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Thinking Biblically About Remote vs. Return to Office

"Do you work remotely or are you back in the office?”

It’s a question you’ve likely been asked over and over during the past year.

Today, an ongoing discussion is happening across America in small businesses and large corporations: where should we work now?

In this article, we tackle our fifth dilemma: “Should I work from home or return to the office?”

current trends

Over the last 18 months, it has been assumed that employees have the upper hand in negotiating their working arrangements with their employers. Stanford reports that 50% are refusing to return to the office and managers don’t know what to do about it.

With a “war for talent,” companies are having to consider whether they can fill their talent gaps if they maintain a fully in-person work agreement. Workers are re-evaluating their priorities and job-hopping to remote opportunities.

In our coaching practice, we encourage our clients to think through the job factors that will set them up to make their best contribution at work. In a recent session, “all remote” was at the top of the client’s list.

what do we know?

  1. Work From Home (WFH) is an expectation: VOCA’s 2021 study found that decisions regarding work from home ranked 5th in the top dilemmas people are facing at work. This issue would not have surfaced in 2019. It was not on the radar. Perhaps what is most noteworthy has to do with expectations. Employees believe they should get to decide where and when they work. Confident in their bargaining power, many say, “If a boss requires RTO, I’ll look for a job that offers WFH.”

  2. Remote Work is not Going Away: Anecdotally, executives in our thought leaders’ circle tell us that making hybrid and dispersed workforces possible is at the top of their lists. Other leaders across industries agree. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, said we will never return to business as usual. He suggested leaders need to adapt to this new reality. Knowledge workers have tasted the benefits of remote work and do not want to give them up.

  3. VOCA has a Bias: VOCA works as a distributed team with members in five states. We come together for donor appreciation events and client engagements. We deliver teaching, training, and coaching through hybrid formats. Some of our richest personal growth experiences have been hybrid.

Given all the background, how do we navigate the pull between these two poles: work from home vs. return to the office?

biblical themes that speak to this dilemma

  1. Your Primary Call: As Christ-followers our primary call is to love and serve God, and love and serve our neighbors. We never just “do what we want.” We ask, “What does God want?” We think through the implications of our choices on our neighbors, including our neighbors at work. What if you have a job where you can work from home but many of your colleagues do not? What might it look like to consider them?And as followers of Christ, who are here for his mission — to make disciples, i.e. contribute to the introduction and formation of other followers (see Matthew 28) — how does that impact our decisions? It would seem that retreating into a private, Christian work-from-home bubble might undermine the salt and light calling that God has on our lives.

  2. Embodied Human Nature: Biblical writers don’t separate a person from their body. Bodies are given God’s breath of life (Genesis 1) and are means for worship (Romans 12:1-2). One might argue that to work virtually all the time, always looking through the two dimensions of a screen, somehow cuts us off from the full essence of our colleagues and ourselves.

  3. Relationships: The importance of family, local church, long-lasting friendships, and local neighbors–all biblical mandates–could arguably be better honored when we WFH. This is a key factor for those who value remote work: the increased flexibility to create boundaries around work and invest in important relationships, especially at home.

For most of human history, people have worked from home. Commuting as the norm is 100 years old. Are we getting back to better roots? Is there a multidimensional benefit to the WFH movement?

Every model has its tradeoff. If WFH is better than RTO for home and community life, how do we make up for the loss at work? And how do we navigate the in-between? How can you, in your own context, discern your options and contribute in a meaningful way?

biblical wisdom

1. Honor Your Team and Teammates: "Insofar as it is possible, to the extent it depends on you, live in peace with all men”(Romans 12:18).

  • You may be the only one in your work unit that knows people are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image. How can you make Zoom calls more personal, trust your colleagues' agency and God-given talent, and show up at strategic points to connect with them in person? As Christ-followers, we should eagerly go the extra mile for our teammates. Think about how you can benefit and connect with others regardless of the official office days.

2. Find Favor with Power: "A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass” (Proverbs 19:12).

  • In every work situation, a wise approach understands what matters to those in power. Discern and deliver, and it generally will go well with you. (We mentioned cases when you need to stand up to power in our last post on Misaligned Values). Suppose your boss is an in-person kind of person; better to lean towards showing up even if it’s not mandatory. You may have the opposite: a boss that loves WFH. Adapt if you can.

3. Be a Sponge: "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding, it is established; by knowledge, the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise person is full of strength and a person of knowledge enhances his might" (Proverbs 24:3-5).

  • Some are suggesting that the best way to learn a culture, get mentors, and keep up on vital company intel is through the informal/unplanned serendipities of the office. That’s true if a critical mass of your colleagues is there. The goal at every stage of your career, particularly the early phases, is learning: gain wisdom and knowledge. Does that still happen at the water cooler? Maybe. Does it happen at the company offsite? Probably. Can it come from initiating one-on-one zooms, coffees, and in-person meals? Absolutely. Ask great questions, be a sponge, apply what you learn.

4. See What Options You Really Have: "In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good" (Eccles. 11:6).

  • Every week, we work with people who are shocked to find a work-related assumption is false. “I thought I could leave whenever I wanted, but it turns out I have a two-year non-compete.""I thought it would be easy to find a better job, but it’s been a steep climb.”"I assumed I could elect to work from home as I wanted or needed. In reality, there was no such commitment made by my employer." In the above passage, The writer of Ecclesiastes counsels us to constantly cultivate opportunities and then run with the ones that bloom. Don't be lulled into complacency by wishful thinking; plant seeds and make your choices based on the possibilities that lead to a real option (one provided to you in writing).

In the absence of something biblically definitive, we rest in wisdom. Wisdom says this is bigger than your preferences, it's about God’s design for your life and work. Wisdom shows us the pros and cons of RTO and WFH. We need to discern what’s required by our employer, needed by our team, best for our clients/customers, and sets us up to serve God in the other sectors of our lives as well.

questions to consider

As you seek wisdom for your version of the RTO vs. WFH dilemma, consider the following questions:

  1. Every Christian is called to “make disciples.” What is my best arrangement for that outcome?

  2. If I was making this decision based on the benefits to others–my team, my company, my family, etc. — what would I do?

  3. Given my stage of life, what do I gain from WFH? What do I lose?

  4. Given my personality, what mix of remote and in-person sets me up to make my best contribution to our company?

  5. How will WFH impact my professional development, influence, and growth opportunities?

  6. How conducive is my home environment to productive work?

  7. In my industry, what is the norm? Where is it heading? Given these trends, how can I position myself as better than average?

  8. What are our organization’s actual (fine print and unspoken) expectations around RTO and WFH?

  9. How can I deepen my connection, trust, and synergy with my colleagues regardless of my working location?

Listen to our podcast episode on this topic, "Dilemma 5: WFH or RTO?"


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