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How to Facilitate a Successful Remote Internship

Internship season is here –and as full-time hybrid and remote roles increasingly become the norm, we are seeing the same for remote internships.

Whether you host interns in the summer or year-round, constructing a remote internship program requires extra intentionality, care, and coordination. When done right, it can lead to an impactful experience for everyone involved. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning for successful remote or hybrid interns.

Embrace Diverse Candidates
Without the geographic barriers presented by in-person internships, your remote program is poised to welcome a diverse range of talent from across the country. Not only can remote internships be more accessible for applicants unable to relocate temporarily, but they also invite a rich variety of lived experiences to your team. When building a program, lean into all the ways a remote program can lead to a more diverse intern class and create opportunities for interns to contribute those unique perspectives. Take it a step further and consider how you might also break down additional barriers, like the paper ceiling, by removing degree requirements and welcoming early career professionals from all backgrounds.

“Connecting with a diverse set of interns gave me the opportunity to expand my personal and professional connections beyond where I was living during my internship,” said Atiya Pitaktrakul, Ad Council assistant campaign manager & previous intern (‘22). “It was incredibly impactful to be able to grow my cultural knowledge by interacting with people from across the U.S.”

Talk About Tech
While many companies have incorporated remote and hybrid technology into their day-to-day operations for years, there’s still a learning curve based on the organization’s platform preferences. For interns coming from various backgrounds, getting the download on all things tech is key to success. These platforms are not only their window to work, but their connection to your organization’s workplace culture.

Proactive onboarding to Box, Google Workspace, Outlook, Slack, Zoom and everything in between will help interns integrate easily into your remote environment. Consider hosting live tech trainings and provide online tutorials they can reference later. Take this time onboarding your interns to also ensure that your remote program centers best practices for accessible and inclusive digital design.

Create Connection
Facilitating a successful internship requires keeping interns engaged and inspired. The key: create opportunities for connection, early and often. Early career professionals are hungry for the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues, whether in formal settings or in the water cooler moments that often get lost in remote work.

Consider scheduling informal coffee chats, organizing a virtual escape room activity, and facilitating other team building opportunities to help build community and encourage communication. Asynchronous opportunities can also be a great way to build relationships without adding another video call to the calendar. Daily icebreaker questions or polls in Slack is another low lift way for interns to connect with their new colleagues.

Establish Goals Early
Given your interns’ limited time with your organization, it’s critical to establish goals early on. In the first few days of an internship, managers should identify their intern’s strengths and areas for development. It’s also important to determine how their skill set overlaps with the existing needs of the organization. As you identify areas of interest and set up consistent touch points throughout the summer, you can play to your interns’ strengths and ensure they are engaged in the work they’re contributing to.

“As a remote intern, having my manager vision-cast for me about what was professionally possible kept me motivated in a setting that could have otherwise lent itself to disengagement," said Avery Bain, Ad Council assistant media manager & previous intern (‘22). “Clear and frequent communication is the lifeline in remote work; without it, both the organization and the individuals suffer.”

Prioritize Open Communication
When you can’t look to the desk next to you to see how interns are managing their workload, you’ll need to be proactive with checking on bandwidth throughout their program. Consistent status meetings and a collaborative project tracking document or platform are effective methods to check in routinely. You should also work together early on to determine which channels of communication are best for discussing bandwidth. Don’t fall victim to “out of sight, out of mind” managing. By having conversations early and often, you can foster an environment that welcomes interns to vocalize the factors influencing their work and provides managers with the opportunity to maximize their time with the organization. This also includes establishing specific moments throughout the program for managers to provide consistent, actionable feedback.

Offer Collaborative Experiences
In addition to creating opportunities to connect with full-time colleagues and mentors, creating opportunities for collaboration between interns can make a world of difference in the remote environment. When possible, host networking opportunities within an intern cohort as an impactful way to provide a community of peers to interact with and learn from. As interns build their career networks, they appreciate an employers that empower them to do so.

A long-term group project is a great option for this kind of collaborative work. It provides interns with opportunities to apply their skills in a low-risk environment, collaborate across departments, and gain experience managing a team. Through the Ad Council’s Raquel Zarin Summer Internship Program, interns develop a new social impact campaign throughout the summer and give an organization-wide presentation at the end of the program. This highly collaborative, highly visible project gives interns an opportunity to build their network with peers and complete the internship with a tangible deliverable.

Cultivate Curiosity
Because internships are inherently developmental, interns are often still discovering where their interests lie. With remote and hybrid work, it’s never been easier to provide them with the platform to explore interests across your organization. Diverse learning opportunities and cross-department exposure will help interns discover new strengths and curiosities, and open new avenues for them to contribute to your organization. Consider setting up department “101” presentations to give insight into different workstreams, provide mentor contacts across distinct business areas, and offer opportunities to shadow a variety of projects. Without any physical barriers that might exist in an office, logging in to meetings and connecting on a call make the remote environment conducive to feeding curiosity at work.

Keep an Open Mind
It’s likely that your interns are digital natives who grew up toggling between in-person and remote experiences long before it was the standard. They have worked hybrid jobs, taken online courses and actively use a series of platforms to keep up with their social lives. In many ways, they are already experts in making remote work, work. As you welcome them into your organization, embrace new insights for operating in the remote world.

With these tips in mind, you’re sure to create an experience that’s equal parts developmental for your interns and impactful for your organization.

Photo by Vanessa Garcia / Pexels


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