How an Online Degree Program Can Prepare You for Remote Work Positions
The number of people working remotely, or outside of a traditional office environment (also referred to as telecommuting), is on the rise. According to one study, as many as 70 percent of professionals worldwide work remotely at least one day a week. Another study from Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs reported that 3.9 million Americans work from home at least half the time. Both the number of people working remotely occasionally and whose positions are fully remote are expected to continue to rise—many of the hiring managers surveyed in Upwork’s Future Workforce Report said that they expect up to 38 percent of their full-time staff will be working remotely in the next decade.
With companies increasingly more concerned with the quality and timeliness of work and less about where the work is taking place, what is higher education doing to prepare students for these kinds of positions? The answer may not be in the content covered in courses or programs offered by colleges and universities, but the format in which they are offered—in person, blended, or fully online.
Let’s look at some of the qualities that make for successful online students as well as successful remote employees.
Self-Discipline within Flexible Working Arrangements
Flexibility is one of the most prominent perks of an online education program—especially if the course is asynchronous (meaning students complete coursework on their own and collaborate with classmates and faculty via discussion boards and other tools). Students in asynchronous courses can complete coursework and study when it’s most convenient for them, providing greater opportunity to balance education with their career, family, and other obligations than a face-to-face program may afford.
The flip side of flexibility is that you’ll need to be extra self-disciplined and accountable for completing your work. Even if you’re not required to be at class at a certain time, online course instructors usually expect you to check in several times throughout the week and submit your tests and projects on deadlines. If you’re not managing your time effectively and are waiting until the last minute to complete assignments, you can easily fall behind.
Accountability and organization are also essential qualities of successful remote workers. For some, being near their manager and coworkers provides motivation to stay on top of tasks. Others are self-starters and don’t need to be in any particular location to complete their work and hold themselves accountable. But even if you fall into the former group, you can develop the skills to thrive in a remote position. Many students credit their experience in an online program to helping them develop better organizational skills and become more self-disciplined.
Tech-Enabled Collaboration Skills
While students in online courses obviously aren’t in the same physical location as their peers, there are typically plenty of opportunities to interact and collaborate with each other and the instructor via live chat, discussion boards, emails, and videoconferencing tools. Becoming comfortable with these technologies, and with working on teams dispersed across different locations, could give you a leg up in interviews for remote positions, which use similar tools for employee collaboration and engagement, and help you be successful on the job.
Knowing When to Take a Break and How to Avoid Social Isolation
As an online student it can be easy to get in the habit of extended periods of sitting and focusing on coursework and studying. According to U.S. News & World Report, online students can have up to 40 to 50 hours per week of intensive seated screen time. The same is true for remote workers, who can sometimes feel they need to be “available” and in front of their computer at all times to counter perceptions, real or imaginary, that remote employees don’t work as hard as workers in the office. Read this account of someone who worked remotely for five years and ended up seriously overworking himself for this reason. (It should be noted that a two-year Stanford study showed the exact opposite, with researchers finding a productivity boost among telecommuters that was equivalent to a full day's work. The reason? According to Inc., remote employees were more likely to work a true full shift or more, as opposed to workers in a traditional office environment who were late to the office or left early multiple times a week, and that remote employees found it less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.)
Attending college online can also prepare you to deal with the social isolation that can set in as a remote employee spending 40+ hours a week alone. As an online student, you learn quickly how important it is to maintain a personal social life, as is developing relationships with classmates via Skype or other social collaboration tools. You can draw on your experience as an online student if you ever take a remote job, because you’ll know to break up long periods of sitting and build social interaction into your day by occasionally meeting friends for coffee or having lunch with a significant other without guilt (after all, your colleagues in the office are probably doing their share of chatting in the break room).
Whether or not a remote work experience is in your future, we invite you to explore our online programs and see what it will take to make that next step into your profession. If you are interested in learning more about our team and UTEP Connect’s 100% online undergraduate, master’s, and graduate certificate programs, reach out. An enrollment counselor will contact you directly.