In Defense of the Virtual Workplace

The virtual option, while not a panacea for our current societal problems, might be better than being handcuffed to your desk, physically isolated from your loved ones for the majority of the time.


September 12, 2023

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I found myself curiously troubled by John Grondelski’s recent Crisis article, “The First Thing About Work Is Getting Out of Bed.” It wasn’t his concern about the “bed-rotting” trend—any person with even a smidgen of virtue would be troubled by the phrase alone, let alone the physical, mental, and spiritual ramifications of outright embracing the deadly sin of sloth. It wasn’t his concern about the very real and documented negative ramifications, especially on the young, of the total societal shutdown of the Covid regime.

Instead, I was troubled by his wholesale dismissal of the idea that perhaps working from home via virtual workspaces was better than traditional 9 to 5 (or let’s be honest—8 to 6, plus endless before- and after-hours calls and emails the average American employee is now expected to respond to), an opinion that he curiously attributes solely to the “intellectual musings by our policy and opinion makers.” 

Now, to be sure, I am not one to generally defend our policy and opinion makers by and large, but could it be, perhaps, that the elite have this one thing right, even if only accidentally?

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Don’t mistake me here: Mr. Grondelski’s fears of the “’virtual workplace’ [becoming] the next installment of our gnostic flight from embodiment into atomized, isolated individualism” are very real. There is much to be said about the value of in-person interaction, a value that is transmitted both by the fact that we are each made in the image and likeness of God and the mystery of the Incarnation. And to be sure, our track record as humans to keep virtual options—to borrow a phrase—“safe, legal, and rare” aren’t good. 

When was the last time you sat down to write a physical letter? When was the last time you flipped through an actual, physical photo album rather than being prompted by Google or Facebook to “check out this memory from eight years ago!” When was the last time you called up that long-lost friend rather than shooting them an impersonal DM or text? 

However, might the virtual option, while not being a panacea for our current societal problems, all spiritual in nature at their root, be better than being handcuffed to your desk, physically isolated from your loved ones for the majority of the time? If we want to talk about prioritizing incarnational interactions over virtual ones, then might we not begin with the interactions within our own families? If we want to talk about prioritizing incarnational interactions over virtual ones, then might we not begin with the interactions within our own families?Tweet This

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the current model, where one or (more often than not) more family members physically leave the confines of the home regularly to pursue work would have been somewhat rare. Even the idea of “homemaker” as a role belonging mainly to the wife would have seemed strange because the making of the home was the work of the entire family, all situated under the husband as its head, and generally accomplished together, in person, within the confines of the four walls of that wonderful place called home. 

The home life was the work life that the entire family contributed to in some way, from the youngest to the oldest in a multigenerational setting. The rhythm of this home life/work life hybrid was informed by the liturgical calendar and the seasons of nature. The social life, again, was not some separate thing; it was the family life together with the larger community—a community that typically worshiped together and often worked together as well.

Unfortunately, in many ways, the way we structure our lives and the perceived role of the family have changed drastically since the Industrial Revolution, and the casualties of this post-Industrial American work ethic and style are many and varied. From readily-available birth control and abortions that ensure the economic wheel won’t be impacted by something so banal as biology, to public schools that now function more like full-time daycares so that those who actually become parents can remain unencumbered units of the economic wheel, to nursing homes and right-to-die laws that keep us from being a “burden” on that same economic wheel at the end of life—this “I Gotta Get Up and Go to Work!” mentality that Mr. Grondelski references really hasn’t been such a boon in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not naïve. Our American work obsession and the imbalance in the family life created thereby won’t be fixed by something as simple as virtual workspaces. And as I referenced above, the dangers lurking within the virtual model itself are also very real. But perhaps this could be a start? A way for us to begin to reintegrate our lives, fractured into so many starkly segmented work vs. home vs. worship vs. social boxes, into a more seamless whole? Perhaps virtual work is one small step toward the way for man to neither be alone nor rot in bed. Perhaps it is an opportunity to be physically with the ones God has placed in his life in a way so much grander than a mere career and coworkers—the one place he can never be replaced: the family.


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