The COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread remote working that arose from it have been huge adjustments to people around the world. We’ve all counted ourselves lucky not to be among the many who lost their jobs, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to transition to such a different working format.
The switch has been particularly difficult for new hires and interns. Learning the ropes at any business will be more challenging for anyone when they aren’t in the same room as their mentors or leaders.
Making sure your interns are still productive, intertwined members of your team simply takes a few new strategies and some planning ahead. Use these tips to make your internship programs as beneficial as they can be for everyone, even when you only meet your interns through a screen.
1. Get More People Involved
Don’t keep your internship quiet or gloss over it with existing employees. If you want your interns to truly feel like part of the company, you need to get the rest of the company on board.
Get everyone excited about the incoming interns. Make it a fun announcement, praising their qualifications and achievements while talking about the fresh perspective they’ll bring with them.
You can also have your interns write a short message about themselves and their interests, then include this message in your announcement email. This jumpstarts the process of everyone getting to know the new interns so they feel like any other team member.
2. Make Time for Niceties
The sudden switch to working from home has given rise to one frequent complaint: employees often miss the little chats at the water coolers and short exchanges with their co-workers. This can leave anyone feeling isolated and disconnected from their team. It’s even worse for a new hire who didn’t have a chance to bond with their colleagues in the first place.
Make time in your employees’ and interns’ schedules for some chatter. For instance, set up a virtual water cooler meeting: a time for employees to just talk casually about anything besides work. It’s a chance for them all to get to know each other and for your interns to feel more connected to their teams.
Be sure that this is part of your employees’ work time, though. If you ask them to give up their personal time, they’re likely to be less interactive because they just want to run out the clock and get back to their free time. These chats are an investment in your work culture and your teams’ collaboration, so they’re appropriate for work hours.
3. Use a Buddy System
It’s great to have an entire team of people ready to support your new interns but it can be overwhelming when there are too many people waiting to help. Instead, assign each intern a “new hire buddy.”
This “buddy” should be the intern’s point person for getting to know the company. They can fill them in on all the general protocols, both formal and informal. They can help the interns learn the ins and outs of the company and introduce them to others who could be good friends.
Make sure the buddy you choose is someone who truly embodies your company culture. In many ways, this person will guide the way your intern feels about their new work environment, so you want their influence to be a positive one. To help them stay connected, ask them to have a standing meeting at regular intervals, such as once each week.
4. Set Up Time with Various Teams
Your interns should each have a specific team they’re working with, but every company needs healthy collaboration to perform at their best. To help your interns get to know other teams and build their collaboration, set up meetings for them with various teams.
Specifically, introduce your interns to teams that are related to their own duties. For example, a UX development intern should get acquainted with the backend developers, dev ops, and so on. They don’t necessarily need a meeting with your accountants or customer service teams.
Keep these meetings casual and somewhat informal. They should be “getting to know you” sessions rather than detailed work meetings.
5. Choose Interactive Onboarding Materials
When you’re onboarding a new intern or employee in the office, the simple fact that they are within your company’s culture can help them stay engaged. In that setting, you might be able to get away with dry, passive onboarding materials like written manuals.
In a remote environment, though, you need to go the extra mile to help your interns feel engaged and give them a stronger taste of your company. To do that, you need to make your onboarding process more hands-on, interactive, and engaging.
For instance, opt for hands-on instruction with your interns’ team members or new hire buddies for more of the onboarding process. Use videos with active exercises rather than written manuals.
6. Create Bonds with Other Newcomers
No matter how welcoming you and your employees are, coming into a new internship is always stressful and challenging. It can help if your interns have connections with others who are in their shoes.
You can give them that gift by establishing an employee resource group (ERG) for interns and new hires. This allows interns to feel more connected with the experience because they’re going through it with others, not by themselves.
Set up this group to meet regularly, perhaps once or twice per month, so interns and new hires can discuss their challenges, get to know each other, and share advice.
7. Ask for Feedback
Your interns aren’t just there to learn from you; there’s plenty you can learn from them too if you make an effort to listen.
Ask for their feedback at various times throughout their internship. Get feedback on the internship program in general and your remote onboarding process.
Even though your interns aren’t experienced professionals, they may also have valuable advice for ways you can improve the company operations overall. You’d be surprised what a fresh set of eyes can pick up, so ask about ways you can improve.
Note that for this to be productive, though, the intern needs to feel comfortable and safe being honest with you. They need to feel confident too that their feedback will be taken seriously because if not, they won’t want to risk upsetting you if there’s no positive outcome.
You need to start sending this message from day one. Honesty and continuous constructive criticism should be a core part of your company culture.
8. Expect a Longer Learning Curve
Every intern has some amount of a learning curve. Unsurprisingly, that curve tends to be longer when they’re learning the ropes remotely.
When an intern doesn’t have someone teaching them shoulder-to-shoulder, they may ask fewer questions or have a harder time understanding their instructors’ guidance. Adjust your expectations accordingly and be patient with them.
That doesn’t mean to abandon your expectations or standards altogether, though. It can help to have a checklist for certain intervals. For instance, you may have a list of skills you expect your interns to have when they’re 30 days into their program, another at 60 days, and so on. Make sure that these are appropriate for a remote onboarding timeline.
It’s also important to remember that those checklists should be used to monitor your interns’ progress and make adjustments as necessary. They shouldn’t be used to write off an intern or judge them to be a slow learner.
9. Increase One-on-One Manager Time
One-on-one meetings between each employee and their manager should be a routine practice for any business. They’re especially crucial when your team is working remotely because the employees don’t connect with their managers as often on a regular basis.
Amplify that importance even more for remote interns. They need more guidance because they’re new to your company and to the working world in general. For this reason, it’s a good idea to tweak your managers’ schedules to have more frequent or longer one-on-one meetings with your interns.
For one, this gives interns more of an opportunity to ask any questions they have. Second, it also allows interns to become more comfortable with their managers. They’ll feel more invested in your company, be quicker to ask questions, and feel more confident which can boost their performance.
10. Celebrate Small Wins
Positive reinforcement goes a long way for all employees, but you can multiply it times ten for remote interns.
First, interns are entering very unfamiliar territory so they tend to be unsure about many aspects of their job. They don’t know that they’re performing well unless you tell them, and when you do, they’ll keep up the good work.
Second, you want to build a bond between your company and the intern because employees perform better when they’re more invested in the job. Positive reinforcement makes your intern feel appreciated, which establishes a more positive work culture.
Make sure you involve the rest of the company in your intern’s success too. Send out email newsletters praising their accomplishments and milestones. Don’t forget to do the same for your seasoned employees too.
11. Consider Direct Collaboration Projects
Most people learn better from performing an activity themselves rather than watching someone else do it. At the same time, they need guidance throughout the process to know whether they’re doing the job right.
To give them that balance of proactive work and guidance, set up projects in which they’re directly working with another team member. For example, you may give the intern a project but have them on a video call with a senior leader while they’re working on it.
This way, the intern can easily and quickly ask questions and get immediate guidance so they don’t get stuck waiting for an answer before they can move forward. This also gives the senior team member insight into the intern’s thought processes so they can see how to better help them learn and can correct mistakes as they happen.
12. Modify Old Traditions, Don’t Drop Them
In the days when we were all working at the office, many companies had traditions and routine ways to build a sense of community around their employees. Maybe you had your teams enjoy lunch together once each week or you held an award ceremony every quarter. These types of events can make your interns feel more like part of the team.
Now that we’re in a more remote world, don’t put a halt to those traditions. Just modify them in a different way. You could still have a virtual award ceremony for example, and you could have team lunches by setting aside a specific time for team members to eat lunch and chat over a video call.
This is especially important when you have a remote intern. They already feel like a fish out of water at first, so imagine how much more isolating it would be if their colleagues were talking about all the fun group activities they used to do but the intern hasn’t been able to participate. Simple modifications can help you have better continuity between your in-office culture and remote work culture.
Onboarding Your Remote Interns Smoothly
Our new, suddenly more virtual world is tricky for any of us to navigate. With a bit of planning and strategizing, though, you can still make your remote interns’ experiences more productive for everyone whether the rest of the team is remote or in the office.
While the tips above can help, finding the right intern goes a long way as well. Learn more about our international internship program and how we can help you connect with top-tier talent around the world.