What remote education can teach us about the future of work

The future of work will be powered by creativity and flexibility—the same values that are enabling remote education right now. Here’s what today’s leaders can learn from the next generation’s educational experience.  

ARTICLE | 6m read
March 30, 2021

In April 2020, a staggering 1.5 billion students across 195 countries were affected by school closures from the pandemic. Many of the same flexible work technologies and strategies that businesses adopted also had to be implemented by educational institutions, which often had fewer resources and less training. But in the midst of these challenges, educators and students have stepped up in a big way to adapt to remote learning and prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.

The creativity that has emerged from remote education offers valuable insights for today’s leaders as they explore sustainable options for flexible work. This article examines the remote learning experiences of educational institutions like the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys to show how the next generation of leaders are being prepared for the future of work—and what business leaders can take away from the future of learning and apply right now.

What remote education today says about the future of work

In the last year, the most important quality of successful organizations and educational institutions has been their ability to adapt to the unexpected. For a public charter school like the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, one of the biggest challenges has been adapting to remote learning when in-person education wasn’t possible. “This year has been the great disruptor of education…and really every industry,” said Jack Pannell, Founder of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys. “We’ve lost important in-person experiences, such as gathering for lunch or participating in shared extracurriculars. Sometimes educating in this remote environment can feel like trying to teach someone to tie their shoes from another room.”

But rather than giving in to frustration, Pannell and the school’s teachers are building something new with remote learning. “A year ago, it was impossible to get a personal computer in the hands of every student. Now it’s invaluable. We have an opportunity to rethink the way school has always been done…chalkboards, nodding, taking a test,” Parnell continued. “We’re teaching our boys to be innovators of tech. Creating and understanding technology, just consuming it.” For business leaders, what remote education says about the future of work is that systemic disruption is going to happen—and the success of your organization will depend on how well your employees can adapt and innovate with flexible technology.

How flexible technology enables deeper engagement and new opportunities

After a long year of social distancing, educators are as eager as everyone else to see their buildings reopen. However, the flexible technology that made remote education possible is not going away—and offers new possibilities for student engagement. As Pannell puts it, “When we go back to majority in person, every student will have a personal device. Learning will be more personalized. We will be able to access educational resources from other schools, both digital learning resources and shared education.” The Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys plans to use this remote learning technology to pilot global math and English courses with a UK school, allowing each school’s students to share educational experiences and build connections they never would have imagined in previous years.

Taking this lesson from remote education, organizations should consider how they can use their new technology skills and flexible work practices to deepen employee engagement. For example, because remote work has enabled employees on different continents to collaborate effectively, look for ways to encourage this kind of connection and partnership across geographic locations.

The best employee is one who has a capacity to work effectively with other people, to be creative and to add value in teams.

Jack Pannell
Founder of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys

By taking advantage of flexible work models, organizations can better empower their employees with a great work experience that brings out their creativity and innovation.

The critical role of continuous learning in the future of work

When asked for his advice to organizations seeking to build next generation leadership, Pannell said, “Encourage your people to innovate, innovate, innovate, and to try, try, try.” To enable the future of work for your organization, it’s critical to create a culture of continuous learning so your employees feel comfortable innovating with new technology. 93 percent of workers  across industries say being digitally savvy is essential to performing their jobs well yet many workers believe they currently lack the skills they need for both their current positions and future careers.

Creating a culture of continuous learning can seem like a tough challenge. However, the wide variety of online education and reskilling resources available provide ample opportunities to help employees learn. In addition, online learning platforms can teach your employees more than technical skills alone —the most popular online class on Coursera is a Yale course on the science of well-being. So as you create your continuous learning programs, be sure to include options for soft skills like empathy and communication to help your employees thrive in the new skills economy.

Embrace flexible learning to enable the future of work

After the global disruption of last year, we cannot forget that the future of work will only be possible through our innovation and creativity. This requires an eagerness to learn, even during difficult circumstances. As your organization continues to adapt to our changing world, embracing flexible learning will help your employees do their best work today and set them up for success in the years to come.

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