Filed Under: Best Practices, Blog

Technology has its advantages, but…

Emails, texts, blogs, podcasts, virtual school nutrition shows, and virtual national meetings, oh my! We have come a long way in school nutrition with the use of technology but the question that I ponder is: have we gone too far? Additionally, do we rely on technology too much? What happens to personal interactions? What happens to conversations in the hallway during a conference break, or over a glass of wine in the hotel bar? The past 22 months have been grueling and we have been forced to jump into technology to continue the work on things that need to get done. I have been in more virtual meetings than I care to think about but what I found missing is the connection – the real connection between me and those other people now on the screen.

I sat staring at my computer many times wondering if those in Congress could see the pain in our eyes. I held onto hope that they would virtually see my expression reflecting the harsh reality of continuing to feed kids using all these waivers. Somehow, I feel like the screen hides some of the anguish, the anxiety, the urgency of what is needed to continue to help children avoid hunger. It seems insensitive in a way, removed, easy to click off a session and seamlessly move on to the next meeting.

And what about working remotely? There are some that really enjoy it and hope to never go back to the office. What then happens to the birthday donuts, friendships, and work family support we would find in the office? For many it was a place of belonging, where collaboration was easy. You wandered down the hall to ask a quick question or brainstorm an idea. Now everything has to be planned. You need to send out an invite and hope you can find time to gather – all for a five minute discussion that used to occur at the water cooler. You can’t pour a bag of small chocolates out on the table in a virtual meeting and the concept of a virtual social – don’t even get me started. What is that? Drinking a glass of wine, eating my own snacks, sitting in my own kitchen, by myself? That just isn’t fun! There is something missing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the use of technology has been amazing. I can visit a vendor booth, get questions answered, and work collaboratively on the same document as everyone types their comments. Still I don’t want to trade the personal connection of the workplace for the convenience of my living room.

I survived in school nutrition because when I first started, young and full of enthusiasm, I found a group of people just like me. That initial passion was dashed very quickly in a new district resistant to change. The program was very difficult to learn and understand. All those federal requirements had my head spinning and it was exhausting to be on your own as the one and only school nutrition director in the district. The face to face meetings were where I met those people, just like me. What I quickly discovered is that the difficulty was in the nature of the job, not my lack of skill or knowledge base which was causing some of those oppressing challenges. Everyone seemed to be facing the same issues – and together we would come up with solutions. Sometimes that meant physically visiting a different district and watching their serving lines or how a specific piece of equipment worked – all while asking questions of the professionals in the kitchen. They even let me try things out! You just can’t do that virtually.

My PhD dissertation lurks in the back of my mind as we move forward with technology. I looked at the perceived operational support (POS) of school nutrition employees as technology was introduced into the workplace. Then there was a lot of fear and apprehension. Today there is acceptance and even complete reliance on these solutions.

So, my hope for the future is this: that technology will aid all of us in our daily tasks. However, this does not come about at the cost of personal interaction – the real connections between human beings. Give people ample training, technical assistance, and time to learn how to best use technology but don’t forget to bring the birthday donuts to the office.

Be happy and carry on. Until next month.

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