On Working and Living from Home
Based on a seminar for the 9th Cross-Current Conference, 2020-11-21
In mid-March, one of my clients, a German company, created a channel on Slack called #wfh where workers could share photos of their setup at home. I remember a colleague posting a photo of a laptop placed on a metal step ladder: By the time she had gone to buy a desk, there was nothing in stock.
A post by The Economist that month read, "Planet Earth is shutting down because of COVID-19". Lockdowns across the globe to stop the spread of a new virus meant that most of us were suddenly working from home. A Portuguese reporter described it as a "forced social experiment".
My daily life changed... not that much. In March, I had been working from home for about five years, always having loved it. Seeing everybody join me in 2020 made me want to share what I had learned over the years. "Over the years" is key: This was slow work for me, and it might be for you too. But I hope sharing this helps you a little bit.
This is some of my experience organizing work at home, fostering and maintaining meaningful connections, and sharing Christ.
Working at home
Think about what you find important
What do you consider important to have around as you work? Is it silence? Plants? A clean space?
An important thing for me is the option to work either standing or sitting to prevent back and neck pain. I experimented with formats over the years until I found what suited me: IKEA drawer units that I could place on my desk, using one of the drawers to add height if needed.
As you go through your day, pay attention to yourself to figure out what are some things you need, and see what you can implement.
Communicate with the people who share your living space
If you share your home with roommates or a spouse, you must now add one role to your relationship: Work colleagues (just in very different departments). Below are some questions you can ask each other:
Questions you can ask
When you are working, what is important for you?
Silence, natural light, plants, the option to work standing or sitting, snacks...
If I need to interrupt you, how should I do it?
If you can't be interrupted, how will I know?
Do we stop for lunch at the same time or separate times?
Are you okay with me cooking while you work? Should we cook the night before?
Which one of us will answer the door today?
You're about to have a meeting. What should I know?
Don't interrupt me, Can you answer the phone in the bathroom
We've got meetings scheduled at the same time. Now what?
I will move to another room, I will let my team know there will be background noise because you are at a meeting too, I will ask my boss if we can have that meeting at another time because you'll have one at that time and the background noise is unavoidable
The important thing is that you respect each other as colleagues: Discuss what is important for each of you as many times as necessary.
Organize your day before and as you work
I went through a lot of strategies over the years until I found what worked for me. Right now:
I use a paper planner to write down appointments and have a birds-eye view of the month (I get that a lot more easily with paper than with a digital calendar). (I use Passion Planner, where the weekly layout includes a space for to-do lists and blank space. Each day is also split into half-hour rather than hourly blocks, and it helps you choose a focus for the day, for the week, and the month.)
I use an app called Trello to keep track of my tasks. It is where I put everything that comes to mind, either in a To-Do or in a Brain Dump list.
I have an A6 notebook, in hectic weeks, where I write daily goals and random notes as I go, because it helps to keep me focused.
I use the Pomodoro technique (you can learn more about it here and try it here). A Pomodoro is about 25 minutes, and for each Pomodoro, you define mini-goals. If I don't use this, I get lost in the day; if I do, I get so much more done than I thought possible, and I also get a realistic notion of how long something really takes. (Did you know certain work emails can take up to 50 minutes to write?)
I have water. Yes. Have some water nearby and drink it.
Stretching and exercising is important not only to prevent back, neck or joint pain, but to keep you physically and mentally healthy.
Decide to take a 10-min break to do one of these. If that is too difficult, take a 2-minute break just to try one and see how it feels. (Really, 2 minutes? Yes. Make it as mini a goal as you need to achieve it.)
Making meaningful connections
This is something I learned in college, after losing touch with high school friends. I assumed that, if they were not reaching out, they didn't feel like it, so I didn't either. They probably thought the same, and nobody reached out to anybody.
It was a gentle reminder that friendships need to be tended to and maintained. This is more important than ever in 2020: If there is one thing it has taught us is that we have to be intentional. Having always worked from a room by myself, below is how I learned to both build and maintain meaningful connections online.
Put people on your planner: When I'm looking at my week, I block out slots for seeing friends. Then, I reach out to a friend and see if they might be available.
In lockdown times, this meant dinner on Zoom. My social calendar was just as filled during lockdown, with the benefit of easily meeting up with friends from all over Europe when distance would have been considered an impediment in pre-lockdown world.
Reach out to people: I make a note of sending messages to people every now and again. Those messages are never simply "Hi, how are you?". I do one of two things:
- If I know of something specific happening in their lives (new job, grandmother in the hospital, buying a house, got a haircut), I ask about that.
- I don't wait for them to ask me how I am. I tell them right away, and depending on what I choose to share, I decide on a level of closeness which they can choose to follow or not. (It could be "I just found out that beets go great with cinnamon" or "I've had such a crappy week. X happened, plus Y is still going on, and I'm reading Numbers and getting zero...").
- I finish by turning the conversation back to them ("Let me know how you are," "Would love to hear from you," "Let me know how X going...")
That sounds so calculating, you might say. To that I say, are you not genuinely interested in knowing how people are doing? Have you not been praying for some of them? Then think of this as online etiquette. This is how you show your interest and care.
Most people are wondering how to share their faith when you're mostly in a room by yourself, staring at a screen. But the answer, I find, is simple; just not so quick to implement. Whether in person or online, you need to know yourself and you need to know God.
In college, I swung between atheism and agnosticism. I remember feeling very strongly that the idea of God was disconnected from reality. When I became a Christian, I wanted to find a God that is drenched in reality that is drenched in him. Without him, reality does not exist.
This view was shaped by things like Graduate Impact's Bible & Culture, IFES in my country, new friends with the same outlook, but just as importantly, by meditation and prayer, which I go into below. As you get to know you and God, the two thinks connect.
Getting to know yourself
In the biblical book of Esther, one of the characters, Haman, was a man in a position of great honor, to whom the king asked for advice rather than explanations ("Keep the money and do with the people as you please", 3:11), with riches and children and status. Yet he was so consumed with envy, hatred and a need for whole-hearted approval that he was unable to enjoy it ("all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate", 5:13). What would Haman have heard from God if he had listened? What would we hear from God if we listened?
One of the ways we get to know ourselves is by observing, without judging, to identify our needs and emotions. We are "a unique expression of what is humanly possible," an idea offered here by Marilynne Robinson that we tend to overlook. We want to avoid being individualistic, but there is no denying that we are unique.
I recommend two articles from Psychology Today to help you get started:
Getting to know God
As we get to know ourselves, we must work on knowing God as well. The two go hand-in-hand (notice how we're able see ourselves in Haman). One of the ways we get to know him is through meditation and prayer. Here is what I recommend:
- To structure your meditation time, use the Redeemer Presbyterian Church's "Formation Daily Devotional" (here is the Getting Started page and an example).
- The book Prayer by Tim Keller (Book Depository) helps start and deepen prayer life. My time with God was transformed by reading this book.
- As you read, keep in mind the rhythm of adoring, admitting and *asking—*Luther's own way of meditating on a passage (one of the things you learn reading Keller's book. Or Luther, of course). Is there anything in the passage you're looking at over which you can adore God, that you need to admit, or that you could ask?
- Scrivener, a writing app for Mac, Windows and iOS, changed the way I relate to God because it allows me to organize my thoughts. Alternatives are Notion and OneNote.
A very important thing is brutal honesty. Tell God exactly what you're thinking. It is not that he doesn't know it: It is for your benefit and the benefit of your relationship. Remember that Psalm 88 does not end in praise. God is King, but also Father and the closest friend.
It all comes together
Sharing Christ in your daily life is mostly relational. That means it is conversational, and that means it is, for the most part, slow work.
As you get to know who you are; as you get to know who God is; and as reach out to make meaningful connections, slowly, you'll find you want to bring your point of view into a conversation, and that your point of view will have God in it. That will be your relationship with God bubbling up and overflowing. At that point, you may think about what to do with it.
From my own life I can give you one example: one morning I texted a friend saying I had just been listening to a podcast episode on how God had made work to be fulfilling, and a way of caring for others and for the earth — but not for survival, which was assured. In that last sense, I said, it was almost like universal basic income.
I shared it with her because we have talked about UBI a number of times; this was one of many things we talked about when it comes to God; because I'm not trying to convert her, though she knows I'd love for her to know this God; I'm just trying to be myself and listen to her. She doesn't think this God is real yet, but she likes him!, which is more than she would have said a year ago.
What this means in my life is that I talk about God more freely, revisiting my assumptions, understanding other people's... very slow work! But in conversation, which is what I really like.
What would it mean for your life? I don't know. I just hope you'll feel at home in it.
I hope this is useful.