Reflections on Teleworking

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(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog, Intersect Project blog, 4Word Women blog, and the Coram Deo blog.  I invite you to read my follow-up article, written after completing four and a half months of telework here.)

“Honey, I’ll be glad to stop by the store on the way home from work and pick that up for you.”

I am not able to say this right now.  I probably will not say anything like it for quite some time.  For the past two weeks, I have been working from home, like many others, due to the Coronavirus.

Here, I will address some of the unique challenges I have faced having been forced to telework on short notice due to social distancing as a result of this pandemic.  (See previous article.)  Let me share some of what I like about this new situation, what I miss, and what has been difficult for me.  Then, I will focus my thoughts on how my Christian faith is impacted by this new environment.

What do I like?

  • I really like not having to commute forty minutes each way to work; it is saving money, wear and tear on the car, and eliminates the risk of me falling asleep on the way home
  • I like working in a place relatively free of interruptions, allowing me to concentrate on major projects, which is usually very difficult for me to do at my office
  • I like that I was able to learn how to use new video teleconferencing systems and collaborative document sharing sites to enable key leaders and staff to work as a team
  • I am grateful that some major inspections and visits from VIPs were postponed for a bit
  • I am enjoying the daily devotions that the school chaplain is putting out, where he shares a thought on one relevant Scripture and attaches a theology of work article from my blog

What do I miss?

  • I truly miss the daily face-to-face interactions with my Operations team, my leaders, fellow staff members, and all of the other folks that I occasionally run into at the headquarters
  • I do miss the frequent interruptions from customers who drop by with a question or a need
  • I actually miss the constant chaos, and the challenge of trying to maintain it
  • I also miss our Tuesday lunch Bible studies (see article published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog)

What has been difficult?

  • Keeping up with all of the new and old ways people contact me: email, phone, text, video-teleconference sessions, and Facebook messenger, some of which come simultaneously
  • Accepting that my roles and responsibilities have changed; some duties have temporarily stopped and I am spending a lot of time on new things I have never had to do before
  • Communication with leaders and subordinates is mostly limited to emails and texts

Immanuel labor

From a theological perspective, I have observed there were many impacts on work right away.

I have to go back to my foundational concept in my theology of work: Immanuel labor – God is present in our work.  This divine-human connection is supported in Scripture in many places.  (See article I wrote that was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and another article on my blog.)  Even though my work has changed significantly, this principle remains the same since God has not changed who He is.

I am grateful that God brought this to mind at 0730 on Day 1.  When I stepped into my temporary office from my kitchen, I recognized that I was standing on holy ground.  God was present in my new workspace.  By His grace, He would continue to work in me, with me, and through me, right here at my personal desk that now held my government computer, just has He always had done.

I still experience God’s presence while working alone.  God freely gives me His peace, wisdom, and joy whether I am in the office or at home.  However, the way that I bring the presence of God to others when I am not present with them is challenging for me.  I have to rest that His presence is continuing to flow through me as I abide in Christ whenever I text, email, or have a video chat.

Thorns and Thistles

In addition to changes in how I experience God’s presence at work, another aspect that has been drastically different in this new environment of teleworking is its unique set of thorns and thistles.

I am referring to God’s curse that made work harder than necessary as a direct result of the sins of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:17-19), others I work for (above, below, and next to me), and myself.  (See article I wrote that was published on the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University blog and another article I wrote on my blog where I shared some illustrations of thorns and thistles.)

Here are some of the things that I have discovered that make everyone’s job much harder:

  • Uncertainty – None of us knows how long this “new normal” is going to last
  • Decision-making – It is more difficult to make hard decisions when the team is scattered
  • Stress – Never-ending time-sensitive requests for information, preparation for daily briefings, ever-changing requirements, long hours, and extremely high expectations
  • Learning curve – Having to learn how to do many things outside our usual comfort zone (i.e., learning new technologies to participate in virtual meetings, no playbook to go by)

However, I have learned that we cannot stay stuck just because work has been impacted by sin.  The gospel of Jesus Christ gives me hope.  It enables me respond biblically to the thorns thistles I see at work as trials that God uses to build my character into greater Christ-likeness.  (See Rom. 5:3-5.)

Working Wisely

What clearly comes to mind is how the way in which I work has been impacted by teleworking, especially when it comes to how I relate to my employer and to my employees.  (See article I wrote on my blog where I focused on the employer-employee relationship.)

The first thing that comes to mind is the higher level of discipline that is required as I work from home.  At the start of each day, I have to lay out what I anticipate will be my boss’ priorities for me and then press on towards completion, whether she is present or absent.  My boss cannot just pop into my office to see how I am doing or to check on the status of a hot project.  (However, she does seem to do that virtually at least once a day through our desktop video-conferencing application.)

Additionally, how I submit to my employer in a tangible way from a distance is a critical thing.  Scripture tells me is my number one duty.  (See Eph. 6:5-7.)  It is to my advantage that I do this.  (See Heb. 13:17.)  I also have to remember that Jesus is my ultimate boss; I work for His glory.

How has teleworking impacted my relationships with the Soldiers that work for me? This is where I think that I have some growing to do.  I am an “out of sight, out of mind” person.  I always have been.  Since I don’t see them here in my office, they tend to get forgotten.  And that is sad.

Beforehand, I may have been tied up for a half an hour or so reading emails or updating slides, but I came out of my office occasionally to get a drink of water or just to see how everyone is doing.  For example, at 1430 nearly every day, because of my unique sense of humor, I will announce to anyone around that it is time to see the dentist.   Why?  Because it is tooth-hurty (two-thirty)!

As the weeks of teleworking turn into months, I have to work harder to find ways to intentionally reconnect with my two noncommissioned officers who work for me.  They deserve that.  More importantly, that is what I am called to do, to love my neighbors at work, whether present or not.

In closing, I trust that this reflection on how my Christian faith intersects my work in this new teleworking environment shed some light on some of the challenges many of us are facing.  I for one know that I need to spend more time praying that I will be just as faithful at the home office.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

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