I’ve been working remotely for a year now, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll be getting back into the office for a while yet. I’m struggling to find ways to love my colleagues. Before, we could chat in little breaks throughout the day. But now I feel distant from them, and I can’t think of a good way to shore up those relationships. How can I share the love of Christ with people I never see?
Having worked for an entirely remote newsroom for nearly a decade, and I have often struggled with the how of loving my coworkers, too. When someone comes into the office stifling tears on the elevator, it’s easier to both see that there’s a need and meet it with compassion. But what does that look like when you have to read between the lines of an email to understand how someone’s doing?
I commend you for recognizing that the need to know and love your colleagues hasn’t changed just because you aren’t in the same physical space anymore. I’m reminded of Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians when they began to reassess every aspect of their lives after becoming Christians. (I think we were tempted to do the same during the pandemic.) Paul reminds them that “in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:24).
The word used for remain also means abide, as it’s used in John 15:4. There, Jesus tells his disciples: “Abide in me, (as) I (abide) in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” Applied to our work relationships, this verse reminds us how little we can actually do to bear fruit in someone else’s life—let alone our own. It reminds us to linger where God has us while humbly looking for what he intends to do.
“With God” prompts us to remember that even as we struggle to abide in Christ, he never forgets to abide in us. He is not stymied by our work-from-home directives. He is not undone by endless Zoom calls. He is still at work in our work and in those around us.
Loving your colleagues is no longer as simple as remembering a birthday with a dozen desktop donuts. But there are ways to love them still, even from a distance. Here are a few.
1. Do your job well.
Working from home doesn’t just make it harder to love your officemates. It can make it harder to do your job. Perhaps you have young children or a constantly conference-calling spouse sharing a home office. Maybe you’re easily distracted by online shopping or the snack pantry a stone’s throw away. But doing “whatever you do . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus” is still the best place to start loving your coworkers (Col. 3:17).
Paul also connected working well with the ability to serve others when he instructed the Thessalonians “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands . . . so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11–12).
Doing our jobs well is the foundation for being able to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Pet. 3:15). But it is also, in and of itself, a way to love others—whether customers or colleagues.
2. Know thy (work) neighbor.
I miss the days of sharing lunch and coffee runs with coworkers, too. Conversation comes easily over a shared meal. But there are still other ways to make an effort.
When we are all running low on human interaction, showing a little interest can go a long way. Try to remember details about your coworkers’ lives and bring them up in conversation. Did they jump off your last call to run their cat to the veterinarian? Ask how Fluffy is doing. Do they have a root canal coming up? Grandkids they like to gush about? Be a student of those you want to serve and love well, and your attentiveness—in a world of superficialities—will be striking.
To that end, when a coworker calls to talk about a work topic, make extra time for the conversation to wander. Ask “How are you?” and mean it. In other words, be slow to speak and quick to listen (Jas. 1:19). When you feel like there are a dozen other important things you could be doing, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” looking “not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
3. Pray for them.
Nothing prepares me to be more interested in others than to pray for them. It readies the soil of my heart and of theirs, too, for providential conversations. But often we forget to pray for the people we interact with most naturally and frequently.
For me, practice leads to prayer. Writing someone’s name down in a prayer journal or on a prayer card, as Paul Miller recommends in A Praying Life, helps me linger in prayer over them a moment longer than my wandering thoughts allow. It also encourages me to find a Scripture to pray over them and, most importantly, to look expectantly for an answer to those prayers.
When you have a habit of praying for a person, it changes the whole game. When they mention losing a family member or having trouble with a child, you can say “I’ll be praying for you,” and actually mean it. You can better remember to follow up about the request later, too. And when you fall short of practicing prayer the way you intended, take heart. We have a Savior who “always lives to make intercession for them.” When we are faithless—or forgetful—he is faithful.
4. See the opportunities.
Being curious about and praying for your colleagues will open new doors for opportunities to love them—even virtually. Not sharing an office space allows you to be more intentional with your interactions, knowing that certain conversations might not just happen like they used to.
Did the office administrator used to send around cards for employees’ birthdays? Set calendar reminders for yourself and remember birthdays with a cheesy birthday GIF pasted into an email. Make someone feel remembered.
Look also for felt needs you can meet from a distance. Is your coworker struggling to entertain young children as the pandemic lingers? Send a coloring-book care package (and add kinetic sand for brownie points). Comfort a sick colleague with takeout or chicken soup delivery or a grieving one with a thoughtful handwritten card.
Remember what blessed you in similar circumstances. Comfort with the comfort you have received time and again from God and his people (1 Cor. 1:3–5).
5. Don’t forget your literal neighbors.
Your colleagues are no longer a cubicle away, but there are still plenty of people who are living in proximity to you. While there may be fewer opportunities for face time with a work buddy, there may be more with people in your actual neighborhood or apartment complex.
Working from home, I’ve learned to welcome what I might have otherwise viewed as interruptions (that chatty gardener who turns my speed-walk into a stationary activity) as opportunities to invest right where I’m at. The mailbox becomes the new water cooler. Pizza night on the porch becomes the new brown bag lunch session.
As the pandemic loosens its grip and workplaces begin to open back up, there might also be opportunities to reunite with your colleagues soon. When and if that happens, may you head back into the office with a soul refreshed by the time away. May you find in your work a newfound appreciation for the gift of doing whatever you do as unto the Lord, side by side with others.
Note: This article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition as an article in their Faith and Work series, Thorns and Thistles. CLICK HERE to read more from this series.