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Tips for Bringing Your Internship Program Remote in the Midst of COVID-19

Posted by Jeffrey Moss on Mar 30, 2020 4:47:32 PM

As many companies face hard decisions around summer internships, we wanted to share some of the best practices for taking these programs remote. Since pioneering Micro-Internships five years ago, we have facilitated thousands of remote project engagements between companies and college students. In that time, we have identified how to ensure a great remote experience for companies and interns alike. 

Tip 1: Unbundle the work

Unbundling the work means identifying the projects that take place throughout the length of an internship. In fact, one of the simplest reasons why Micro-Internships work is that these project-based experiences provide both immediate value to existing employees and clearly defined deliverables for interns. For example, a Micro-Intern may support your marketing department on various projects such as: drafting a blog article, data cleansing 100 contacts, and running a competitive analysis. Each of these assignments have well defined objectives and deliverables that can easily be managed and coached. 

For summer internship programs transitioning to remote, managers should take a similar approach to ensure success for their online interns - per the examples above, each of those projects could be a component of a marketing summer internship. By unbundling the role of the summer intern into a series of discrete projects, interns will have better clarity on their responsibilities, while managers can more easily gain value from their work. In addition, this approach helps ensure that interns can work on a variety of different assignments, creating a more interesting experience for the intern, while also allowing the company to better assess a broader set of skills in a more structured way. As a result, companies can make better hiring decisions and see improved conversion from those candidates.

Additionally, a project-based approach helps maximize learning by continuously engaging interns in real assignments. For some managers, keeping an intern busy can be a challenge, especially if they are used to on-site interns simply following them around and working on small parts of random tasks. By thinking in terms of real projects, managers will both find and create more value from the internship experience. This also allows the intern to have more ownership of a project outcome, rather than have parts of their efforts buried in a final product. 

Need help unbundling your existing internships? We’re here for you!

Tip 2: Get manager buy-in

We frequently hear from human resource leaders concerned that managers just won’t adopt a project-based approach. However, data shows that well over 50% of professionals have already engaged in an unbundled job approach by utilizing gig workers for on-demand support. When creating an internal roll-out plan for Micro-Internships, we help human resources professionals identify these internal champions to share best practices for managers just getting started. Using this same strategy can help organizations take a project-based approach when transitioning to a remote internship program.

Another great approach is to frame the work of the interns as adding immediate value to the managers. One of the most effective ways to do this is to offer managers support on the “We should…” and “I shouldn’t…” assignments. The “We should…” tasks are those that are valuable, but keep on winding up on the back burner.  “I shouldn’t…” assignments are also important, but are not the best use of time for experienced professionals. By positioning remote interns as a resource to help on the “We should…” and “I shouldn’t…” tasks, managers get immediate support and adopt best practices for discrete project management. 

Need help thinking of projects? Visit our project template library.

Tip 3: Create an intern project marketplace

As managers embrace the opportunities and benefits of project-based internship management, companies making the transition to remote internships need an effective way to share the availability of these projects with their intern pool. While some organizations may work with a coordinator to match talent with department needs, a simple solution based on Micro-Internships is to create a marketplace for both managers and interns to connect. A project marketplace empowers interns to explore business areas beyond their primary role while also exposing managers to interns from different backgrounds. As a result, interns are provided with a better understanding of how their primary responsibilities fit within the larger organization, while managers can gain the benefit of different perspectives on the role

A project marketplace specifically provides a way for interns to gain ancillary experience beyond their primary role, while relieving managers of creating busy work. In practice, this means an intern will spend the majority of time (70-80%) completing work for a specific manager or team, and can use the balance of time to work on projects for other teams posted to the marketplace. Many students appreciate the ability to work independently to complete these projects, and the greater exposure to the larger organization that it affords. Further, as interns work on projects posted via the marketplace, recruiters benefit from additional assessment and feedback provided from different managers who are now familiar with a student’s skills and work ethic.

For a limited time: Given the current COVID-19 Pandemic, Parker Dewey is making its project-based remote internship platform available to companies with existing internship pools. Contact us to learn more.

Tip 4: Engage employees in real mentorship

While a big part of successfully transitioning to a remote summer internship program is having well thought out assignments, companies should not ignore the other parts of the experience.  As organizations have rapidly adjusted to remote environments, they can leverage those tools already in place in creative ways. For example, while video conferencing tools provide an effective way for students and managers to have weekly check-ins, they also allow the intern to engage with a recent grad to gain insights around a specific project the intern is completing for another department, or to ask how various tasks fit together. While not the same as an in-person lunch or employer-sponsored happy hour, the feedback shows that this type of  informal mentoring and networking can be valuable for interns, and existing employees appreciate the opportunity to give back in this way. Ultimately, creating a valuable internship experience from the student perspective can lead to better hiring outcomes for the organization.

Too busy to mentor? Check out four ways to offer an informal mentorship.

Future of Internship Programs

Though we don’t recommend remote internships become the standard, we do believe transitioning programs online for the summer of 2020 is the best option for students and companies alike. All of these tips can be applied when on-site internship programs resume to create more effective programs for all.

Should you need any support implementing the best practices highlighted above, we’re here to help. Sign-up for a free consultation on the best practices to transition to a remote internship program for summer 2020.

Request your free consultation 

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