Perhaps dating back to the beginning of humankind, we have reached out to touch someone. Not just one of the best advertising slogans of modern history, handshakes, hugs, and kisses are ways we touch someone to convey welcome, partnership, love, friendship, empathy, acceptance, and countless other emotions with acquaintances and loved ones. With the threat of virus transmissions now at the forefront of people’s minds, is there a place for the human touch in our future?
Given that many cultures around the world use the handshake, it may, at this point, be too well entrenched to abandon the gesture entirely.
In America, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a vital member of the White House coronavirus task force, famously admitted he might never again shake hands. He confirmed it would not only slow the spread of a coronavirus disease, but it would also decrease the flu as well.
Replacing physical touch in the business world will be easier than on a personal level. For the professional greeting, there are non-contact options. Thailand credits its lower death rate to the practice of bowing in greeting. One could also wave, nod, smile, use a hand signal, or myriad option that does not require contact.
On an intimate or personal level, touching will be harder to replace. People find comfort in the touch of others during stressful situations and have come to depend on this. A fist-bump certainly doesn’t convey the same degree of empathy or understanding.
As difficult as it may be to forego touch, the alternative is to continue as we have in the past and relive the mistakes of the present. The spread of viruses such as COVID-19 is a severe threat to our elderly and unwell. These people are unlikely to survive without herd immunity—and that will take considerable time.
A casualty of avoiding touch will be touch screens. It’s unlikely the manufacturers of touch screen kiosks, keypads, and the like will continue to see growth in their sectors. Smartphone apps are poised to take their place given persistent concerns about touching what might be a virus-covered surface.
In several countries, gyms were closed for months, but most gyms, in New Zealand, were open by the beginning of September, and the overall picture was positive. A few operators reported attendance of more than 90% pre-COVID-19 levels.
In other parts of the world, gym memberships may not rebound. In fact, in a TD Ameritrade survey, 59% of Americans said they did not plan to renew their gym memberships post-COVID. In the United Kingdom, The Gym Group said it lost about a fifth of its members during the lockdown, despite the company halting membership payments. Australia hasn’t fared well either—at 41%, the country has the highest rate of cancellations or people considering canceling their gym memberships.
Interestingly, an industry that sprung from fitness—activewear and athleisure wear—is booming in numerous regions despite the closure of gyms and cancellation of memberships.
More than half of the Americans represented in the Ameritrade survey said stay-at-home orders made them more creative in how they could stay fit without a gym membership. Athletic and activewear manufacturers continue to see a strong market because people are not giving up being fit, they are simply finding new ways to attain it.
The new market opportunities for these clothing manufacturers turn out to be those working from home. By offering tailored, well-fitting designs—no more baggy cotton shorts and torn tees—the clothes are appropriate for a casual office atmosphere or at-home video conferencing calls.
Though these clothes are at the core designed for activity and made from textiles such as wool, nylon, and spandex combined with features that include wicking, compression, and comfort, it is a combination that makes them also a favorite for people working from home—and this is a market with unlimited potential for growth.
Several entrepreneurs have designed retrofitted hardware for doors that enable opening with the forearm or elbow. Anyone can make these fixtures with a home 3D printing device. A finished piece modifies a standard door handle without the need to hire a professional. Others have invented personal devices that act as a door pull that is carried around in a pocket or purse.
Smartphones that provide keyless entry are rising to the top in the category as well. Hundreds of types of these devices are already available in stores. An IoT (internet of things) device, doors can be opened remotely as well.
A touchless world
Post-COVID will be different on many levels—not just the loss of handshakes, casual kisses, sweaty workouts at the gym, and door handles—there is no going back to what represented normal only nine months ago. We have already become and will need to continue to be mindful of our surroundings. Innovation will provide solutions and products that were once a convenience will become a necessity. We will return to normal—so long as we remember what we called normal was not a static event or time, and it won’t be in the future.