It has been more than a year since COVID-19 shocked businesses all over the world, with businesses globally upended, reshaped, and in extreme cases, shutdown. Business leaders have had to think quickly to re-organize and redesign workspaces and processes, ensure their employees' safety, and comply with government safety regulations. With the importance of internships remaining a key part of nurturing talent within companies, mentoring opportunities for employees, and career development for new graduates and young adults, interns are also learning to navigate a post-COVID-19 workplace.
What can interns expect when starting their internship in a post-COVID environment?
With a newfound appreciation for and understanding of how working from home is possible for many sectors, interns can expect the elimination of many barriers. With the rise of technology playing a critical role in boosting company-wide production and revenue generation, more companies will embrace the possibility of utilizing technology to increase the possibility of hybrid or remote internships. As a result of this, more virtual internship opportunities may become available as time goes on. This will open virtual internship opportunities to a far broader population and eliminate a spectrum of barriers that previously prevented talented candidates from seeking out qualified internships. While few companies are moving to a 100% remote office, the majority of employers will implement a hybrid workplace as it is still believed that offices are critical to employee engagement and workplace culture. What will interns find upon starting their internship?
A redesigned workspace and hybrid work life
Before the Coronavirus, many organizations implemented the open plan concept where the majority of the total workforce could work at any one time. After the pandemic, this may very well be the reverse for the post-COVID workplace as organizations adopt a hybrid workspace and less space will be used at any one time. Space will be reallocated with fewer desks and more meeting areas, as well as functional areas to facilitate safe social distancing within the building. Office designs and layouts will likely evolve accordingly.
Companies are assessing what the transition to a hybrid work environment will mean for the amount of office space that they will need, pay for, and use. Before COVID-19, frequent use of the conference or meeting room was necessary for some departments or mentors and interns to do a quick check-in with each other on the status of current or new projects.
Some companies are heading toward creating more meeting rooms and collaboration spaces and possibly eliminating existing cubes or office configurations. Throughout this pandemic, the value of face-to-face employee interaction for idea generation and collaboration has become evident to many businesses; therefore, creating more areas to facilitate this safely and healthily will be vital.
The hybrid office is designed to be the physical enforcer of social distancing to restrict meeting rooms' frequent use.
New hires and interns can then expect to walk into a de-densified workspace, which is a significant shift away from fitting as many desks and people into the office as possible.
Some interns may work remotely in the hybrid office model, while others will be in the office or have mixed work experiences. However, companies choose to move forward in this method, interns and new employees will be hired with clear expectations on how and where, and when they will work.
Video conferencing facilities will also be boosted to enable continued engagement between those interns in the office, at their homes, or other offices and remote locations to accommodate increased employee interaction and connectivity in the post-COVID workplace.
Higher investment in fostering safety in the workplace
Interns will be looking to the companies within their chosen industries to guide them on what precedents they can expect. Leaders can take this opportunity to build on that trust by providing clear guidelines on returning to work safely for everyone involved.
Since employers understand their interns' and employees' fear of working in the office, they have already fitted workspaces with cubicles and plexiglass as an immediate response to reconciling trust and comfort among their staff.
Additionally, employers are currently analyzing which roles will transition smoothly from and to remote working. With most of the workspaces being used to observe social distancing rules, interns working in the office can anticipate that their company may stagger their work shifts and hours or allow internships to transition permanently to remote.
Furthermore, employees and interns can expect new protocol aimed to more quickly identify illness symptoms, facility changes to heighten safety protocols, and a more accommodating sick leave policy. Obvious design interventions like touchless tech, controlled circulation, increased space per employee, and more frequent daily and deep cleaning of high touch areas are essential to the employer/employee trust in the post-COVID workplace.
All of these policies will be designed to protect not only the employer and the workplace, but to alleviate fears and demonstrate care about their employees and interns’ safety.
New social and cultural experiences
Interns going back to the office may experience cultural and social shock. Office spaces will be built to ensure adequate distancing between individuals. Communal areas like the lunchrooms, kitchens, and break areas will be drastically different and designed to minimize contact and interactions.
With the decrease in onsite social and cultural experiences that interns generally look forward to, organizations will rethink the social and cultural experience for interns. High-touch, experientially-driven spaces may become the new mainstage of the modern workplace. Companies that typically invested in in-person team-building activities will shift their attention and resources to exploring virtual team-bonding experiences and how to improve the social interactions between a remote workforce. Programmed for talent amenities, recruitment, vision setting, and unparalleled creative interactions, the workplace's future looks a lot different, and interns will have a fresh set of perks to look forward to in this new work model.
More value-added work for interns
Seldomly, misunderstandings over what work interns were qualified to undertake may have occurred. Some senior employees may have undertaken interns as their personal gophers and given menial tasks like fetching coffee, making photocopies, and running errands. This gross misunderstanding of internship work meant interns gained little in the way of on-point work experience and mentorship.
With the post-COVID workplace eliminating in-person menial tasks, obstacles to meaningful work assignments have been eliminated, and interns have the opportunity to explore the limitless world of virtual assignments.