As remote internships take off, Jon Kennard talks to NovoEd’s Todd Moran about their pros and cons and how HR and managers should approach supporting this valuable source of future talent.
How can businesses prepare managers and HR professionals for remote summer internships?
While the share of US internships posting per million job postings on Indeed is down 39% from 2019, remote internships are flourishing, now seven times greater than March 2019. As young professionals prepare for their remote summer internships, managers and HR professionals must also make sure they are well equipped to host interns in the virtual setting.
This starts with making sure the intern onboarding and training programmes are set up to support remote work for interns. Ensuring learning is stretched over time (rather than packed into their first week) and incorporating social, experiential learning like team-based assignments and peer/mentor-based reflections lead to higher achievement, productivity and a sense of belonging for interns.
What are the benefits of virtual internships? What are the obstacles HR professionals and managers must overcome?
One benefit of virtual internships is that hosting interns in a virtual setting expands accessibility and opens doors to interns in different regions and populations who might not have been able to participate previously, due to geographical or other restrictions.
This provides more early career opportunities for students or young professionals and also expands the talent pool for businesses.
Incorporating social, experiential learning like team-based assignments and peer/mentor-based reflections lead to higher achievement, productivity and a sense of belonging for interns
Beyond the benefits to the business, interns also gain key skills and experiences around what it’s like to work successfully in the virtual environment moving forward. As the hybrid workforce emerges, these communication, collaboration and other soft skills are required to thrive in this remote setting and can be ingrained in new employees during a virtual internship.
And beyond the intern’s vantage point, a virtual approach means organisations can now incorporate a multitude of diverse internal personnel, managers, leaders, and executives, into the programming where the constrictions of office locations and regional locales are removed.
This expanded access and exposure to a myriad of team members translates into a deeper and more meaningful connection to an organisation, far surpassing the limitations of past in-person models.
There are also a handful of obstacles both HR professionals and managers must overcome when navigating virtual internships. One aspect that is crucial to the internship experience but often difficult to convey over a computer is culture.
A business’s culture can best be translated by making it a key component of the intern’s learning, onboarding and overall experience. Culture is conveyed through stories, such as formative moments in the organisation’s history, a senior leader talking about a tough decision or times when employee actions were rewarded or recognised.
Promoting interaction between each intern’s own principles and perspectives enhances culture, so there should be opportunities for the interns to offer their reflections, share past experiences and discuss how they might handle different situations.
For interns, a big part of the experience is making connections and creating their own professional network. What does networking in a virtual setting look like?
Building connections between the intern and their manager, colleagues and other leaders within the organisation is a major part of the internship experience. Over the past year, we’ve learned very well how to remotely collaborate and connect with our co-workers, just as interns have used technology to stay in touch with their professors, classmates and friends.
Interns can engage with peers by sharing their perspectives and learnings, while also receiving real-time feedback from coaches and mentors, to create a collaborative environment for learners where connections are encouraged and emphasised.
Their networking won’t be limited to those who sit near them or are on their work team; instead, the virtual setting allows interns to connect with others virtually both synchronously and asynchronously, collapsing geographies and time zones.
Some organisations are exploring a hybrid approach to internships, where some employees go into the office and others choose to remain remote. What are your best tips and tricks to train interns in this hybrid environment?
When it comes to internships, it’s even more critical that HR professionals and managers develop effective training programmes, as the internship is often the first professional experience for many interns. That said, there are a few best practices to train interns in the hybrid environment by combining the flexibility of self-paced online training with live experiences.
- Determine how much of the training requires live interactions: Facilitator-led discussion – whether that be via video or in-person – should be balanced with a self-paced application as much as possible. It’s easy to over-rely on live interaction as a way to facilitate training, but this can have consequences on the intern in the form of webinar fatigue, scheduling challenges or numerous sessions.
- Redesign the learning programme to fit the hybrid model: The hybrid setting opens up new doors for interns to apply, practice, share and give feedback to each other asynchronously. Sometimes this means retooling the overall learning programme to allow for learners to participate both in the office and at home. Incorporating feedback, deliberate practice and reinforcement into the course design is critical, as it allows interns to learn and grow more efficiently.
- Maintain engagement and persistence: Hybrid programmes are executed in sequence over time, often spanning several weeks as opposed to a traditional one- or two-day workshop. Planning ahead and ensuring the training fits into the internship programme and each intern’s schedule combats drop-off rates and promotes engagement. While interns are eager to learn about the company itself and the skills needed to thrive, reinforcing the importance of the programme, a badge or certification and gamification are all ways to keep interns engaged and immersed in both L&D and the overall organisation. Moreover, being very purposeful with tailored communications and nudges spaced across the programme can further ensure a consistent degree of engagement among large-scale intern populations.
- Choose the right platform, technology or approach for online learning: Since interns only have a short time to get up to speed on the company’s learning platform, utilising something that has a low barrier of entry and is consistent with other tools they’re using is essential. Beyond that, a technology and approach that fosters high levels of interaction and feedback will help them grow even more during their internship experience.
About the interviewee
Todd Moran is chief learning strategist at NovoEd