What we can’t do online


By Richard Gammill | PREVIEW Columnist

“If you work from home, you won’t get anything done because you will do everything else but work.” “If you work from home, it will be very difficult for you to collaborate with your team mates.” “End of discussion.” 

Prior to COVID-19, that is what most managers thought.

Then when COVID-19 struck in February 2020, everyone was sent home and what everyone thought was impossible suddenly worked. Overnight the situation went from one extreme to the other: from everyone in the office to everyone sent home. 

The CEO of a Swiss bank told each of his 400 employees whether they were allowed to work at home or not. With COVID, everything shifted very fast; everyone had to figure out how to collaborate while unable to be present with each other, using video chat or other collaboration tools. They made the shift that many had said could not be done. 

The biggest change was that previously when there was a technology issue, the workers just put their heads together, talked it out and everyone got back to work at their desk. When there was an issue at the bank, the managers came over and asked, “What is going on with IT?” That required some remote consultation with third-party lenders, mostly because of distance, but otherwise all project meetings were in person with limited online collaboration.

Mostly they would meet at the coffee machine and ask, what about this or that, spinning ideas off of each other. That was the biggest change in going from 100 percent physical presence to 100 percent remote. Online conversations are more intentional and to the point. You might spend 30 minutes talking about the problem and when you hang up the conversation is over and you might not talk again for several days or even a month, depending on the interaction you have with that person. That is one of the biggest challenges, figuring out how to keep progress going without seeing each other every day. 

 The overriding concern in sending everyone home was that productivity would plummet and everything else would be fine, but to the surprise of almost everyone, productivity remained strong, even increased. People at home tend to work longer hours and have no commute time. 

But innovation took a big hit. 

With all the tools available, a lot of nonverbal communication goes on: body language, looking at people in the face. But dehumanization and separation happens even in a video call — not just physically, but also mentally. Only one thread of discussion works on a video call, without side discussions or interruptions. So you talk on one topic, the next person talks and so on. Spinning ideas off each other, having that spontaneous interaction with each other, seems to be the big thing that’s missing. That’s the key and now Amazon has made a “back to the office” call for exactly that reason.

Beginning in May, Amazon technology workers were to spend three days each week at the office and two days working at home. Because of the radical changes of the past three years, they know technology can support both, allowing flexibility in the work environment. 

There are lessons here for the church. Scripture says don’t forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Why do we have this instruction? Even if we are introverted, we are herd creatures, not meant to be alone. In Genesis when God made Adam, He said it’s not good for man to be alone, so He made a helper. Adam and Eve had fellowship, one with another. We are made to worship God and do it in a community of believers. 

People can worship and serve God individually, but the collaboration of many is what brings out the great thoughts, the great ideas and insights, the great undertakings.

If I just want to consume, there are thousands of preachers out there who preach great messages and throughout the week I can listen to those. That gives me a lot of biblical knowledge and valuable personal inputs. But it doesn’t replace the weekly assembling with other Christians. When we worship together, gather together over a meal and share life together, it’s what we can’t do online. The results of a survey showed that 40 percent of the respondents would not attend a church that was only online.

When we talk about online services, it is usually very egocentric: “I do this because my time is very valuable, I don’t want to share anything, I don’t want to share my time. I don’t want to waste my time when I could be doing something else.” 

Going from an egotistical to a holistic view of the faith and the publication of my faith is the key. Am I just focusing on myself or am I willing to participate in the construction of a healthy body of Christ? That is really the question at the end of the day.

This article springs out of a conversation with my friend, David Guenthardt, formerly IT manager of a bank in Switzerland and currently senior technical program manager with Amazon Web Services.

This column may include both fiction and nonfiction, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of The SUN. Submissions can be sent to editor@pagosasun.com.