When meetings and events can resume, participants are going to face a tough question: How close should I get to someone? This will be more challenging than the do-I-hug-or-high-five dance. As people start to come together again in group environments, they will have a wide range of comfort levels with physical proximity and contact and may find it awkward to let others know their — or try to read others’ — greeting preferences.
Amber Viens and Desiree Haller, cofounders of Social Bands, hope that their new color-coded wristbands make those individual preferences known without anyone having to say a word. The wristbands take a cue from traffic lights: Red equals no contact; yellow indicates an elbow bump is okay; green means go in for the hug or the high-five.
“I believe there has always been an underlying awkwardness when you are in a large group setting approaching people you do not know,” Haller told Convene. “Do you shake hands? Do you get close to talk over the loud noise coming from the crowds? There was always a need to know how to greet others at their comfort level. I believe COVID has amplified this by adding the fear of illness aspect.”
Haller said the initial launch of Social Bands has included a “tremendous amount of positive feedback and response” and that the company is in talks with large convention centers and hotels that have expressed interest. “A membership organization with thousands of members in a wholesale distribution industry would like to offer packages for all their members’ businesses,” she said. “They also plan to use them for their multiple rescheduled industry shows coming up in 2021.”
While the need for social distancing is in the spotlight now, Haller believes that the wristbands will solve challenges well beyond the pandemic. She calls herself “a hugger” and acknowledges that her preference for close contact “might make some uncomfortable.”
“If someone is uncomfortable with the way you approach them, it might lead to a misconnection that could have potentially been a great contact or business or personal relationship,” she said. “I have seen this a lot over the years of doing business with clients from other countries. When you take groups of people from all different backgrounds and put them together, it can be difficult to navigate.”
Plus, some people just don’t like others invading their personal space, Haller said. “This is why we believe Social Bands are not just a tool to get us through the pandemic,” she said, “but more of a new way of mingling in groups in the future.”
The other benefit: Wristbands are already part of popular culture. Putting one on seems more natural than donning a hazmat-style suit, sitting next to robots, or any of these strange solutions to social distancing.
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.