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April 28, 2020
Checklist: Everything You Need To Run A Virtual Internship Program
Liam Berry

If you’re like most talent acquisition leaders, then this crisis is probably the first time you’ve thought about running a fully remote internship program. There are obvious benefits to bringing interns into the office: they can pick up more ad-hoc work, build a network, and get a sense of what it’s like to work in an office. But as we all face the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to bring as many of those benefits to a remote internship program as possible—while also keeping your talent pipeline alive and healthy.

Here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need to smoothly run a virtual internship program.

1. Make A Communication Plan

Most of the items on this checklist will fall under this point: You need to make a communication plan to provide instructions to both interns and managers. Whether it’s onboarding, building community, or keeping interns productive and engaged, communication is going to be the key. As always—but especially in a remote work situation like this—interns will turn to you with questions and concerns. Be prepared to provide them with as much relevant information as you can.

  • Define your communication cadence (weekly, biweekly, etc.)
  • Outline next steps for both interns and managers
  • Provide as much info as possible—and let them know when important info is coming

2. Distribute Technology And Resources

Take a survey of your incoming interns. Find out what technology they have access to, what their internet connection is like, and whether their computers can run your software. This will allow you to see what kinds of resources you’ll need to offer your interns. Something to note: Make it clear that there will be no negative consequences for sharing they don’t have access to tech.

  • Evaluate and select a survey tool, unless your company already has a subscription
  • Work across stakeholders to develop a list of questions that you’re team would like interns to respond to
  • Launch your survey

Plan with your company’s IT department to distribute the necessary technology. Whether it’s shipping laptops or WiFi cards, these physical tasks require complex logistics, double-checking, and even more bureaucracy than usual due to the coronavirus. Start planning for this ASAP to ensure your interns have what they need before the start date.

  • Define what technology, systems and security your interns need access to depending on their roles 
  • Make a logistics plan to package and ship necessary equipment
  • Test technology ahead of time and replace any non-functioning equipment

3. Create A Virtual Onboarding Process

Even for interns, onboarding is a complex process that can take weeks—and that’s when everything is normal. Even in quarantine, this process should still be exciting, informative, and engaging. 

Prepare your speakers, teachers, and trainers. Make sure the people who were going to train your interns in person are now prepared to do so over Zoom, Webex, or another conferencing tool.

Plan events that are interactive—and not just for training. Keeping interns engaged throughout the onboarding process is essential to their success (and yours). Make sure that your training and onboarding events amount to more than virtual lectures. Give them frequent opportunities to interact with one another and ask questions. Finding time to give your interns and trainers a virtual break is important too! 

  • Meet with individual business teams that are welcoming interns to understand their new requirements for onboarding to gain a sense of what is flexible and what is not
  • Create your onboarding schedule
  • Work with your trainers, hiring managers, and other stakeholders to formalize presentations for online trainings
  • Build in interactive sections for onboarding: Q&As, activities, small breakout groups
  • Create social/networking events in addition to trainings and introductions

4. Make Sure There Is Meaningful Work To Be Done—And Encourage Cross-Functional Projects

Make sure that the work your managers are planning on assigning makes sense for remote interns to do. While providing real work to interns is always a concern, it would be especially difficult to keep talent engaged if they were doing data-entry for hours without even the benefit of human company or socializing. The best remote projects are ones that allow them to work both independently and with other team members.

Assign cross-functional group projects, if possible. These will allow your interns to forge bonds with their coworkers, interact with more members of the team, and learn about the company. These are always a good idea, but they’re especially important in an office-free internship environment, in which opportunities for making connections and learning about the company organically are fewer. 

  • Provide clear instructions to managers on what kind of work is appropriate/engaging
  • Work with managers to come up with cross-functional group projects
  • Plan to check in with interns and managers about the type of work they’re doing on a regular cadence (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) 
  • Send out a survey to your interns mid-way through the program and collect their feedback so you can make changes before the program is over

5. Create A Virtual Community

Virtual community is something we’re all getting used to. Whether it means Zoom happy hours, virtual lunchrooms, or even book clubs, virtual communities allow us all to stay connected to our coworkers—and our mission. Your interns won’t get the pleasure of spending time in your office, but they can still get the benefits of a strong community, like mentorship, social learning, and getting a better sense of company culture. 

Here are some things you can do to help with this: Set up frequent virtual networking opportunities for your interns. Encourage your managers and full-time employees to reach out to them. Come up with creative ways to get your interns to connect with one another inside and outside of work hours, like online gaming, group chats, or fitness clubs.

  • Plan events for your interns outside of traditional work hours
  • If possible, set aside budget for virtual games and activities
  • Encourage interns to use tools like Zoom, WebEx, and Teams to connect with each other informally
  • Reach out to potential mentors and ask for their assistance in bringing interns into the fold of your company culture

Preserve Your Talent Pipeline—And Your Intern Experience

Internships are one of the most valuable sources of entry-level talent—but you can only convert interns who had a positive experience in your program. Preparation and communication are the keys to successfully executing a new type of internship. More than ever, your interns and managers need you to guide them through it.

Need assistance recruiting for or planning a virtual internship program? WayUp’s experts can help. Fill out the form below or contact us at engage@wayup.com to learn more.

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