Page 22 - Texas811 Magazine 2022 Issue 3
P. 22

Can You
Hear Me
By Joe Igel
Ithink it safe to say that the purpose of technological advances is to make life easier, better, and potentially simpler. If we review the advancements throughout our
lives, I would hope that the examples we would recount could support that conclusion. But as we look at a post- COVID world and some of the changes that have occurred in the past couple of years, I am not sure that conclusion is a safe one.
As COVID forced work habits to change, in-person contact to be abandoned and social distancing and “at home” being the rule, virtual meetings, virtual doctor appointments, virtual family visits became commonplace. Even now, when we are emerging from much of the isolation, many individuals and companies are still choosing the virtual form of meeting. While this is understandable from a continued health risk, is it the best for communication, discussion, and deliberation?
Is this virtual method the way
our future will be or is it merely a momentary spike? While these kinds of meetings are infinitely superior to the old conference call, they are by no means a replacement for in-person meetings. So why am I addressing this topic in the technology issue of an underground damage prevention publication? Two reasons, really.
Virtual Does Not Equal In-person
When the State of Ohio suspended most in-person meetings, we on the Underground Technical Committee, Ohio’s enforcement board, had to meet
20 • Texas811 2022, Issue 3
virtually or not at all. Our duties to act and our obligation to promote safety remained. We met virtually.
I agree that the advantages of virtual meetings are massive. No travel, the ability to work from a location with excellent resources at your fingertips,
a relaxed atmosphere are all plusses. However, it is difficult to witness much of what makes an in-person meeting superior (at least to me). There, I try to watch for people that are not involved, not speaking yet often looking like they wish to. Body language speaks volumes about a person’s thoughts but is not truly visible on the screen. People seem to be less distracted when they are physically there. Virtually, it is often unclear if a participant has simply muted their end of the conversation or has left their workstation altogether and if they are following the discussion. I do not believe that the decision- making process necessarily suffers from being conducted virtually, but I do believe that the relationships between individuals and the ebb and flow of the meeting can suffer.
It Does Not End There
Unfortunately, many of these behaviors, some of them not desired, have spilled over into other portions of business. A good friend carefully weighs the kind of information he wants or needs to convey and then chooses the best way to relay it (phone call, text, email, etc.). His philosophy is that sometimes a call is just the easiest way instead of going back and forth.
With labor shortages, service has suffered. Several times a week, I reach
a point online where the recording advises me that my problem/issue requires a phone call and when I
call, the message tells me that the
wait will be long and that I should
or must go to the company’s website. Unfortunately, this practice is leaking into the business world contributing to inadequate or unclear communications. A locate request, an explanation of the complaint that is filed with the UTC, or an explanation as to why it should not constitute a violation all seem to be more muddled. Technology can only help working with what it receives as input. Clarity is suffering.
There is no substitute for what we all used to do, what we learned was correct, what clear and concise communication means. Usually, I ask someone who is not too familiar with the specifics of
a matter addressed in an account of something I am trying to explain so that they can read and react to the content. It is often amazing that they see an entirely unfamiliar perspective than that for which I had hoped. To this end, when we were rolling out the new law,
I went to numerous contractor groups and told them to follow the same procedure whether writing a complaint or a response to one, supplying enough clear information so it would stand on its own.
For me, virtual meetings are a wonderful tool, but there are many other tools in the toolbox, and some may be better suited to the task at hand.
Mr. Igel recently retired as vice president of the George J. Igel & Co., Inc. after working there for more than 35 years.

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