Online conference rooms, coworkers’ voices through earbuds and faces an array of tiny squares on a screen. Texts. Robocalls. Social media. Online shopping. Talking digital assistants. So. Much. Email.

Remote, dispersed, digital, non-co-located, virtual. Whatever you call it, virtual work affects your work and your life, and is so pervasive that it’s easy to forget there’s another human being at the other end of every digital interaction. (Even robocalls and social media trolls, because at some point a living human had to build the hardware or steal that profile image.)

Just because so much of our lives happen in virtual spaces doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be as real as you possibly can when interacting in them.

Ghost Ships and Date Nights

There’s a new sailing ship in Philadelphia, but you can’t sail on it or have a fancy dinner there, like on Gazela and Moshulu.

You can’t even see this 90-footer until after dark, because it’s a Ghost Ship.

For real.

A holographic replica of sailing ships that arrived in William Penn’s Greene Countrie Towne starting before he did in 1682, Ghost Ship is made of light and water and supported by digital technology. Its intention: to teach present-day, living, breathing people about real ships and the real people who sailed on them in the past and the influence of both on present-day Philly.

I definitely rolled my eyes before I learned its intention. “Great, another fake thing with a plug or battery that makes people experience life in a virtual bubble.”

When I saw photos my niece posted on social media from a recent date night with her husband though, my perspective shifted. I saw real people, live and in person, enjoying the outdoors, learning history, having a lovely time, live and in person.

Virtual Work, Real People

According to research, 4.7 million full-time, professional U.S. workers work remotely, not counting self-employed and gig workers. That’s 3.4% of the workforce, and it’s increasing exponentially. Whether you work full-time in a home office or commute every day, your work – your entire life – is affected by digital technology, and all of that always-on-call, 24/7 world of work makes us wound up, stressed out, and worn down.

Getting Real

Here are four ways to navigate the digital divide with less stress and more humanity:

Remember the Human: Every email, text, social media post, and robocall was initiated by a human at some point. Sure, delete spam and block or unfriend trolls with abandon. Also, though, when you initiate, receive, or reply to communication you want or need to continue, pause before you type or speak to remember and human at the other end of those blips of data.

Meet in Person: Best practices for digital teams include face to face interactions, annually at the very least. Some in-person teams have communications guidelines that recommend face to face discussion when issues can’t be solved by more than two cycles of email.

Make Something Real: Offset all of the digital information you deal with by making something tangible. Knit, cook, tie fishing lures, plant herbs on your windowsill. Extra points if it involves unstructured time in the natural world.

Observe a Digital Sabbath: If you’re reading this, it’s unlikely that you’re so important that the world would stop spinning if you unplug for 24 hours. (And if you are that important, you have staff to field emergency calls.) Unplug for a day and you just might feel so refreshed when you jump back on the virtual merry-go-round that you decide “ghost” your talking digital assistant.


I help professionals who want to make a difference through their work but feel stuck by something in their work that’s no longer working.  Book a consultation to learn more about how I can help you navigate today’s world of work, and make the virtual more real.

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image: ©2019 Christie Crispin; used with permission
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