How to Create the Best Virtual Internship During COVID-19

Learn how to establish virtual internship programs to keep your company fully staffed and productive during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to postpone or cancel internships. Students across the United States and the world lost the opportunity to gain vital work experience, as well as develop long-lasting professional relationships. The companies that lost interns found themselves struggling to fill the staffing void.

How did companies adapt to the new normal for internships? Many companies turned to virtual internships to allow students to work from home or on campus.

The transition to a virtual internship program model has not unfolded without a few bumps along the way. Tackling a new staffing paradigm requires companies to learn how to manage a scattered team.

Let’s discover how companies adapted to the new normal by creating the best virtual internship programs.

Online Mentoring

The disappearance of personal interactions in the workplace could have hurt the professional development of interns. However, many companies continued mentoring programs by taking personal interactions online. Make sure your managers schedule at least one mentoring session online each week.

With sites such as Zoom and Google Meet, you continue to stay connected with interns by providing feedback and sharing stories about your professional experiences.

Departmental Collaboration

Moving internships to a virtual model does not mean you have to limit the growth of the interns working at your company. Before the pandemic, interns had the opportunity to learn different roles during the short time they received professional guidance. Running a virtual internship program should not deter your company from broadening the professional skillsets of your interns.

Establish Achievable Goals

Establishing what you want an intern to get out of a three, six, or nine-month virtual internship program gives each intern a blueprint for achieving goals. As you did for workplace internships, create a schedule for you and an intern to discuss goals. You should also take advantage of the time online to recommend professional opportunities.

Create a Formal Learning Environment

The best virtual internships create formal learning opportunities for every intern working at a company. Instead of gathering in a large conference room, you hold formal learning sessions online. Formal online learning comes with several benefits that include allowing students the flexibility to learn when they have the time instead of complying with a rigid schedule.

Communicate Early and Often

The new virtual internship paradigm ushered in by the pandemic has introduced a few benefits. One of the most significant benefits involves the ability to communicate as often as you want with an intern. Start communicating proactively on day one to establish a professional rapport that carries through the time an intern spends with your company.

Advancements in technology continue to expand the options for participating on video chat platforms.

Hire the Right Interns

Knowing how to implement a flexible work policy in the new normal starts by recruiting the right students for your internship programs. Since you cannot promote your company at many student centers because of COVID-19, you have to adapt to the new normal by taking career days online. With virtual internship programs gaining traction, a growing number of students search for prospective employers via Google searches.

Make your company website shine by dedicating one or more pages to recruiting interns. Explain each virtual internship program in detail, including the qualifications your company is looking for and a thorough job description for each position. Make sure your company website downloads information at an optimal speed.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Prepare for a virtual internship at least four weeks, or preferably eight weeks, before the start of a professional development program. You should have onboarded each intern before day one of work. Each intern should become familiar with your company and its culture long before the start of their virtual internship program.

One of the creative ways to develop the best virtual internship is to think long and hard about the technology tools you need to run a successful program. You should decide what messaging app, productivity tracker, and video conferencing platform to use. Many of the technology tools you can expect to use involve software that helps managers lead remote workforces.

Another effective way to prepare for a virtual internship is to deliver the technology interns need at least one week before the first day of work. At least a week advanced delivery of technology tools and equipment allows an intern to set up their new devices. Schedule a short session before an intern’s start date to ensure the intern has clean internet access. Make sure every intern has a contact working in the IT department to troubleshoot technology issues.

Compensate for Necessary Costs

Interns that work onsite do not have to spend money on items such as desks, chairs, and headphones. All the equipment they need is conveniently available at work. That all changes when your company transitions to a virtual internship program. Now, interns have to spend money to get up to speed.

Since most interns work in unpaid roles, consider offering a stipend for work from home expenses.

Post Internship Priorities

How do you interact with each intern after they successfully complete their internships? Most of the interns you hire pursue full-time work after the end of their internship programs. Make it clear before day one of work what types of positions your company has open for students that complete virtual internship programs.

Encourage each intern to leave a review about their experience working at your company on a site such as Handshake. Spreading the word about the best internship program in the area can enhance the employee recruitment process.

The Bottom Line

Will you ever have to prepare your workforce and workplace for the post-COVID-19 era? The answer is the future of COVID-19 is paved with considerable uncertainty. Yes, you should prepare for the post-pandemic workforce and workplace. However, you should continue to refine your virtual internship programs as well.

Although COVID-19 and the future of virtual internships remain uncertain, you have to live in the present by focusing on your current team of interns. Create the same culture online as you have for your in-person workplace culture. Creating virtual internship programs requires the ability to adapt quickly to changes.