Today I face the new normal. It’s the same monitors, same ergonomic keyboard, same trackball mouse. It’s all the same. Except it isn’t. Instead of sitting beside colleagues within the familiar walls of our office, I’m facing my lounge wall, sat at a slightly-too-high-for-comfort dining table and listening to some classical music to keep me company in the quiet of a cul-de-sac where everyone else is also forced to stay inside. It’s the new normal – but nothing feels at all normal to me.
As I embark on my very first week of working from home in over 15 years with the same company, I will have to come up with new ways to do the things that I have always done a certain way. I’m the line manager for the entire team (in my boss’s words, he manages me while I manage everyone else) – so how on earth do I go about keeping an eye on what everyone is doing whilst also trying to keep on top of my own work via VPN connections, remote desktops and online chat windows?
I was recently listening to some old sermons from the church’s back catalogue. I was one of many blessed by Harry Davies’ ministry with us before he was called to be with the Lord, but he’s been speaking to me, as though from beyond the grave, as I’ve been travelling to work and back over the last few weeks. Something he said in one of those sermons struck a chord and it’s echoing now as I sit here entirely on my own. “You don’t work for your boss. You work for Christ.” How, then, can I best work for Christ when I’m sat here, quite literally out of my comfort zone, out of my work environment, and away from everything that’s familiar? What words of advice and encouragement can the Bible offer me and my fellow home-based workers in these strange, unprecedented times?
Ephesians 6 tells us:
5 Slaves*, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
*Here in the 21st century, slavery conjures up images of the African slave trade. We should interpret this as something closer to “workers”
Give it all you’ve got
Here at home, without the benefit of an office where I can make a clean divide between work and home life, it could be sorely tempting to nip around the house and get a few things done. There’s 5 minutes’ peace from e-mails coming in – maybe I could do a bit of dishwashing, or drop something off at the tip (since I can’t normally get there on a weekday – how convenient!). But Paul’s words would speak against this approach:
“Obey… with sincerity of heart… Serve wholeheartedly”.
If we have one eye on the TV or we’re being distracted by umpteen things around the house, our whole hearts quite simply aren’t in it. When we’re at work, we need to be at work – body and mind. We must focus at home just as much as we would at the office.
I appreciate that right now there are parents out there trying desperately to focus on work whilst having the kids running around the place screaming and turning your tidy lounge into what can be loosely described as a bombsite. I can’t pretend to be in this boat. The only distractions I have are of my own making. But in spite of this, you will need to discuss and lay down rules so that you can, to the best of your ability, serve your earthly master and your Heavenly one wholeheartedly and with sincerity. Perhaps involve your children in this, if they are old enough – ask them to think of ways that they can make it easier for you to dedicate certain hours to your job without any distractions or interruptions. With the whole family pulling together, your potential 12-week quarantine may be more bearable for everyone!
Don’t slack (except when working on Slack – if you know, you know)
I’m sat in front of my PC, most definitely working. I’ve completed all the tasks for incoming orders, so I should be moving onto our “busy jobs” – those unpaid admin tasks that always pile up; archiving old jobs, updating lists, sorting out e-mails. Let’s face it, they’re just not particularly thrilling. When the team are in the office as usual, we can all see when someone is busy with orders – they’re running around like headless chickens, making frantic calls and shouting out across the room for suggestions on which freelancers might be the best for their job. But from home and with no one’s eyes on me… jobs could be strung out just a little bit longer, avoiding diving head-long into that admin task because it’s frankly going to drive me nuts when I don’t have my usual workspace.
Again, Paul is clear on this:
“Obey [your boss] not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as [workers] of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart”.
If our line managers have asked us to get certain tasks done, we need to do it – to the best of our ability with what tools and skills we have. If we get through the task in no time, great! Go and ask for another task to do. As ambassadors for Christ, our level of service should be the same, no matter whether our earthly boss is watching or not. Even via a remote connection, we can be beacons of light in an otherwise dark landscape, seeking to reflect Christ in every aspect of our daily work.
Be thankful – rejoice and be glad
Through a colleague I’ve heard today of someone being laid off. It seems so soon into these lockdown measures to be considering lay-offs, and yet I fear it is the beginning of a tidal wave. Our own company and no doubt many organisations up and down the country will be instituting measures to help balance the books until we come out the other side of this dark tunnel. And yet we must give thanks through this. While being locked in and not being able to work in our usual ways, we might give in to frustration, anger and annoyance. Yet we can rejoice and give thanks for the jobs we have; for the income to feed ourselves and our families.
I work regularly with a large number of freelancers, and I’m conscious that their work – from me and other agencies – will now be dropping off a cliff. It pains me that I have to say no to their enquiries for work – I simply can’t offer what I don’t have. And yet I am called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-19). I can thank God that, in spite of the economic difficulties, I still have work, that I can be of use to my employer, and that I can enjoy the security of an income such that I can give to those who will be in most desperate trouble in these coming weeks and months.
God gives us the grace we need
I’ve written all of the above knowing full well that I’m precisely the kind of person who will fail miserably at the first hurdle and will want to lean on my own strength to get me through – and I’ll inevitably fail again. And again. And again. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you’re anything like me, welcome to the club. But in this club, let’s agree that we won’t beat ourselves up about how many times we get it wrong or are imperfect at what we do – whether that’s being a project manager (like me!), head honcho in finance (you know who you are), or the busy mum just trying to hold it together when you just want to tear your hair out when your dearest darling is having the latest in a string of tantrums (will you PLEASE just put your shoes on!). We can be encouraged that we have a wonderful Saviour who goes before us, knows our fears and our failures, and loves us just as we are. He knows when we fall down, and he can pick us up. We are not perfect – and so we will not be perfect workers, nor will we complete our work to perfection every day. But he is and he can. In his perfect work on the cross, he achieved perfection for us.
In this enforced lockdown, many of us will be facing challenges we have never experienced before. For working parents, it might be someone with small fingers fiddling with the Ethernet cable and demanding dinner whilst you try to submit an important document; for others it might be the distraction of nuisance calls that you previously avoided when you were at a quiet office all day. Whatever the challenge you face today, be encouraged that God will give you the grace you need to get through.
Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote a hymn several years ago, Before You I Kneel, which has the subheading A Worker’s Prayer. I enjoy the words anyway, but at present it feels particularly poignant:
Before You I kneel, my Master and Maker,
To offer the work of my hands.
For this is the day You’ve given Your servant;
I will rejoice and be glad
For the strength I have to live and breathe,
For each skill Your grace has given me,
For the needs and opportunities
That will glorify Your great name.
Before You I kneel and ask for Your goodness
To cover the work of my hands.
For patience and peace to shape all my labor,
Your grace for thorns in my path.
Flow within me like a living stream,
Wear away the stones of pride and greed
‘Til Your ways are dwelling deep in me
And a harvest of life is grown.
Before You we kneel, our Master and Maker;
Establish the work of our hands.
And order our steps to seek first Your kingdom
In every small and great task.
May we live the gospel of Your grace,
Serve Your purpose in our fleeting days,
Then our lives will bring eternal praise
And all glory to Your great name.
You can listen to it online too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPVtx_HCpOo
If you have time, listen for yourself at some point this week, and take encouragement from the words. Make it your prayer that you would bring all glory to His great name in how you work this week. Remember that he gifted you with the skills you have to do your job – you are fearfully and wonderfully made. He can give you the grace and patience to endure those “thorns in [your] path”, whatever they may be (probably a Lego brick).
Brothers and sisters, this week and for the coming weeks working in isolation, let us all obey our earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as we would obey Christ. And let us be encouraged that we have a merciful, gracious and loving Saviour who can help us achieve it.
Written by Karen Ellis