Making Remote Work … work (part 2)

Recently, I spoke at Amity University’s conference on Student Engagement, Wellbeing, Holistic Development & the ‘New Normal’. I talked about how we can move from just about coping with remote working now to opening career opportunities working from anywhere and I will publish it in two parts. This installment outlines my thinking on second part of my talk. What universities need to do to create remote work ready graduates. At the end of this section, I will expand on my further thinking on the topic; stuff that I didn’t say, but after listening to the many excellent speakers, should have.


Many jobs cannot be done remotely, and we need to recognise that there is an imbalance towards middle class people with university degrees who hold those who can. There are many aspects of social justice I will touch upon, as they are crucial for making remote work … work on a societal scale. I think the underlying inequalities affect us all and that the remedies may help us all, too. If you want to read up on the intersection of career guidance and social justice, I highly recommend Tristram Hooley’s work on the topic.

What should we do as educators to create remote work ready graduates?

Universities can practically prepare graduates for an economy built on remote working. As Sarah Schwab said yesterday, we’re having to prepare for living in a VUCA world (volatile, unpredictable, complex, ambiguous). Yet Professor Gupta shared the improvements made by teaching remotely during the Covid crisis. To ensure the employability of our graduates and help them thrive, it is us who have to change now. Here are some recommendations.

woman in white shirt sitting on brown wooden armchair, working in a living room
Remote work ready graduates can work from anywhere

Digital literacy is key for preparing students for remote work

  • Digital literacy must be built into every element of the student experience – especially those bits where we thought it impossible. I have seen how the training of psychotherapists at my previous university – until then a very non-digital subject area – pivoted to distance and remote learning and practice.
  • As institutions, we need to focus on digital like it’s the only thing we’ll ever get to do from here on. We know how to treat students in the ‘meat space’ of IRL interaction. And we always can bring back elements of that when needed – but now, we have to be fully committed to digital engagement to provide our students with the optimal start into what will be most likely a digital and remote job.

Flexibility is key to create remote work ready graduates

  • Flexible and freelance modes of working must be built into both the work of students – and staff; we can’t credibly teach what we don’t practice ourselves. I am a great believer in authentic assessments, so we need to change assessments into the project/gig type work blocks that will prepare them for the digital nomad work life our graduates will have.
  • Employers have long moved away from the ‘job for life’ model and expect intrapreneurial attitudes from graduates. As mentioned in last year’s Enterprise Educators UK conference, enterprise skills are in many ways the new employability skills.
  • Finally, we need to see students not as performers, but as the citizens who will enact the change needed. This is where our well being agenda must apply – helping students to develop coping mechanisms for when digital or remote burnout become a threat. But mostly we need to change our societies so that these pressures don’t crush our graduates.
  • The crisis will create opportunities too: SMEs are the first ones to bounce back, and non-linear careers will become the norm. Skills shortages have not disappeared and will need to be filled.

So – there is a lot of work to be done. While the solutions look large in scale, it comes down to us citizens and as voters. We need to turn what was an involuntary new normal into our new normal. We need to own it and take an active role in changing to a more sustainable and human way of living and working. A new social compact on work can help us prepare for the next big crisis. Let’s not get caught out this time.

Further thoughts

One of the other speakers mentioned the risks of the marketisation of higher education. Having worked in private higher education most of my career, I think I can comment on that. Education is a public good and it should be free. I can live with a diverse sector which offers a range of education experiences. I think it comes down to how HE policy has driven marketisation. The UK is, unfortunately, a bad example: many of its measures have led to a reductionist focus on economic outcomes (e.g. graduate salaries). This limits innovation and creates perverse incentives. Stretched institutions cannot be nimble. They may fail in preparing our students for the world of remote work. And on this, we must not fail. We depend on them to shape our new normal.

February 1st, 2021 by