One thing is clear – workplaces will never be the same. Even if you work in the security cleared space or a SCIF, you’re likely to have some time spent in a remote work or hybrid work environment, even if it’s just situational. While we started the COVID-19 pandemic without a lot of awareness on the best way to approach the new work normal, today we have time, expertise and plenty of data under our belt.
The jolt of remote work wasn’t something I encountered – I’ve been fully remote since I started with ClearanceJobs more than 11 years ago. The option to work fully remote was probably the number one attribute that drew me to the position – after a stint being rode hard and put away wet at the Pentagon, I was ready to lay on my couch, eat some Dairy Queen, and not wear real pants. I was so laissaiz faire toward my initial interviews with ClearanceJobs that I didn’t bother hiring a sitter for my newborn – I did them holding my three month old in my lap. Inexplicably they gave me the job and no two work days have been the same since.
Today I can’t imagine returning to an office full-time, and that’s largely due to the family benefits and productivity wins of being able to harness my time and set my own calendar. I’ve never been able to fully encapsulate my approach to remote work until recently, and all I can say is – it’s all about Big Energy.
My colleagues will think I’m talking about the Latto song (NSFW), and while I love that beat – thank you, Mariah Carey – the concept is one I came across through Tony Schwartz’s The Energy Project. A traditional office setting – including the hours-worked model of most GS and contract positions – is all about time spent in seat. In contrast, successful remote positions are about results – and that is what makes the case for keeping and sustaining a remote work model.
I can still remember my first few months as a government civilian, and how there was a timekeeper sitting at a desk watching when I would come and go into the office. She would literally track whether or not we took a 30-or-60-minute lunch, and record our time accordingly. Nevermind that we weren’t paid by the hour – we had hours to keep and if we didn’t keep them, we would hear about it. It wasn’t about deliverables, or performance – it was about how long you were sitting at your desk. That model doesn’t breed productivity. It breeds watching cat videos on YouTube.
The Energy Project is all about managing energy to increase employee engagement. You can read all the ins and outs in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. The jest: thinking about work in terms of time involves a finite source. But energy can be harnessed, and scaled. It’s not infinite – but you can grow your energy and capacity in a way you can’t add time to the clock. Unfortunately, there are too many professionals spinning their wheels, working way too many hours, and while they may be highly productive – they’re also falling apart at the seams. The Energy Project helps professionals focus on four key aspects of energy:
- Body: Physical Energy
- Emotions: Quality of Energy
- Mind: Focus of Energy
- Spirit: Energy of Purpose
If you want to grow your capacity, you should work to increase your energy in each of these areas. The good news is you don’t have to work through all of them at once, and if you’re like most professionals you’re probably doing okay in at least a couple of these buckets, with room to grow in others. I’d also argue remote work exacerbates issues of energy depletion. Gone are the days when you can stovepipe your work, maintain pure focus, and steamroll your way through your 9-5 without distractions. If you are like most remote workers, your energy is frequently being drained through non-work activities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you can channel those interruptions into life giving breaks (I do my best brainstorming while folding laundry), but definitely something that requires more intentionality than most of us would otherwise give to our work days.
Untap New Energy
Maybe you don’t need to do more, and maybe you don’t need more capacity – maybe you just need the energy to do it. The reality is we only have a limited number of hours. And in a remote work environment, you probably realize more than ever the things that you want to spend time on – and the ones that are draining. You can’t get more time, but you can get more energy. A few simple steps to being more energized:
There’s a reason the body is the first dimension of energy introduced by the Energy Project. If you want to quickly and simply gain more energy, start a regular exercise regiment – whether it’s walking or yoga, or one of the hundreds of exercises out there, once you start moving, you’ll sleep better, you’ll work better, and you’ll have more energy. If you constantly feel like garbage, consider the way you eat, sleep and exercise – there is probably something in one of those areas you could change to start feeling more energized.
2. Give gratitude
Positivity is my nature (I recently came across my sophomore yearbook where my quote was ‘Be happy, just always be happy.’ How insightful), and I realize there is a real problem with toxic positivity. The answer isn’t always to grin and bear it. Sometimes you have to kick some teeth (you can read that as a metaphor if you’d like). BUT – gratitude is always in fashion. Grumbling unhappiness will drain your energy faster than just about anything else. If you can’t find something to be grateful about every day, your attitude and your energy will suffer.
3. Stop multitasking.
Do as I say, not as I do, friends. This one is my biggest struggle. Even though it’s not my strong suit, I still see the benefits of focusing on a single task. I recently failed my way through the completion of a white paper for work. The issue was I was trying to tie up loose ends from a recent conference, set up new meetings and engagements, and chase down about 14 facts that I should have confirmed two weeks prior. I do my best writing under the laptop test – take your laptop, leave your charger, and power through that project you have been sitting on (I’m a remote work nomad so that works for me; maybe you’d benefit from a timer test or another focusing strategy). The trick is to make the main thing the main thing – and make yourself get it done rather than doing 15 things at once.
4. Do work that matters.
We can’t all do work that we love all of the time. But there should be some aspect of our work that brings us joy and satisfaction – even if it’s just the paycheck. Like meditating on gratitude, taking the time to consider what aspects of your work bring joy – and doing more of those – will increase your energy and allow you to get more work done.
When it comes to remote work success, it’s not about working faster, or harder – it’s simply about working better. If you want to make the case for continued remote work whether it’s 2-days a week or full-time, make sure your employer knows you’ll bring big energy to the job. Employers – if you want to keep your remote workers happy, tap into these four areas to increase your workers’ energy, and you’ll also increase productivity.