We usually hire several college students each semester as interns, but we canceled the program this summer because everyone is working from home. Our internship program has been really great—both for students and for us. In fact, we'd like to start it back up again. Is it possible to have a good internship program when everyone is remote?
Seeking Remote Interns
Admittedly, one of the primary purposes of internships is to teach college students about life in an office. It’s decidedly different in comparison to life in school. And honestly, anyone who’s ever had the "you can’t do that" conversation with an intern can tell you how crucial it is for them to learn about professionalism and work etiquette. But, when everyone is working remotely, it’s much harder to truly demonstrate right from wrong.
With that said, remote work is becoming increasingly popular. While COVID-19 universally increased the number of people working from home temporarily, the number of people working full-time in an office will never go back to what it was before the shutdown. There’s a good chance that your interns’ first real jobs will be remote. So, working from home can help them prepare for that. The other key function of an internship is to prepare the next generation to work in their field by gaining experience—and you can do that from virtually anywhere.
Follow these five steps for setting your remote interns up for success and you’ll ensure that everyone—your employees, your interns and you—thrive.
1) Confirm that each intern’s manager is on board with managing a new person remotely. Not every manager is up for this task—it’s a hard one, and that’s okay. Allow them the opportunity to say no.
2) Work with managers to create a plan for mentoring and training new interns. Will there be daily check-ins? Will there be a dedicated team member working closely with each intern? Who will offer regular feedback? Remember, when you see someone face to face, feedback can come naturally. When everything is remote, sending a message to say, "make sure you format your spreadsheet in a certain way," can seem nitpicky. But, providing feedback is a crucial part of growth and learning, and managers need to know how to deliver it effectively. A performance management system can help add structure to the feedback process by organizing it in a centralized way that enables both managers and interns to stay in touch about progress.
3) Provide each intern with a clear set of guidelines that include working hours and communication protocols. Make sure they know that they’re expected to stick to an agreed-upon schedule, respond to messages (emails, Slack notifications, texts, etc.) in a timely fashion and communicate with their manager and colleagues regularly. Interns should be encouraged to ask questions, share proactive updates about how their work is going and contribute to strategic conversations during meetings when appropriate. It’s easier to facilitate conversation in-person than it is in a remote setting, but empowering your intern to speak up from home will prove valuable to their professional development—and fresh perspectives could also help your business.
4) Arrange for some social interactions. Depending on your local regulations and reopening status, this could take the form of something like a socially-distanced lunch. If that’s not a comfortable scenario, a Zoom lunch where business talk is prohibited can be a great alternative. Why? Because part of business life is developing relationships with coworkers. Interns need to learn how to make appropriate peer-to-peer connections. Normally, interns pick up on this naturally, but with remote work, managers may need to help facilitate it.
And, if you have multiple interns, arrange an intern lunch for them from time-to-time as well. It’s a great opportunity for them to share experiences and exchange lessons learned. It’s even better if the company can provide that lunch by letting everyone order delivery. You’d probably do this for onsite meetings.
5) Give your managers plenty of ad hoc support to ensure remote internship programs run smoothly. They’ll need it.
And one final note: remember not all interns are the same. Allow interns the flexibility to do their jobs and help them build boundaries around work and home—even when it’s all now in the same place.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
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