If there’s one thing we can say about 2020, it is that the year forced us all to exercise our flexibility. Among countless other changes that people all over the world were forced to make in their lives, many employees and employers found themselves adjusting to remote work too. In fact, as many as 70% of US workers have worked from home during COVID-19 compared to 20% before the pandemic.
If the transition was a jolt for established employees, it was an earthquake for interns. While some internships were canceled entirely due to the pandemic, many others became remote internships instead.
These uniquely formatted internships come with exclusive challenges as well as advantages that some employers hadn’t anticipated. What are those pros and cons, and how can you make the most of your remote interns?
Benefits of Remote Internships
Despite their challenges, remote internships are still powerful learning opportunities and growth opportunities for interns as well as employers. There are even advantages they offer over traditional internships.
When COVID-19 spread in 2020, unfortunately, 22% of companies canceled their internships entirely. Many of those remaining, though, chose to try remote internships instead, and they’ve reaped the rewards.
The reality is that no one knows if or when there will be outbreaks of future COVID-19 strains, and just as this isn’t the first epidemic we have faced, it won’t be the last. Other issues like natural disasters could also make working from home necessary in the future. Companies who now know how to manage remote internships have a way of continuing their internship programs even in the face of the unforeseeable future.
Wider Recruiting Pool
By their very nature, remote interns don’t have to live in your area nor do they need to be willing to temporarily relocate to your area. You have access to talent all over the world with the same ease that you would have access to interns who live a block away. This makes it easier to find the perfect talent fit and culture fit for your team.
In the tech world, in particular, professionals are constantly looking for solutions to problems they’ve never seen before. For that reason, one of the most important skills in tech is to learn how to use resources to figure out a problem for yourself.
Remote interns are more likely to develop this skill because they’re less likely to turn to their mentor in the next cubicle every time a question comes to mind. Instead, they’ll take a moment to see if they can find the answer on their own, which builds not only their sense of independent initiative but their confidence as well.
Exposure to Professional Remote Work
Because they were forced into a remote workplace by the pandemic, business leaders everywhere have finally become exposed to remote work in a way they haven’t before. For many, the transition and results were smoother than expected, and they plan to offer more remote work opportunities in the future.
If your company is among those who see a future for remote work, a remote internship is a perfect way to try out new talent. You have an opportunity to see how your interns function in a remote environment, so it’s easy to know if they would be suitable for that work setting long-term.
Key Challenges Posed by Remote Internships
As beneficial as remote internships have been for employers and interns alike, they come with undeniable challenges as well.
One reason some executives and leaders have been hesitant about remote work in the past is their worry about workforce management. They feared that it would be difficult to keep employees motivated and engaged if they couldn’t see them, and for some, that has proven to be true.
Even for the hardest-working and most focused interns, a certain lack of engagement is common when they’re isolated from their mentors and co-workers. This has forced managers to adjust the way they communicate with their teams. This is particularly true with internships because the interns don’t yet have an established workflow the way their permanent co-workers do.
A consistent culture is a crucial part of a workplace. You need your employees (and interns) to feel invested in the business and to feel a collaborative bond with each other. That’s difficult to achieve when there’s no water cooler to gather around.
Interns, in particular, need to feel the effects of your company culture because they’re not yet familiar with it. If you’re happy with their work, you also want them to be attracted to the idea of a permanent position, and this is more likely to happen if they feel a bond with their team and the company.
The recruitment and talent acquisition process is typically a rather personal one. You might talk to your interns over the phone, then have an in-person interview or two while also having them meet the team to gauge their chemistry. Of course, this doesn’t come so naturally when you need to do the full process remotely.
With tech internships, in particular, most employers incorporate skills tests into their interviews. It can be challenging to find adequate ways to do this over a video call.
Pre-pandemic, many employers recruited for their internships by visiting college campuses to get to know students, speak to classes, and conduct interviews. Internship fairs were popular ways to recruit talent as well. All of these interactions gave employers the opportunity to get students excited about their internships.
When you’re hiring interns remotely, you miss out on these campus recruiting opportunities. Digital internships may be an option, but there is still an interactive component that may be missing.
Tips for Maximize Your Remote Internship Programs
Despite the challenges, remote internships can still be tremendously productive and beneficial if you use the right strategies and adjustments. Start with these top tips.
Establish a Proven Remote Recruitment Strategy
First things first: you need to modify your previous recruitment strategy to work with a remote recruiting and interviewing format. For instance, you may want to produce videos that give interns a taste of your company culture. You could also utilize tools and partners that are designed for remote intern recruitment.
Refine your interview questions and skills tests as well. For software development interns, for instance, try asking interview questions specifically designed to check their readiness for remote work.
Invest in Versatile Communication Tools
Having the right communication tools for your team is one of the most critical ways to facilitate productive remote work. You want team members to be able to get in touch with each other to ask questions or even have a friendly chat quickly and easily. That’s especially important for interns, who are bound to have more questions.
Have an established, uniform set of communication tools for teams to use. For instance, you might have a digital chat platform that employees should keep open in the background all day for quick exchanges as well as a video platform they can hop onto for a quick call. The name of the game is continuity: have everyone use the same tools so there’s one place where they know they can get in touch with anyone.
Schedule Standing Check-In Meetings
It’s easy for managers and their interns to feel more of a disconnect when they’re working remotely because they’re not physically near each other. To bridge that gap, make sure you never let too much time go by between their interactions.
Try establishing a standing meeting once or twice per week between each intern and their mentor or manager. It gives them a chance to discuss any issues or questions they may have and to track their progress without taking unplanned time out of their schedules.
Consider a Rotation Model
During a traditional internship, the simple fact of working in an office near other teams each day will allow an intern to get a sense of those other teams. During a remote internship, you may need to put more of a concerted effort into exposing your intern to various teams.
Depending on your needs for the intern, consider using a rotation model. The intern may spend a few weeks with one team, then a few weeks with a different team, and so on.
Not only does this enhance the intern’s learning experience but it helps them learn about other aspects of your company that are likely to affect their primary internship role. It also gives them a deeper understanding of your company as a whole, which will be an asset if you hire them full-time after the internship.
Choose the Right Mentor
For remote and in-person internships, you need to pair each intern with a “mentor” - their primary point of contact on a daily basis. This is the person who’s generally taking them under their wing and teaching them the ways of the job.
It’s always important to choose a mentor who is positive, personable, and skilled at their job. For a remote internship, though, you also want to make sure the mentor is skilled in remote leadership. This is an entirely different skill set that needs to be honed, and the mentor’s ability to teach remotely could make or break your intern’s experience and performance.
Invest Time in Creating Documentation
There are certain aspects of your interns’ jobs that they can only learn through personal interaction and hands-on instruction, even it’s remote hands-on instruction. There are plenty of more mundane parts of the job, though, that they don’t need to be thinking about or trying to remember continuously. This includes company protocols and procedures, lists of daily tasks, and so on.
For these types of details, your future self will thank you if you invest time in documenting those details in advance. Create an internship handbook, for instance, that has those basic checklists. Not only does this save your intern from needing to remember or ask about unnecessary details but it’s easy to reuse this guide to make future internships run more smoothly too.
Boost Your Progress Measurements
It’s amazing how easy it is for employees and interns to judge their performance on a daily basis simply by watching for verbal and nonverbal cues from their managers. They can learn a lot from merely watching someone’s facial expressions as they look over their latest project.
Interns miss out on that constant assessment when they work remotely, and it can lead them to feel less secure in their performance. To make up for this, increase the number of progress assessments you typically have for internships.
Make sure you’re weighing the intern’s progress both quantitatively and qualitatively. You might have certain benchmark checklists of skills they should have learned or tasks they should have completed at 15 days, 30 days, 45 days, and so on. On top of this, though, have their mentors and managers discuss their qualitative progress along the way.
Make Time for Employee Engagement
Keeping your employees engaged and friendly with each other is a more important part of maintaining a productive and successful workplace than many leaders realize. Employees are better collaborators when they know and get along with their co-workers. They tend to be more invested in the company, too, when they have a bond with your other employees.
This is as true for interns as it is for established employees. To help them build those co-worker bonds, set aside time for this specifically. Set up remote “water cooler chat” times, remote team lunches, or remote happy hours with games to play. This seems simple and trivial but it allows your interns to feel more comfortable coming to their co-workers with questions and it contributes to your company culture.
Maximizing Your Remote Internship Programs
2020 may have thrown us all for a loop, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s the increased opportunities for remote work and remote internships. Using the strategies above, you can make every remote internship a productive, positive experience that benefits everyone involved.
To find out how we can help, learn more about our Intrax Global Internships programs.