These days, the online classroom isn’t much different than life in the real world (or workforce). Teams often work from scattered locations, and the trend toward the global workplace is an “undeniable reality,” according to China Gorman of the Great Place to Work Institute. Even when a work group operates in the same city, chances are that at least some members are working from home.
The number of employees who log in from home rose almost 80 percent between 2005 and 2012. There’s a good reason: remote staff are cheaper. Those who clock in from home at least half-time save their companies $11,000 each on average.
That means students who have opted for an online MBA instead of a traditional on-campus program often come into jobs better prepared for the challenges of remote work. If you’re skeptical of online college degrees, here are nine areas in which remote learning might give you an edge in the brave new world of the solo office.
Virtual networking: Online learners can’t connect with their classmates in person and have to learn to use tools like LinkedIn and online professional forums to build networks that last.
Remote team management: We’ve all been on that group call during which it sounds like our co-workers are trying to make changes to their spreadsheets while pretending to listen. An online MBA helps future managers figure out which tools work best to keep scattered teams on the same page. Students also learn tips and tricks for using those tools to keep people engaged in remote meetings.
Alone-time productivity: Working from home sounds irresistible, until you realize how hard it is not to do the laundry or get sucked into a conversation with your neighbor so you can procrastinate on that tough writing assignment. It’s no accident that self-direction, discipline, and organization are key for both successful online students and remote workers.
Offsite work-family balance: The idea that you can study and simultaneously take care of your kids is hogwash, says George Lorenzo in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Your MBA Online. To be successful at both an online MBA and a remote job, you have to design a system for keeping tasks and toddlers separate. At a minimum, that means setting up a space where you can focus without interruption, figuring out how to get work done when kids are either sleeping or not at home, and splitting child care arrangements with your spouse or partner in a way that lets you work, says Lorenzo.
Time-zone management: Online MBA students learn early how to manage work across three or more time zones, says 27-year-old Ben Golata of Vacaville, a student at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business online MBA program. At a minimum, that means figuring out how to keep yourself alert in meetings that happen before the sun comes up or when everybody else is in bed.
Communication styles: Meeting online requires communication skills you don’t necessarily learn at the office. For example, since you don’t get the benefits of body language when talking to people, it’s important to be a little more direct in virtual communication than you would be face to face, says Lorenzo.
Remote-work infrastructure: Enroll in an online MBA program and you’re suddenly responsible for setting up your own office. That means you won’t need to start from scratch after graduation if you get a remote job. At a minimum, that means you’ll learn good ergonomics, get the software to run online communications programs, and buy a high-speed connection.
Technological savvy: An online MBA program will force you to figure out what to do or who to call when your computer isn’t powering up, you can’t access the web, or you need to figure out a system for keeping team passwords secure.
Writing: Online MBA students do more writing than those in a face-to-face classroom. That’s because much of the interaction in an online class involves typed rather than spoken comments. So online students get good at expressing themselves tersely but clearly in their writing—a big advantage in business.
Check back next week for Steven Yoder’s September feature, The MBA Goes Online. Also, sign up for our awesome weekly newsletter that is full of awesome stories and events!
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