“Regular work at home among the non-self-employed population has grown 115% since 2005, nearly ten times faster than the rest of the workforce.”
The Remote Student
I love this picture. What a great meeting. I was working on a team of educators to propose a new charter high school in New Orleans, and as part of the process, we hosted a few community meetings. This one was special. The parents, educators and students who attended were on fire. Passionate about thinking up a new kind of school. Our proposal didn't work out, but I hope eventually it will. A topic for another post.
One of the things we talked about that day was the current school system's failure to prepare students for real life.
#Remotework is likely to be a part of every business plan soon. It also happens to require many of the soft skills bosses look for: self regulation, communication, self promotion, self awareness, and empathy, to name a few. These skills can be taught, and should be practiced in high schools. In my community meeting, someone suggested we allow high school students to leave campus to apprentice at real workplaces where these skills would be required and rewarded. They may or may not have known that high school #apprenticeship is currently a hot topic. The immediate response from parents in attendance was: "Wait... high school's too young." "How can you make sure they're safe?" An educator said: "How would we measure progress?" Someone else: "That would be so cool. Transportation would be a challenge." I so wanted to stay with the idea and brainstorm solutions, even plan an entire apprenticeship program. But that wasn't our goal; we moved on to another parent question.
There are ways to make it work: awarding departmental credit for work done with professionals, curating and training partner businesses to host apprentices (Rooted School is already working on this), and deliberate prerequisites for students. Over and over again, when I talk to educators about the high school #apprenticeship idea, it boils down to TIME. Time for students to travel on and off campus, time for school administration to monitor the program. When will they come to class? When will they earn their credits? My biggest concern was a dimmed sense of school community and #F2F time. There are solutions to all of these challenges; we just need to make the time to explore and be courageous enough to try something new.
The Remote Worker
A lot of my friends work remotely. Some work for corporations and are allowed a few days per week to work out of the office. Some are freelance workers, self-employed. All of them enjoy the autonomy and believe they're much more productive and have a better attitude about their work now. Anecdotally, I'm hearing that people are less likely to relocate for a job now that #remoteworking is becoming widely available.
So what does this mean for "the office"? That place we go every day, where we see the same people and develop inside jokes and awkward holiday party stories? Well, some workplaces have designated certain days of the week when every employee, or every employee on a certain team, must work in office. Managers are declaring certain meetings mandatory in-office. The IT consulting firm where I worked relies heavily on Zoom meetings with their employees spread out over the entire United States & the world.
Management and mentoring are another challenge; it's much easier and more productive to receive constructive criticism and coaching in the moment, #F2F, right?
Bosses & school administrators need to get used to the idea of remote work. We need to accept that most of the workers of the future will have much more autonomy in how they spend their time than we've had. I wonder what this means for teachers... can they work remotely? Exactly which parts of teaching are better in person? How can we build a sense of belonging, of teamwork, if we're not physically present with each other? These are thick and meaty questions, the kind of thing that gets me excited. Let's figure it out-- we're smart!
I've noticed that my younger officemates have a different sense of the work day. Rather than work 9:00 to 5:00, they sometimes called their parents or watched funny videos on Youtube at work, and finished work later while wearing PJs after midnight in their beds. I sometimes received documents for my review at 2:00am. It seemed like they didn't see work as intruding on their personal lives, but they saw that they were given agency in deciding when and where to get their work done. They had 24 hours to play with. Yes, some remote workers didn't answer work calls after 6:00pm, but which time zone? Time and the "work day" become relative in a global gig economy.
Why should school be confined to the hours of 8:00-3:30? How can we become more flexible with high school students and teachers so that they gain more control over the way their time is spent? Surely we're ready to admit that learning takes place 24/7 and act accordingly.
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts @NOCCA is a high school here which covers academic disciplines in the morning, and designates afternoons and sometimes evenings to professional artist mentoring. The Good Shepherd Nativity Elementary School in New Orleans conducts Saturday school and serves their students dinner. Schools are already seeing time as flexible, why not location? It's possible.