How to launch a remote internship programme during a pandemic

Launching a virtual internship is challenging but doable, especially if companies have a set programme for interns

T08RF9 Middle aged businesswoman boss mentor training interns employees in office
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Over the past few months, business owners have faced different challenges from having to lay off staff, to finding a way to transform their entire operations digitally. In the US, more than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the onset of the pandemic. Interns were also affected by the crisis. Job losses, and uncertainty about the economic future meant that a number of companies were cancelling or shortening their internship periods.

A survey of 400 companies conducted by the US National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 80 per cent of employers made changes to their internship programmes by either asking interns to work remotely, or by shortening their training periods.

As a result of cancelled internship programmes by a number of organisations and due to a difficult job market for fresh graduates, I have received a large number of internship applications this year. In the past, potential interns normally preferred a two-month summer programmes. This year, however, fresh graduates are asking us for extended internship periods since some of them believe that they wouldn’t be hired for a while.

Having worked with a number of interns from across the region, over the past couple of months, this is how you could make your remote internship work effectively.

Have a virtual onboarding meeting with your team

With everyone working from home, it’s hard for interns to know who is doing what or to properly connect with the team. Set a virtual video onboarding meeting with your relevant team members so that they could introduce themselves to the new interns. This will help break the ice and positively impact the team’s synergy.

Set definitive working hours

Though my team and I work remotely, we do have dedicated working hours that we adhere to and that also applies to our interns. Just because you are working from home shouldn’t mean that work is what you would be doing all day long. Dedicated working hours will help your interns feel like that they are part of an organisation with formal work hours, helping maintain seamless communication.

Agree on a communication system

Make sure to dedicate communication channels for different purposes. How we do it is we conduct a quick morning meeting through a video conference platform. Our different team members come on board, and we converse for a little while, before we briefly go over our tasks for the day and what we should be focusing on. This is different than our big weekly staff meetings. I found that our morning meetings help us stay connected with our colleagues, maintain the office feel and help us not feel isolated. Files and items that need to be shared have a dedicated drive, and we ensure that our information is not lost or all over the place.

Set short-term and long-term targets

Depending on your field of work, you could have weekly, monthly, or even daily targets. In my case, we have weekly targets and we discuss the deliverables with our interns at the beginning of the week. We go over our weekly goals, our deadline(s), and answer any questions that they may have. Of course, they will have questions throughout the week, but this will help them stay on track and ensure that the targets are met.

Encourage break times

While our interns work from home, we let them know that we all have designated break hours for lunch and/or prayers. Also, ensure that work conversations are contained within working hours to maintain everyone’s wellbeing. This will hopefully keep them motivated and not dread work that stretches throughout their days and weekends.

Launching a virtual internship is challenging but doable, especially if you have a set programme for interns, dedicated work hours, and a communication system in place.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi