Remote internships require structure
Without a set office to report to, it’s important to create a remote-friendly structure for remote internships. Consider the kinds of guidelines your remote interns need to do their best work.
Make sure that your internship program is detailed and comprehensive, covering as many key details as possible. A few questions to consider include:
- How long will the internship last (e.g., one month, six weeks, one summer)? Make this clear to the interns from the outset.
- How many hours will they work in a week? Which days of the week, and at what times?
- Is there potential for this internship to turn into a full-time role at the end? Many students or recent graduates seek internships to land a full-time role. If this is something you clearly can or cannot offer, it’s important to communicate.
- Do you expect interns to have their cameras on in meetings or to be available during all working hours on a messaging platform? Clearly outline how you expect interns to communicate via remote channels throughout their internship.
- What time zones will your interns work in, and what time zones do the rest of your employees work in? Do you need to set specific hours for collaboration depending on when those time zones overlap?
- Will interns be paid, receive school credit or both? If they will be paid, how often? Creating this compensation structure is crucial and needs to be communicated before interns sign on to a commitment.
Set reasonable expectations
It’s important to provide interns with the training they’ll need to complete the tasks you set out for them. Remember, this is a learning experience for your interns. Be patient and err on the side of expecting less output at the beginning until you get a sense of how much work they can handle.
Provide plenty of resources
In a virtual environment, it’s important to document processes so that employees feel empowered and supported as they complete their work.
Make sure you have adequate onboarding materials for your remote interns so they can educate themselves as they become acquainted with the new environment and have somewhere to turn if they’re working different hours.
Examples of helpful onboarding materials include:
- An employee handbook that outlines day-to-day processes such as how to reach other employees, how to request time off and how to call out sick
- Guides for how to work with commonly used software at the company
- Guides for any product knowledge or other relevant information the intern needs to get started on their tasks
- Standard operating procedures for common tasks that you expect the intern to complete
- Any information about the company’s culture, mission or goals that you can share to help familiarize the intern as they get started
- Resources about how to communicate effectively in a remote environment
Be available for your remote interns
While providing the resources mentioned is important, it’s also crucial that your interns feel they can get the support they need from their manager.
Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your interns and provide plenty of opportunities for them to communicate concerns, ask questions and keep you updated on their tasks.
Communicate the best ways for interns to reach you—i.e., if you prefer emails, Slack messages or video calls. That way, they can feel empowered to contact you on their own when they need to.
Make sure that you are also actively checking in with your remote interns, rather than waiting for them to reach out. As a result, they will feel supported and have what they need to complete the work and learn as much as possible from their experience.
Create opportunities for virtual interns to socialize
You never want your interns to feel isolated because they aren’t connecting with employees in-person. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get creative and foster genuine connections even if you’re miles and miles apart.
- Host virtual events: Think about online coffee breaks, virtual lunches and Zoom happy hours. Giving interns a chance to connect with the rest of the team in a setting that isn’t centered around work can help them build relationships and feel welcome in their new environment. Consider playing a game or creating some other sort of structure to the meeting to help break the ice and guide conversations. Also, make sure that you schedule the gatherings at a time that’s convenient for everyone involved. You want the event to feel fun—not like an obligation.
- Build connections online: The water cooler doesn’t need to be a physical place anymore. Create groups online for interns and other employees to bond over shared interests. It could be as simple as a messaging channel where employees share funny pictures of their pets or chat about a TV show they love.
- Link interns together: A huge benefit to internships is that they help people starting their careers build new professional networks. Create spaces where interns can connect amongst themselves. Regular online gatherings can help them problem solve and share experiences together, empowering them as professionals and fostering meaningful relationships.
Provide channels for feedback
To design more successful remote internships, learn from your mistakes and take stock of what you did that worked well.
Make sure to give your remote interns plenty of opportunities to provide feedback during the internship itself and after it’s over so that you can make improvements for the next cycle.
You can solicit feedback from your remote interns in a number of ways, ranging from casual conversations in your one-on-one meetings to anonymous surveys throughout the program. Encourage full candor from your interns (anonymity may help with that) so that you can truly take their feedback into account.
Keep any feedback that you gather organized so that you are more likely to action on it in the future.
On the flip side, make sure that you are also offering feedback to your remote interns that they can take with them and use at future opportunities. Meet with them before the program ends to share highlights of their work and what you think they can continue focusing onto succeed in their careers moving forward.
Don’t forget to keep in touch with your remote interns after their time with the company is over. Check in with them a few months after the program to see how their job search is going, if they need advice or just to say hello.
Keeping tabs on their professional development can help your virtual interns feel supported, which may help bolster your company’s reputation as a great place for employees to start their careers. Plus, who knows—that virtual intern you worked with last summer could turn into a seriously valuable employee for you one day in the future.