When done thoughtfully, internships can have major benefits for both the interns and the companies who host them. Interns are able to get valuable hands-on experience in their chosen field, and companies are able to get to know and evaluate potential employees before committing to hiring them. But while the basic premise is the same, the dynamic changes when the environment shifts to a virtual setup.
When interns are instead behind a screen instead of in the office, managing them and their program requires extra consideration and intention. To help make this task a little easier, the members of Young Entrepreneur Council list some of their top tips for setting up and running a virtual internship program and share how you can ensure its success.
1. When Possible, Meet In Person First
Whenever possible, find a way to meet with interns in person before transitioning into a remote work environment. This is how I built my core team of remote workers. Before having them dive into working remotely, I spent a day shadowing them in a co-working environment to understand their process and provide instant feedback for any aspect of it that needed improvement. Once I’m confident that they’re a good fit for our company and can positively affect our workflow, I’ve had no problems transitioning them into a remote internship and eventual full-time position. – Bryce Welker, The CPA Exam Guy
2. Make Time For Connection
The mechanics of running a virtual internship are similar to that of an in-person one. Your intern needs a mentoring, a training or performance plan and desired goals and outcomes. The biggest difference is creating connection with your intern, who can’t physically interact with their peers. Schedule regular check-ins, Zoom coffee connections and maybe even virtual lunches to help them feel a part of the team. – Trivinia Barber, PriorityVA
3. Incorporate An Aspect Of Accountability
The one thing that must be included in any internship program is accountability. That becomes more challenging in a virtual format, but it can be done. The best way to do it is to create a system where you can look at their work at certain points before completion to ensure they are doing it as requested. Interns can sometimes misunderstand what you want, and you may inadvertently treat them like one of your employees who already knows what you want. Going over their work at pivotal points can eliminate costly mistakes. This also allows you to make suggestions and offer guidance to them. I would also strongly suggest you have virtual team meetings once a week to go over assignments and allow for questions from your interns. – Baruch Labunski, Rank Secure
4. Create A System To Easily Distribute Information
The demands of the company will determine how you build your internship program. One essential tip is to have frequent contact with interns; otherwise, they may disengage from their tasks. Additionally, it pays to create a system to distribute information virtually. Physical offices have clear lines of communication, departments and tangible systems, which isn’t always the case for virtual companies. Create and keep files in department-specific directories to achieve similar organization online. Remote interns or employees can then find what they need without the assistance of a co-worker. They may also quickly communicate knowledge without being derailed by assistance requests. This makes it easier for virtual interns to access organizational docs and files without side-tracking other people’s work. – Tonika Bruce, Lead Nicely, Inc.
5. Keep Communication Flowing
As convenient as remote work may be for some candidates, it can be a challenge to successfully manage employees and run internships. The struggle is real, but there are things that can be done to make the best of it. One thing I have seen to be effective is to keep close and good communication. The person managing the intern must transmit instructions, goals, guidance, expectations and more regularly and on time. There must be a defined goal, milestones and the right support from the manager at all times. You’ll also need a clear channel to keep communication flowing when it is needed. Even if this is also important for in-person programs, the personal touch and exchange needs to be purposely included in virtual programs, since it will happen naturally during in-person programs but not while necessarily remote. – Riccardo Conte, Virtus Flow
6. Ensure Interns Feel Like Part Of The Team
The most important thing to remember when running an internship program in a virtual environment is to make sure that the interns feel like they are a part of the team. This can be done by having regular team meetings, assigning them tasks that contribute to the overall goal of the company and providing feedback on their performance. Additionally, it is important to give interns a clear understanding of the expectations and goals of the internship program so that they can be successful. The difference, in this case, is that everything will need to be written down and conveyed electronically. So, you’ll have to get creative and make videos, graphics and easy-to-read content that appeals to your interns and leads them to success. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
7. Provide Plenty Of Structure
Structure is key for someone like an intern who is new to your company and new to being an employee. Regular calls (a video call is better than just audio) and a written list of regular responsibilities are sort of what an employer might “owe” an intern, especially if you can only offer unpaid positions. – Tyler Bray, TK Trailer Parts
8. Manage Expectations
When moving from a physical to a virtual-first internship program, the first thing leaders need to keep in mind is that expectation setting is a two-way street. In a physical setup, micromanagement, as much as we want to deny it, exists. In a virtual setup, micromanagement leads to distraction and shows a lack of empathy. For leaders looking to avoid this, this means being transparent about expectations, limiting back and forth, communicating guidelines and much more. For interns, that means setting realistic expectations, communicating on progress, asking “dumb” questions and much more to keep their manager in the loop rather than in the dark. Getting an expectation management right is an extra load on leaders for sure, but keeping this in mind leads to a pleasurable experience for both. – Candice Georgiadis, Digital Day
9. Pair The Intern With A Partner
One way to run a successful internship program is to assign your intern a partner to help them get comfortable and learn their role. In a traditional office, the two employees would work physically close together. However, your intern and partner employee will communicate through chat programs and video software in a virtual setting. Your intern will get more value from their time with your company if they work closely with someone who is knowledgeable and experienced. – John Turner, SeedProd LLC
10. Come From A Place Of Empathy
You need to start with total empathy when building a virtual internship program. Put yourself in their shoes and fully realize how unusual it might feel to do an internship without ever actually setting foot in the building. It’s a strange thing! So, it’s natural that prospective interns will feel a little out of place. Conduct activities that make things feel a little more natural. Introduce the intern to the team in a similar way that you would if they were in the office. Additionally, make sure everything is explained thoroughly. Coming to terms with a working environment is even more difficult when you view it all through a computer screen. – Nick Venditti, StitchGolf