Don’t let your interns get lost in your remote-work world

As I reflect on the various internships I had early in my career at Microsoft and the International Management Group, the most important thing I gained was not the actual projects I worked on, but rather getting to know the people I worked with. Informal interactions with colleagues — while walking between meetings or in the coffee room — provided mentorship and advice, and I learned how to operate in a business environment.

The pivot to remote or hybrid work for many employers has (not surprisingly) led to many college students being offered remote internships. But in a remote work situation, I don’t believe students will have access to as much mentorship as once was possible in an in-person environment.

Remote internships lack face-to-face interaction with colleagues and supervisors. In an office environment, interns can observe and learn from experienced professionals, ask questions and receive real-time feedback. This level of engagement can be difficult to replicate in a remote setting, where communication is often limited to emails, Zoom meetings, or Slack channels.

Emma Goldberg (no relation) observed in her July 2022 New York Times article, Hey, Is Anyone Watching the Interns? “Working a summer job can mean commuting to an empty office, sitting unsupervised with other interns and trying desperately to impress managers over video calls.”

Remote internships lack the level of structure and routine of in-person internships. In an office, interns typically have set hours and responsibilities, which can help them stay organized and on-task. In a remote setting, interns may be more susceptible to distractions and have less oversight, which can impact their productivity and ability to learn.

Another challenge is the potential for isolation and disconnection from the company culture. In an office, interns can participate in team meetings, social events and other activities that connect them to colleagues and the company. Working remotely, interns may feel disconnected and have less of a sense of belonging.

For those employing students as hybrid or remote interns this summer, I encourage you to:

  1. Find ways to give the interns a taste of your company culture. This could include events outside the formal workday, like a dinner hosted by company leaders. The highlight of my 1998 summer internship at Microsoft was a dinner Bill Gates hosted at his home. Microsoft also invited our direct supervisors — it was the first time the manager I reported to had been to Gates’ home.
  2. Pick up the phone and call your interns. Young people use every app but not the actual phone. Call them. They won’t recognize your number and will let it go to voicemail at first, but establish a direct connection with a phone conversation.
  3. Arrange networking opportunities with colleagues who are outside the interns’ area of responsibility. Engineering interns often only meet colleagues with engineering responsibilities. Same with the marketing interns or accounting interns. Working in-person, they might be more likely to meet people from different departments. Proactively find ways to introduce remote interns to folks in other groups so they can learn more about your company and culture.

Attracting and retaining talent is the No. 1 challenge facing employers in Northeast Ohio (and around the world). For maximum value from your summer internship programs, put effort and creativity into making the experience for your hybrid and remote interns one they’ll remember, enjoy and learn from the most. ●

Michael Goldberg is Associate Professor, Department of Design and Innovation, Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management

Michael Goldberg

Associate professor
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