The future of work is unfolding before us. Digitalization, remote work, employee empowerment and workforce diversity are historically high and the economy is thriving. Similarly, higher education is also undergoing a modern renovation as more online courses, virtual study groups, and digital learning management systems are incorporated into instructional design. Both industries are on a clear and quick path through the fourth industrial revolution the and toward the dynamics of collaboration. But are they on the same path?
As operational models are updated to allow autonomy, schedule flexibility and location independence for workers, self-management becomes an essential skill for any professional. Certainly, students have the expectation to be in control of their own time, tasks and energy during their studies. They also have the opportunity to practice frequently. But, are those skills being actively discussed and trained in courses? The role of education traditionally has been to prepare students for the rigors and expectations of their future workplaces. But are they also equipping them for professional opportunities that don’t have workplaces?
With almost 70% of businesses utilizing a virtual workforce in some capacity, the opportunities for graduates to obtain a remote job are becoming increasingly common. If higher education is only designed with colocated environments in mind, the current experience of a graduate may be incomplete and could put them at a disadvantage when entering the workforce.
Work is changing. Not just the creation of new types of jobs, but also the way work is conducted. The speed of change also calls for an updated skillset. Calling for workers to quickly adapt, to learn new approaches to challenges, to think more critically, and to collaborate with people they may never meet face to face.
So, what new skills should be taught to prepare workers to participate in virtual teams? Surprisingly, the answer does not relate to technology. The most crucial skills for remote workers:
The current and future job landscape will favor transferable skills like communication, collaboration critical thinking. These are not new skillsets, but the presentation and application of these transferable skills will adapt according to the changes experienced by the job market.
help for educators
In light of this prioritization of soft skills, how can educators help prepare the incoming workforce for the future of business?
1. Prioritize Communication – In virtual collaboration, all information is exchanged, products developed, and growth planned by people typing and talking to each other. Nonverbal language or environmental cues are worthless. So, a worker’s professionalism and value depends on how well they can articulate their ideas and requests. Not being able to write a motivating proposal, prove productivity with consistent status updates, or confidently ask a troubleshooting question during a group meeting could isolate a worker from the resources they need to fulfill their role.
2. Practice Virtual Teamwork – Without the convenience of a coworker being nearby, synchronous collaboration in distributed teams shifts from frequent, spontaneous interactions to intermittent, scheduled conversations. Then, asynchronous feedback and information sharing is exchanged in between. This may shed a different light on how the quintessential study group of campus life are formed and managed.
3. Promote Autonomy – In progressive companies, traditional management structures are being replaced with self-managing workers while leadership plays a supportive role. Therefore, personal accountability, organization, and scheduling become the responsibility of each individual, not their department. Honing one’s self-disclipline is crucial to the development of their remote career.
In order to be an expert on the future of work, educators need to understand the nuances and dynamics of virtual collaboration first-hand. So, as educators we need to be involved in the virtual workforce, actually experiencing what this work context is like. Then, we need to keep foremost in our minds the competencies for success in that world, and build them into learning outcomes which will then inform assignments and assessments.
The business world is steadily going remote. Sounds like it’s time for the education world to follow suit.