I’m writing this as the news and illnesses related to COVID-19 hang over our anxious and social-distanced country. In an attempt to stem the tide of viral transmission, a large number of employers strongly encouraged their employees to work from home if possible—an option that many Christian employees have taken for the first time. For those who haven’t experienced working remotely or who haven’t worked remotely very much, this can be a big change. Sometimes it can be difficult. As I was thinking about this influx of new remote workers, I realized that I’ve worked from home remotely for six years. If someone were to ask me how a Christian can work remotely for God’s glory, this is what I would tell them.
First, remote work demands integrity. This is a crucial point. Without integrity, all the best practices in the world won’t matter. It is on this point that the remote work option has received a bad name in the past few years. In multiple industries, employees have been hired for remote work only to not work at all or to intentionally work only a few hours a week. But even if you’re not trying to game the remote work economy, laziness is a real temptation. Remote work lacks the social accountability that most office spaces supply. A coworker is likely going to say something to you or your supervisor if you spend the majority of the time at your desk playing games or researching your best fantasy sports roster. In-person conversations with fellow employees cultivate a shared work ethic; seeing our coworkers diligently at work encourages us to the same.
This is where our faith augments our vocation in remote work. Because we know we ultimately work for God’s glory beyond even our supervisor’s approval or a paycheck, as remote employees we pursue integrity recognizing that even the remotest workspace is not remote to our God. If we can keep this one principle in mind that remote work is coram Deo, before the face of God, then we can work effectively from home no matter what our home office setups are like. Holding this major principle in mind, let’s turn to seven practical pieces of advice for remote work.
Avoid the Lie of Max Efficiency
Some of the spurious thinking around remote work is that the absence of the trappings of corporate drudgery will produce in remote employees a vast amount of productivity. Might we be more productive working from home? Maybe. But we are not machines; we are human beings. The effects of the fall, the thorns and sweat, still curse all of Adam’s children at work—in the office or at home. And we are finite creatures. The best studies in focused work show that we can likely concentrate on a task only for sixty to ninety minutes before we need a break. And those same studies show that focused chunks of work like that are only sustainable in two or three sprints a day. So we should cut ourselves some reasonable slack, schedule focused work, take breaks, and allow for times of more mundane work such as answering emails and organizing file systems to break up our workdays.
Make the Call
The assumption of remote work is that it will entail less voice-to-voice and face-to-face communication. But does that have to be true? The reality of most on-site workspaces and office buildings is that digital communication by text—email, messaging platforms, texts, message boards—is already the primary method of communication even for employees who may have adjoining offices or who work in an open office space. We just don’t talk to each other anymore. However, new models of effective project management—like Agile and Lean methodologies—are showing that the more productive teams are the ones that speak more often in person. Remote employees still have that option. If we have a question or need to relay information, we should pick up the phone or schedule a video conference as much as we can. The more we do this, the more productive and healthier our work environment will be. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this pandemic resulted in coworkers who place a higher value on more personal forms of communication?
Know the Expectations
Most employers and supervisors had not prepared for transitioning the bulk of their teams to remote work in the event of a global pandemic. But here we are. And every work situation is different. Even one’s status as a salaried or hourly employee will frame remote work. So, as the opportunities arise, we should have open and frank conversations with our supervisor about what our supervisor expects from us in a remote work environment. What are the hours that we are expected to be available? How are we expected to be available—phone, email, chat service? Do company dress codes apply to video conferences with remote employees? All these issues and more should be discussed openly, and we should not be afraid to bring up the conversation.
Find Your Watercooler
I’m not sure how many people still talk around watercoolers, but it has come to be the emblematic location for non-work-related conversation among coworkers. As remote employees, we still need to take breaks and find our “watercoolers.” In this pandemic, many of us are quarantined with our families. We have the blessing of finding ways to incorporate them into our breaks or lunch hours. Those who are single and working remotely from home may find that their watercooler is a phone call with a family member or a close friend.
Prioritize Your Notifications
For most employees, new work or change orders come in the form of written messages, usually by email. And in our complex economy, much less during a global crisis, emails and messages can arrive at an alarming rate. At the same time, some messages and some senders are far more important than others. How do we separate the signal from the noise? First, we should not turn on notifications for every possible message from every possible person. We can use our computers or phone settings to set selective notifications for only the most high-priority messages or senders. With prioritized notifications, we can still work with focus, knowing that we’ll be interrupted only when it is important.
Even though remote work requires digital connectivity, we can still take time to work using pen and paper, especially if we’ve prioritized our notifications. Working analog has the benefit of reducing distraction and anxiety, which is particularly helpful during a global crisis, when the temptation to obsessively check the ever-evolving news cycle is so strong.
Incorporate a Commute
My commute is the fourteen steps between the main floor of my home and my basement office. While I love the complete certainty that I won’t face any traffic on my way home, I still can’t always transition from work to home easily in the ten seconds it takes me to walk up fourteen steps. For remote employees, work and home are in the same location, so there’s no commute. It might be a healthy ritual to take five minutes at the end of the workday for a virtual commute. We can take a few minutes and record where we are finishing our work so that we can clearly and quickly jump back in the next day. Write down any outstanding problems that still need solutions. Then we can turn our minds toward home and focus on the priorities that God has given us outside of work—our family, our health, and our personal lives. Let us briefly thank God for what we were able to accomplish that day and ask for both strength and direction to continue to serve the Lord as we “arrive” home.
Talk to a Remote-Working Friend
There are more tips for working remotely than can be mentioned in a single blog post; there are whole books on the subject. But the best next step if we’d like to learn more about remote work is to seek out a trusted coworker or friend who was already working remotely before COVID-19. We can ask for their tips and help as we work in a new space. Without question, workspaces around the globe will be forever changed by this virus. But it doesn’t have to be for ill. As Christians working remotely, whether we will continue in that capacity or not, we have a chance to pursue the glory of God in a unique work environment.