Remember the first few days of remote work when we all thought, "What a nice break this will be for a few weeks!"? That naive March 2020 version of me feels like a fever dream.

Fast-forward two years later and now we can't believe we used to show up to meetings in slacks and not sweatpants. It's clear that remote work is now a permanent fixture of our workforce, and for many, this is a change to be celebrated.

This goes far past just the United States, with a study by Owl Labs citing that 16% of companies across the globe are now fully remote. In the U.S., more than 4.7 million people work remotely at least half the time.

The flexibility (and more importantly—accessibility) of working remotely has created the most inclusive job market we've seen to date. People who couldn't sustain an in-person job for reasons including disabilities, family obligations, school, etc. can now find a viable career that works around their lifestyle.

As you would expect, creating a more comfortable work environment led to higher productivity and employee happiness across the board. Of the 2,050 remote workers surveyed in the Owl Labs study, 90% said they were as productive or more productive when they were able to work remotely versus in the office. Now that we've all seen the light, 1 in 3 employees stated they would quit their job if they could no longer work remotely post-pandemic. As if we needed even more incentive to keep working from home, studies indicate that the move to remote work also temporarily reduced carbon emissions by 17%.

The list of benefits goes on, however, the crux of my argument here is that the future of work is decidedly remote and will remain so due to its many clear advantages to both employers and employees. Now that we've accepted this as our norm, it's time to turn all eyes to the largest precursor to the workforce — education. If we've had to completely reinvent the way we work, then we absolutely must do the same for the way we prepare students for their careers in this new environment.

School, and particularly college, is marketed as the stepping stone to a fruitful career and overall life. This is the case for all types of education at all ages, from K-12 to MOOCs. The promise is that you'll leave prepared to obtain and sustain a job. As the world went remote, so did these learning environments.

The feedback from students, however, was not as positive as what we heard from employees working remotely. Owen Midgette, a student from Norfolk, Virginia, said the following in response to a New York Times article asking for student opinions on remote learning: "School is a place for building friendships, learning responsibility, and getting an escape from the house, but it seems as though the Coronavirus has taken that all away from us. For me, I loved getting to see my friends everyday in the school environment. Now that it's taken away from me, I realize now that school was my main source of communicating with people."

For many students like Owen, remote learning did not adapt to compensate for the lack of community, which is often the most enjoyable part of the educational experience. While collaborative tech tools like Slack and Notion make it possible for companies to keep their teams connected virtually, the vast majority of schools still do not have these resources available for students and teachers to communicate.

Relying on students to create their own communities through social media, or worse, expecting them to build relationships through learning management system discussion forums and email is not a sustainable solution to this problem. On top of that, students deserve to be taught how to communicate in virtual team settings the way they inevitably will when they enter the workforce post-education.

For these critical reasons, schools absolutely must begin to adopt similar communication technologies to the ones that we see within every company today. Digital literacy must be baked into the curriculum as early as possible, especially when there are already education-specific solutions that have been proven to work within the classroom.

Perhaps even more important than digital literacy in the classroom is accessibility for all learners. In the same way that remote work created an equitable workplace, education also has an opportunity to use this global turning point as a chance to create a genuinely accessible learning environment. In fact, over $31 billion dollars of CARES Act funds recently went to U.S. K-12 and higher education institutions with specific instructions to adopt technology that would bridge these gaps and create successful hybrid/blended learning environments.

Next to Owen's response to remote learning, you'll find Ella Mastin's thoughts on her experience and how it was actually just what she needed. The Glenbard West High School student said, "While I do understand the social aspect of school — as someone with an Anxiety Disorder lack of sleep and work load gets to me quickly, making [remote learning] honestly an enjoyable experience for me. I feel as though I can learn the material at my own pace and on my own time, with breaks when I need them. With the stressful environment of school being significantly reduced, in my mind the pros of E-Learning outweigh the cons."

Other students agreed with her, citing their own reasons for preferring this modern learning atmosphere over their previous outdated one. Tracey N. of Dawson High School immediately recognized how this was an opportunity to prepare herself for the new future of work, noting, "With the new shift to online schooling, I feel like an adult working from home. I get to organize my work schedule so that it works best for me, and I get to complete all of my work from the comfort of my own room. In the mornings I put on a nice shirt, so I look put together when attending online instructional Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings, but what the camera, my teachers, and my peers cannot see is that I am actually lounging around in the comfort of my sweatpants."

In a typical classroom, you see the same few students being the only ones to participate out loud, while most hide back in the shadows where they're more comfortable. When you add a virtual community-building tool to the class, every student now has the chance to jump into the conversation in a way that feels right to them.

Learning disabilities, language barriers and other difficult roadblocks can be alleviated for students for the first time through the use of collaborative tech tools like Nectir, Discord, Remind, Class and more. The cherry on top is that they simultaneously teach students how to collaborate virtually and thus enter the workforce as a digital native.

If we promise students that school is their stepping stone to a sustainable career, we must deliver on that in the best way we can. The right solutions to do just that are here, and now it's time for schools everywhere to adopt them and give their students the accessible and modern education they deserve.

(Kavitta Ghai is the CEO and co-founder of Nectir.)

High school student Jocelyn Hernandez has been distance learning at home since August 2020 in Los Angeles
High school student Jocelyn Hernandez has been distance learning at home since August 2020 in Los Angeles AFP / Robyn Beck
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