4 Things That My Online Education Taught Me About Remote Work

4 Things That My Online Education Taught Me About Remote Work

There are a lot of similarities between online learning teams and 100% distributed teams; here are 4 things that stood out to me.

“A group of smiling young people sitting around a fire pit in the mountains” by Phil Coffman on Unsplash
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” — John Dewey

I recently earned my Bachelor of Science in Management online at the University of Phoenix. A journey that took me 21 years.

Yep, you read it right — you can learn more about my story here.

As a wife and a mom of a toddler who also worked full-time, there was no way that I would’ve attended classes on a full-time basis if I had to go sit in a classroom somewhere. Having the freedom and flexibility to design an educational experience around my life was critical.

But I also knew that if I was going to finally get my degree, I had to take my online education seriously.

I needed to hold myself accountable to when I actually planned to do the work. I needed to manage my energy and minimize distractions.

I had to treat it like a remote job.

I was already accustomed to working remotely as an entrepreneur, and that mindset served me incredibly well. However, in this environment, I frequently worked in Learning Teams where I collaborated with classmates in different time-zones from all over the world.

Here are four things that my online learning experience taught me about remote work and the similarities to working on a 100% distributed team.

1) It’s not for everyone

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it. — Confucius

One of the main things that you have to put into practice when you’re learning online is self-discipline. It’s incredibly easy to feel like you have nothing to do because you don’t have to be in a particular place at a set time.

Distractions are everywhere! Oh sure, you started out doing research for your paper, but you end up scrolling through social media.

For those who prefer the structure of brick and mortar classrooms and in-person conversations, interacting with classmates online might not seem as appealing, or real. You have to be the type of person who can work autonomously with little supervision in order to thrive at an online university.

That’s why it’s not for everyone.

Ecampus login screen for illustrative purposes

Distributed teams work in much the same way. The dynamics of working on a distributed team versus a co-located team are completely different:

  • There’s no boss over your shoulder. No one is questioning you about getting to work on time.
  • You have to find that finesse between being visible and accountable while also knowing when to pull back and focus on deep work.
  • You also have to be accountable. The team has to know that they can depend on you to do what you say you will do.

2) Written communication is paramount

Communication is what makes a team strong. — Unknown

At the start of each class, we typically completed a Learning Team Charter. This exercise helped the group set expectations for the coming weeks, choose weekly team leaders, and craft a plan for how the team would respond to life’s challenges.

What surprised me about working in these learning teams, however, is how much I grew as a leader. I understood the challenges we were all facing as adults with other obligations, and I did my best to ease the burden of team assignments through organized communication.

LinkedIn recommendation from previous classmate

I made sure that all comments were visible in one place, our group discussion board — even if that meant copying a comment from an email or private message— and I kept conversations organized by creating threads. After witnessing how I managed during my week to lead, some of my teammates requested that take the lead for their weeks as well!

All of these things can also apply to working on distributed teams.

Whether you have a leading role or a supporting role, it’s important to fully participate and clearly communicate.

3) Short cycles work well

Starve your distractions. Feed your focus. — Unknown

The University of Phoenix operates on 5-week semesters. Classes begin on Tuesday of each week, and assignments are due every Monday by 11:59 pm Arizona time. Throughout the week, students are expected to contribute substantive discussions (often measured by word count) on a minimum of three different days.

There was a lot of information to absorb during a short period of time, and with all of life’s distractions, it could be very overwhelming. But it helped knowing that after a few short weeks of concentrated effort, your reward was that you could shift you focus to another subject.

Remote companies like Basecamp and Doist understand the importance of working in short (6-week) cycles. They work mindfully in small teams and focus on driving projects forward using calm, asynchronous communication.

4) You can work anywhere, anytime

Little by little, step by step, design the life you want to live. — Unknown

One of the greatest advantages of attending an online university was the ability to attend classes on my own time.

I typically began my homework after putting my son to bed. On the days when I was too tired to stay awake, I’d take a nap and wake up around 3 am to give myself enough time to complete an assignment or make a discussion post before heading into work.

I’d sometimes go to the library during my lunch hour to finish an assignment so that I could spend as much time with my family as possible when I got home.

Working on your own time allows you the ability to do your best work while designing your best life.

Many remote companies allow team members to design their own schedule. It’s not so much about when they work, but how they work to together. The focus is on creating long-term value, as well as personal and professional growth, rather than time of day the team member chose to do the work.

A different education

Overall, I can honestly say that I truly enjoyed my online education. I learned far more than I expected. And I grew in ways that I never anticipated simply because I was able to learn in a way that worked for me.

I gained so much more than just my degree.

I learned that education is more than just the the school that you attend, the information you digest, the papers you write, and the tests you take. Now I see the world as my classroom, and my job is to continue to be a good student, no matter where the lesson plan takes me.

Source: Medium:Remote Working
4 Things That My Online Education Taught Me About Remote Work

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