correctly ordering social-distancing supplies is no black-and-white matter.
At the Southeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives’ annual conference in Savannah, Ga., in late March, the 325 attendees could grab a rubber wristband from one of three big glass bowls. Placards explained the meaning of each:
Green was for those “Celebrating like it’s 2019.”
Yellow: “2020 has me confused.”
The sign for red was sadder: “Wake me up in 2022.”
Elation Factory Co. in Houston, a producer of decorations and other event-related materials, pivoted to making “sneeze guards” for the beauty industry in the pandemic. “It was a natural evolution to start selling social distancing signs,” says co-owner Ron Pollvogt.
Lora Poe and Ron Pollvogt, co-owners of Elation Factory Co.
The company offers a “social distancing event kit” that it says “allows guests to, quite literally, read the room.” It comes with color-coded wristbands and a sign, and is also available in Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.
Customers can choose signs with standard messages, such as “Okay with talking but not touching” or the company will personalize them. Mr. Pollvogt said buyers have ordered signs with directives from “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” to “Six feet, bitches!”
Bitch, it’s six feet, bitch!
We’re fighting a virus here, people!
We have to protect lives!
We’re saving lives!
Lives over the economy!
Lives over society!