Online meetings, conference calls, texts and emails have become common methods of working during the coronavirus pandemic, and it reminds me how much I miss communicating with people face-to-face.
By Michael Miiller, Special to CalMatters
On a recent morning in front of my house, I ran into a neighbor and her husband who were out walking their dog. We stayed 6 feet apart, of course.
She and I have known each other professionally for more than 20 years. We chatted briefly about how we are holding up and adjusting to life amid the coronavirus. And then I asked her a work-related question relative to the pandemic. Her feedback in a real-time, same-space conversation was greatly appreciated.
In that simple conversation I was reminded that I really miss face-to-face, real human communication.
Online meetings, conference calls, texts and emails have now become the most common methods of doing our work. Multi-tasking while working from home may involve being distracted by helping our children do their schoolwork while at the same time we do our jobs.
This new reality is challenging and is very different from how we dealt with past crises.
When I was at the Employment Development Department’s legislative office early in the Wilson Administration’s first term, it seemed we faced crisis after crisis. To address mostly economic and social crises, we had brainstorming meetings where we explored and developed new options. We went off to further refine those solutions and then came back together to discuss what we had developed. And from there we moved ideas up the food chain.
A few years later I worked for then-Assemblymember Jackie Speier. We worked on unique solutions to raise revenues without raising taxes to help close, what was then, a historic budget revenue gap. Several years later with then-Senate President pro Tempore Don Perata, we worked on developing tools to help keep families in their home during the subprime mortgage collapse.
Speier and Perata both valued bipartisan collaboration and worked closely with stakeholders and the administration. In both offices, staff met several times a day, exchanging ideas and sharing information, as we developed meaningful solutions that served the public in a time of need.
How we deal with this current crisis is unlike how we have done things before. This is in part because past crises didn’t affect every human on the planet. Today, in every industry, every public agency and every job, the coronavirus pandemic is a major focus of our day-to-day work. Consequently, the universe of problems can seem insurmountable.
And because we are personally at risk in this crisis, we all instinctively approach this from the perspective of how the pandemic affects each of us personally – how it affects our families.
The problem is compounded even more because we are social beings. Face-to-face communication is important to us. Without that, we lose the communication of body language — facial expressions, rolled eyes, laughter, exuberance, etc.
We also lose the value of immediate response. Instead, we need to remember to unmute. We need to allow for others to talk on Skype before we talk. We ask questions through chat features on Zoom or YouTube meetings. Today we communicate through a stilted technology-driven method that misses many of the nuisances of human communication.
But what choice do we have? In this crisis, it is all we can do.
That said, I am incredibly proud of my colleagues in the capitol community. Things ain’t easy. But collectively, you are helping us get through this. You are figuring out, on a daily basis, how to deal with this new norm, while also knowing we will not let this moment become our long-term reality.
The other day, my daughter told me, “Dad, you work hard.” She explained by saying, “Because you work with both. Democrats and Republicans.” I smiled as I was subtly reminded that my 10-year-old hears me when I am working.
I am honored to work with all of you and look forward to running into you soon.
Michael Miiller is the director of Government Relations for the California Association of Winegrape Growers and has worked in and around the California Legislature since 1988, M_Miiller@yahoo.com.