Swinging Between the Traditional Office and the Virtual Workplace

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

I watched my kids playing on the swing set recently on a Sunday morning after church. My mind was already drifting to my work week as I observed their enjoyment of the ride. Back and forth, higher and higher they go. My heart warms as they laugh and shout out, “Watch me, Dad!”

They float weightless for a split second as they reach the pinnacle of the backswing. Then gravity takes over, pulling them forward with the wind rushing through their hair until momentum carries them flying upward. Then weightlessness again, and the pull of gravity. Back and forth.

I think about the meetings I have coming up during the week. Often, the demands of my work feel like I am a kid on this swing set, travelling back and forth between two extremes that balance each other.

Let me explain. I work from a virtual office. I have for years. In the corporate world, I worked with a team based in another city nearly 1,000 miles away and served other employees scattered all around the country. I also work with The High Calling team, which is literally spread around the globe.

The Internet is how I connect with other people.

I could go on for hours explaining all of the advantages of working in a virtual world. Time and space become irrelevant. I can connect with anyone, anywhere. My client base isn’t limited to the people within driving distance. At its peak, working in a world of technology looks pretty sweet.

But it’s a long way from the other extreme--person-to-person, face-to-face, real-life interactions. I have some of these meet-space meetings on my calendar too. It’s good to sit in the same room as someone. We can set our technologies aside and look each other in the eyes, shake hands, or give a fistbump that doesn't need a hashtag.

I have some (local) clients who just don’t get the technology. They need everything delivered in-person with notes taken with pen on paper. Even teams that get the technology can recognize the value of meeting face-to-face. After talking with Google about how that company managed its virtual teams, the High Calling team began to meet and retreat together once a year at Laity Lodge.

The upside to each of these extremes is great. A perfect in-person meeting or a smooth virtual experience is like hitting the peak of the ride on a swing set. That moment of weightlessness is the joy of the ride. However, it is not the whole ride. Between each peak lies the tension of gravity's pull and momentum's push, carrying us from one world to the other.

Both worlds are essential in the twenty-first century. Too much virtual interaction leads to isolation with every relationship mediated through a computer screen or a microphone. Technology can only transmit a limited amount of human connection. And when the screen is off, then you are alone. On the other hand, meeting only in-person can is rarely advisable. Virtual work efficiently communicates large volumes of information and provides more and broader opportunities for connection.

In-person relationships and experiences can be greatly enhanced by virtual connections. Technology removes barriers to connecting and allows work and relationship-building to continue seamlessly. Proportionately, virtual relationships and experiences can be greatly enhanced by in-person connections. Proximity enhances bonding and builds trust, connecting people at a deeper level than mere virtual work.

Like the ride on the swing, I miss the full experience of twenty-first century work if I focus on only one side of the ride. Certainly, reaching the peak of the swing is amazing. There is great joy in both extremes. I love the perfect thread of connectedness and depth in a solid, focused online conversation. I love just as much the joy of sitting at the same table to share coffee with friends that I rarely see in person. But there is just as much joy in the swing between extremes.

So I watch my kids ride, back and forth. They fly from peak to peak with shouts of joy. The tension of the competing forces creates an environment where they feel the rush of the ride. And I think about my meetings for the week with a fresh perspective, about how I will balance virtual and physical interactions to create deeper, stronger, and richer experiences for me and my clients.

How will you enjoy the ride this week?

EDITOR’S NOTE: All week on The High Calling, we’re focusing on God and Technology. Do you wonder how to stay focused on God in the age of screens? Join us each day this week for articles and reflections on serving God in a world of technology. Do you know someone who loves technology? Invite them to consider a Christian perspective on technology by sharing one of this week’s articles via email or social media.

Image by Gary Simmons. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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