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Preparing a Virtual Internship Program

Summer is the time when most organizations offer internships and students are looking for internship opportunities. Traditional internships are on-site, which can be the right choice for students who can travel away from home, can navigate visa requirements, and can afford costly housing options. However, COVID-19 has dramatically changed how employers are navigating their businesses, both internally and externally. One of the changes has been a move toward a virtual work experience.

Unlike a traditional internship, interns in a virtual environment work remotely from a location of their choice, communicating with their managers through email or video chat. In today’s world, when a traditional internship is not viable, a virtual internship makes it possible to gain real-world work experience.

In a virtual internship, the employer must provide a robust environment that provides an opportunity to expand an intern’s knowledge, to enhance their skillsets, and to collaborate within a team. Before launching a virtual internship program, the employer must consider how they will assign tasks to the interns and how they will track their progress. Below are some steps an organization can take to prepare and manage the transition of an internship program into a virtual environment:

Prepare Interns: Gather all information for onboarding. Get interns familiar with the company and its culture. Encourage the intern’s manager to introduce themselves prior to onboarding via email (or through the interview process) in order to help facilitate interactions.

Set Expectations: Inform interns about how the internship program will work, what tools they will need, and how often they will need to attend meetings with the team and the manager.

Provide Equipment and Software Tools: Mail interns their computer a week before their start date, schedule a session to set up their device. Assign an IT point of contact to help troubleshoot with tech issues. Provide tools such as a messaging app, a video conferencing platform, and other software to help manage work.

Train Interns: Training would be similar to one provided in a traditional internship program. The HR team should facilitate the onboarding training program which would include topics such as: “How to separate workspace and living space” and “Time management”.

Train Managers: Having manager buy-in will make the internship program a success. Train managers to encourage their interns to block time out for lunch, workouts, breaks, and virtual social activities throughout the day. Train managers on virtual engagement best practices. Some interns may have little to no professional experience and require more guidance.

Onboard Interns: Onboarding helps interns understand the culture of the organization. The onboarding experience can help to establish a strong bond between the interns and the organization. Ensure interns have everything they need to start: tech support, equipment, completed HR paperwork (e.g. I-9), or a branded welcome gift bag to help them feel connected to the company culture.

Immersion Plan: Develop a detailed schedule and plan for upcoming meetings and projects. Provide information regarding what software to use, instructions on file storage protocol, and contact information for the IT and HR departments.

Mentor Interns: Managers need to stay digitally connected with their interns. Managers can ensure interns have enough work to keep them productive and schedule one-on-one meetings to provide constructive feedback, exposing interns to valuable opportunities for learning and growth.

Virtual internships are becoming more prevalent due to the changing landscape, and they can be equally as impactful as ones traditionally held on-site so long as there are proper preparation and clear expectations set early on with the individual and team.

If you have any questions, please reach out to your Kiwi Partners' HR advisor.

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