How Will Online Schools and Remote Work Impact Business?


The recent lawsuit against Harvard University—alleging discrimination against Asian-American applicants and questioning the extent of affirmative action policies—highlights just how important access to higher education is. However, another class of students are increasingly gaining access to higher education because of online schools. And, as it turns out, the increasing trend of online schools is happening alongside another trend of increasing remote work opportunities.


Access to higher education is typically discussed in terms of financial ability and fair acceptance standards, hence the Harvard lawsuit, but access is so much more complex. A promising student may be too far away geographically from the nearest university, have family obligations that prevent them from leaving home, or suffer from health issues that make it difficult to be physically present in class.


Life doesn’t allow for everyone to neatly leave home for two to four years just to earn a degree. On account of this, it should come as no surprise that online enrollments in higher education have steadily increased. According to Inside Higher Ed, students exclusively taking online courses rose from 14.7% in 2016 to 15.4% in 2017.


But after earning a degree online, the same restrictions and obligations may still prevent those individuals from entering the workforce. In a study conducted by Edelman Intelligence, freelancers were asked what reasons traditional employment did not work for them: 29% reported health reasons ranging from chronic illnesses to social anxiety, 25% reported the benefits of freelancing such as flexibility and scheduling their own hours, and 22% reported family related issues such as childcare and taking care of elderly or disabled family members.


Fortunately, corporate America is increasingly recognizing the benefits of hiring remote workers. This means that students who already have the discipline and ability to earn a remote degree will have ample opportunities to find attractive jobs in the same manner. An IWG study found that 70% of full-time employees do remote work at least once a week. And according to a Gallup study, the percentage of employees working remotely in some capacity increased from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016. Employees working entirely remote jobs increased from 15% to 20% in the same time span.


Employers are noticing that remote work is a win-win scenario. Advantages include higher job-satisfaction, commitment, and engagement, lower real-estate costs, and a larger pool from which to select new employees. In the Gallup survey, those employees who worked entirely remote reported the highest rate of feeling that they “do what they do best every day” more than any other group. Remote work is said to allow better work-life balance, the second-highest attribute for candidates to choose a job. And 37% of surveyed employees report that they would switch jobs to be able to work off-site.


This isn’t to say that all companies are moving forward with remote work opportunities. Yahoo, HP, IBM, and Bank of America have rolled back their remote work programs, calling their employees back into the office citing the need for more teamwork, collaboration, and communication. However, a 2017 study from Cardiff University found that these reasons may be unfounded. Their evidence suggests that remote workers can be just as engaged as their on-site counterparts.


In time, as more students take advantage of online schools and remote work opportunities, we are sure to see a more inclusive and diverse workforce, and the benefits of that will be an exciting area of management to study.




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