About Working From Home

Working from home has been transformative for me and my family.  I understand it is not for everyone, and make no mistake I loved getting morning coffee with my colleagues as much as the next person.  But I love being able to take care of family members when they fall ill, I love the ability to focus in my own space when needed, and I never ever miss my commute.  Working from home does not work for every workplace either – I cannot imagine it working well at a hospital for example.  But it can work great at a university.

Whether the institution is the classic brick-and-mortar type like the University of Alberta, or a distance education model like Athabasca University, there are strong benefits for both employers and employees.  Better productivity, better work-life balance, and stronger outcomes.

As someone who works with distance students I can tell you the distance model of education is transformative.  There are many barriers to accessing a university education for so many in our community.  Potential students face financial barriers like tuition or having to take time off work.  They face physical barriers like the distance between their school and their home or a disability.  Distance education is not for everybody – which many students learned well in the pandemic.  But for those it works for, it really works.  Athabasca University has allowed tens of thousands of people to graduate who otherwise would have had no option.

I worry that the distance students at Athabasca University are being forgotten amidst this conversation of what Athabasca University’s role is in the town of Athabasca.  Students want what is best for their university, the quality of their education, and the long-term reputation of their degree.  They also want that education to be affordable.

I do not know what the right answer is for what Athabasca University’s future is in Athabasca – by many accounts it has been a fantastic collaborative environment in the past and I love the idea of a community becoming strong boosters of their local post-secondary institution.  But what I see in this conversation is nothing like a collaborative relationship or an environment of innovation.  It feels like a confrontation, one that is killing enrolment at Athabasca University and painting the town of Athabasca as a place people would only live in if they were forced to.

Athabasca University has been teaching and researching successfully for decades and is well-positioned to take advantage of new technologies that not only allow students to learn anywhere, but to allow universities to teach anywhere.  Working and studying from home are trends that are here to stay.  And they are trends that will breathe new life into many rural communities, as people no longer must choose between their home and their career.  I see a place where towns like Athabasca will have hundreds of digital commuters in their communities without the need to turn to government fiats but because they offer a place for workers and their families to thrive.  Athabasca University is going to be an institution that leads that revolution, and I think Athabasca itself can join in that revolution.

Duncan W.