A day at the office
Rediscovering the joy of vocational fellowship—in person
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WORLD senior writer Emma Freire unzips her gray backpack and begins distributing Nerf guns. Small. Light. Concealable. Nothing that our rivals might spot from a distance.
It’s an idyllic late spring day in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and WORLD News Group’s Features team has gathered in Asheville, N.C., for a working staff retreat. But a member of the shadowy WNG resistance group, the Alliance, has a different agenda. For four years, the Alliance—which started in our advertising department—has been locked in an interoffice turf war with marketing: Surprise Nerf attacks. Elaborate water balloon raids. It can get public—and messy.
Two days before Emma unzipped that backpack, my phone pinged. It was an Alliance operative: Would the Features team join their cause?
He ticked off the mission parameters. The plan was audacious, and I told him I’d have to consult my team. For something this big, I needed buy-in. The next day, I closed the door to the conference room, shut all the blinds, and laid out the mission for the Features team: a brazen daylight Nerf raid on a marketing meeting.
The reaction was instant: We’re in! Because, well, who doesn’t love a great interoffice prank?
But the whole thing got me wondering—is this kind of shared laughter becoming a thing of the past? And if so, why is that important?
First, of course, we now live in a very thin-skinned world. What used to pass as a good-natured joke might now violate some hair-trigger EEO or DEI policy. Second, we now simply have fewer colleagues to prank. According to a spring Labor Department report, about one-quarter of American workers now work from home, a number near pre-pandemic levels. But The New York Times reported in April that other surveys show remote work is up as much as 500 percent.
Remote work has many advantages, of course. For more than 40 years, WNG has stretched donor dollars with an editorial staff that works from homes around the world. That’s enabled a lot of brilliant people to write for us and also balance work with family.
But working off-site can bring significant downsides: Communications gaps. Not feeling part of a team. Lack of social interaction with colleagues. It’s so easy to forget the joy of vocational fellowship, of working side by side with people whom God has blessed with interlocking callings and talents. I was reminded in Asheville that though I see my coworkers weekly on Zoom, that’s not the same as really seeing them. Left unrelieved, remote work can keep our work relationships at a surface level.
During our retreat, it was so refreshing to actually be with sisters and brothers who share not only a faith but a mission (Psalm 133:1). While there, I learned these fun facts: Features editor Leigh Jones once slept through a hurricane. Editorial assistant Elizabeth Russell has a stunning alto voice and once sang on Haitian radio. Senior writers Mary Jackson, Kim Henderson, and Sharon Dierberger, have, respectively, attended a gay men’s surrogacy conference, had five C-sections, and swum with sharks (the latter not on purpose).
There’s nothing like sharing personal stories to bond a team—nothing, that is, except for laughter. On the day of the Alliance raid, we don our uniforms, which consist of nine pairs of ridiculous sunglasses. Staff writer Grace Snell’s shades are two upright ukuleles. Emma’s are shaped like strawberries.
Wearing a pair of pineapples on her face, global desk chief Jenny Lind Schmitt leads the way with homeschool mom command: “Go! Go! Go!” she shouts as we exit our building and run across the street, concealing our Nerf guns behind our backs like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. We burst into the marketing meeting and hilarity erupts as we let our sponge darts fly.
It’s all over in 30 seconds. Now the Features team is laughing and chatting not only with marketing, but also with our kids’ division folks, who were also in the meeting and whom we rarely get to see. Our silly stunt—and its endorphins—binds us all just a little more closely. You can’t do that on Zoom.