Even as offices reopen, bringing in new interns into a physical workplace may not do justice to their experience at the organization. At a time like this, a remote internship may serve the purpose, should you choose to implement it. We bring you a quick guide on how to set up remote internships.
Several companies have taken their internships online, which means interns get to do everything that demanded their physical presence in the office in a virtual environment. Though the experience will not be the same, there’s still a lot they can take away from it. In conversation with Hewlett Packard Enterprises, who has successfully taken its internship program online, we evaluate the feasibility of doing so.
The Good and Bad of Offering a Remote Internship
There are obvious benefits to a remote internship. You can get interns from practically anywhere to be a part of the program and extend your reach to parts of the world you know skilled talent resides. â€œThe reduced importance of physical locations and the ability to work from anywhere breaks down barriers that could have caused some applicants to self-select out of our program,â€ tells us Alessandra YockelsonOpens a new window , chief talent officer at HPE, in an exclusive conversation.
But there are obvious drawbacks, too.
- How do you provide a holistic internship experience to interns working from home?
- How do you inspire a sense of belonging in an intern and empower them to give their best to the job virtually?
- What kind of technology do you need to provide a seamless virtual internship experience?
Dr. Natalie BaumgartnerOpens a new window , chief workforce scientist at AchieversOpens a new window , an employee recognition and engagement platform, agrees: â€œFor HR professionals specifically, the top three challenges to anticipate include ensuring interns remain engaged in their remote environment, fostering a sense of belonging and connection to the organization, and encouraging frequent communication to solicit meaningful feedback.â€
What a Positive Remote Internship Experience Requires
Sending over the essential equipment a remote intern needs is one part of the experience â€“ and that is limited to the geography of the intern. But what is essential then is replicating the in-office internship experience when they are at home. We compiled tips from our conversation with Alessandra Yockelson on what a positive virtual internship experience will need.
1. The onboarding experience
Even before interns start, they should be well-informed about the company they are joining. Their onboarding experienceOpens a new window should be similar to the candidate experienceOpens a new window you provide new employees.
Send them details about the company and its culture beforehand and introduce them to their team members. Making them feel welcome during onboarding can take care of the isolation that interning remotely can cause. An onboarding softwareOpens a new window can easily help you achieve this and enable a seamless onboarding experience.
2. Overcommunicate to create a sense of belonging
Overcommunication is the mantra of the season when it comes to handling a remote workforce who may have been with the company for a while. How much overcommunication is the right amount when it is for interns?
HPE’s internship program is ongoing, and Yockelson tells us that the company has been deliberate in building camaraderie between intern groups as well as between interns and HPE leaders and colleagues.
A major part of enabling this, she says, â€œis coaching people leaders to check in often and authenticallyâ€ on their interns.
Being new is already a daunting experience â€“ being new alone is even worse. They may be eager to prove themselves but not know whom to reach out to. So, not only are daily check-ins necessary, being available for them through a convenient channel â€“ be it on Slack or Teams or the phone or email â€“ is essential.
â€œI think the technology is largely the same regardless of the size of the company. For example, we are coaching our people leaders to check in often â€“ every day â€“ via Skype or Zoom or Teams to not only coach their interns, but establish authentic connections, and that technology is widely available. We do think our internship program will at least be a hybrid experience moving forward, and that it will in the future allow us to further promote inclusion,â€ says Yockelson.
3. Articulate performance goals clearly and recognize goal achievement
Consider three areas in the performance managementOpens a new window of interns:
- Do your interns know their performance goals?
- Is there a way for both managers and interns to transparently track their progress?
- How are managers equipped to give them feedback?
Interns need clear answers to all these questions, and managers need to be trained to give these answers as well as empowered with the technology to track their goals. Google sheets may do the trick, but a full-fledged performance management system can take the stress out of the equation and allow both interns and managers to keep track efficiently and transparently.
In addition, Dr. Baumgartner recommends focusing on employee recognition software and programs for performance management. â€œRecognition helps employees build confidence when interacting with staff and is proven to boost engagement, enable connection, and empower employees to communicate and provide feedback.â€
4. Provide virtual networking opportunities
Technology, the enabler, needs to be leveraged here to make sure that managers have everything they need to provide a positive internship experience. As we’ve been saying, this may be the first time managers are overseeing remote employees â€“ much less an intern.
A major aspect of the remote internship experience is to provide â€œa variety of learning and networking experiences available to them, and to make those experiences as interactive as possible,â€ says Yockelson. For instance, HPE’s CEO Antonio Neri recently did a Q&A session with almost 300 interns in the U.S. through Zoom.
Such sessions don’t just connect the C-suite with the interns, they also allow interns to interact with and learn from each other in real-time.
A lot of interns learn by shadowing their mentors, so give them the ability to be present everywhere. Let them shadow their managers on Zoom calls, take notes, and learn from these interactions.
5. Collect feedback from interns regularly
â€œDriving culture and a sense of belonging is challenging when you can’t be physically present, even if you execute the digital and remote experience flawlessly,â€ says Yockelson.
In creating a sense of belonging, interns must feel heard. If this is the first time you’re offering remote internships, it’s the best time to collect their feedback to see where you can improve, because if implemented successfully, remote internships could easily become a permanent feature of your organization.
At HPE, says Yockelson, weekly pulse surveysOpens a new window of both interns and people leaders capture the general sentiment and the effectiveness of the virtual internship experience.
Can Remote Internships Become More Commonplace? Why not?
If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has done, it has connected people world over further. â€œAs we look beyond this year and COVID to a world that allows for a more hybrid model,â€ notes Yockelson, â€œit is important that we think about how we can provide the best of both worlds: a best-in-class remote experience combined with opportunities for face-to-face interaction.â€
In any form of remote work, it is easy for the â€œout of sight, out of mindâ€ concept to play out. And because interns are new to the organization, it’s easy to overlook interns’ presence or include them. But for them to learn and have a great experience, interns need to be part of critical conversations.
This is essential for two reasons. First, interns can easily be made permanent resources in the workforce if they have the environment and support to thrive. Second, your employer brand can benefit as interns share their experience working with you on their social profiles and other platforms such as Glassdoor.
So, don’t worry about their technology savvy â€“ the current generation is equipped to handle it. Simply focus on enabling a sense of culture and belonging by using that technology well to both speak to them and listen to them.
Have you provided remote internship opportunities? What are the positives and the challenges you’ve faced so far? Share them with our readers on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window .