Online MBA Students Thrive in the Era of Remote Work

Digital degrees can help students collaborate with and lead teams remotely, boosting their employability

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital skills in the era of remote work. Online MBAs reflect this new working paradigm and prepare participants for collaborating with and leading teams remotely. “Online collaboration is a vital skill,” says Amy Foster, director of the Online MBA program at North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which was launched in 2011.

“Our students become extremely proficient at collaborating online, often working with peers across geographic boundaries and timezones,” she says. “These skills are increasingly required to conduct business around the world and are valued by employers.”

Demand for the course is high at a time of heightened economic uncertainty and an acceleration of digital working patterns and project-based work. “Part of the increased appeal is an acceptance and realization that remote work is likely to continue beyond the pandemic,” says Foster. “Virtual collaboration in the classroom mimics what is required in the workplace.”

Uncertainty around jobs after finishing an Online MBA

The success of UNC’s Online MBA is mirrored elsewhere in a watershed moment for online education, with campus closures because of the coronavirus forcing business schools to migrate teaching online. That has made students and faculty more comfortable with digital delivery of degree courses, but many will be concerned about their career prospects given the jobs market has been upended by the coronavirus.

However, those companies that are still hiring have digitized the recruitment process - and that may have given Online MBA students an edge over their competition. “The way to land new roles in this new job market has changed: interviews and networking are now completely virtual,” says Erika Harrigan, assistant director in the Office of Career Services at University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business.

Online students will be adept at this: at the Smith school they have access to coaches who advise on their career direction and progression. The coaches also help with networking plans, resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles.

Through this support, Online MBA students gain the self-marketing skills and connections that can help facilitate a career switch into a new industry, function or geography. At least 50 percent of Online MBA students at UNC identify as career switchers, for example.

Connecting with alumni in a particular country or region is critical for a geographical switch. The alumni network is invaluable here: The University of Maryland has a global network of more than 377,000 alumni.

Students also build their international network through the global business courses that are offered as electives at the Smith school. While traveling abroad with a professor, students visit companies to enhance their business acumen and apply their knowledge and skills to solve a cross-border, cross-cultural challenge. This highlights the balance of theory and practical application of knowledge that many business schools emphasize.   

Online MBAs: Ideal for working professionals

For students who are looking to accelerate their career, Online MBAs enable them to apply their learning directly in the workplace, showcasing newfound knowledge and skills. “Our curriculum was designed for a working professional. Our students take tech-focused concepts and skills that they learn in the classroom to work the next day,” says associate dean Brooke Elliott from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, which puts on an Online MBA. “We continually review and update our course content.”

Historically, residential MBAs have proven to open professional doors and increase salaries, but Online MBAs are a viable alternative for those who require more flexibility with their studies.

The majority of online students are working professionals. “Because schools, summer camps and workplaces remain closed, many of our current students are balancing the needs of their children along with the day-to-day responsibilities of their jobs,” says Scott Scheible, a career strategist at Illinois.

Despite the uncertainty in the world, several of the Online MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business recently received promotions or new job offers. Little wonder the school is enjoying an uptick in applications for the online course.

“With so much uncertainty about what’s to come in the next few months, students are opting for a program that will provide a solid education no matter what the future holds,” says Cindy McCauley, executive director of the program. She adds that all MBA candidates require strong analytical, leadership and communication skills in order to have a successful, long-term career.

Tommaso Agasisti, associate dean for internationalization, quality and services at MIP Politecnico di Milano in Italy, emphasizes the soft skills as well as hard technical abilities. “Online MBA students will become experts in dealing with intense situations, and will master skills such as empathy, resilience and knowing how to motivate and manage teams in person and remotely,” he says.

“Ultimately, Online MBA students will learn a huge amount about how to develop dynamic communication skills for an ever changing world."

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