During the pandemic, working remotely has become mainstream. And it offers a number of advantages, such as greater flexibility. But when you’re just starting off your career or looking to break into a new industry, it can be challenging to navigate this complex world.
Under typical circumstances, internships can be excellent opportunities to learn about a field that interests you, develop your skills and gain connections. This year, however, your internship could very well be remote. But that doesn’t mean you won’t still have these opportunities. You just have to be proactive in making the most of the experience.
When you’re not going into an office or worksite, it can be difficult to truly get a sense of the company culture — how people communicate, what meetings are like, whether there’s a social life beyond the office and so on. So, you’ll have to make more of an effort to understand what things are really like so you can fit in.
Prior to starting your internship, do research online, looking into the organization’s digital presence. This probably includes social media accounts, websites, news and anything else you can find. During the experience, ask plenty of questions. Read all company- or team-wide emails you receive. And be sure to observe how other people act during Zoom meetings.
You’ll probably receive onboarding and training materials when you get started, and they may get a little overwhelming. But, according to Stuart Esrock, PhD, via the University of Louisville Career Center, it’s important to familiarize yourself with these documents and all the information, including any software, platforms and systems you’ll be using.
Your supervisor will expect you to have read them, and given that you won’t have someone physically there to guide you through these materials, you’ll need to make an effort to onboard yourself in a sense. You don’t want to ask questions to which you can find the answers in materials you were supposed to read. (Of course, if you’re confused, you should ask questions.)
We’ve all struggled with maintaining focus during the pandemic. But it’s critical to learn how to keep the distractions at bay in order to do your work successfully.
Try establishing separate spaces for your work and your personal life. If you’re able to, work in a room that’s not your bedroom. Put your phone on silent. You can even use tools like Flipd to lock certain apps on your phone for a period of time to prevent you from checking, say, Instagram too often.
According to Brinton Botkin, Handshake Social & Editorial Manager, it was critical to essentially set “office hours,” establishing clear boundaries between work and other activities.
“I would block off time on my calendar and post up in a coffee shop, the library, or even in my kitchen at home and turn everything else on Do Not Disturb while I worked,” she says. “Setting aside a dedicated time and space for my internship work helped me ensure that my deadlines were met, I was prompt and communicative with my managers, and that I could balance the rest of my life, too—I wasn’t trying to multitask on my internship responsibilities while at my coffee shop job or in class.”
“I set out a work schedule every week and a daily quota based on that schedule,” says Megan Fink, a senior at Southern Mississippi University. “This helped me reach my content goals every week and kept me on track.”
Since you won’t have anybody watching over you, making sure you’re doing your work, you’ll need to do it yourself. Create a schedule, ensuring you make time for every item on your to-do list.
Communication must be much more thorough and thoughtful when you’re working remotely. Since you won’t be able to pop into your boss’s office to ask a question or give them an update, you’ll need to find other outlets, such as via Slack or email.
It’s a good idea to establish regular times to check in. For example, perhaps it would be beneficial to both of you to hope on Zoom or the phone weekly to touch base. At the same time, try not to overwhelm them with calls and texts. To establish clear boundaries, ask how and how frequently they’d like to be updated on your work. Of course, if something urgent arises, it’s important to let them know.
Your manager probably won’t always know what time you get started for the day, unless you respond to emails immediately (or don’t) or otherwise make it known that you’re present. Still, make sure you show up on time both for your own work ethic development and the sake of your professional reputation. Even if no one’s checking up on you, you want to demonstrate that you take your work seriously.
It’s true — unless you have a meeting or check-in, no one will know how you’re dressing. But making yourself look professional will help you get into a better mindset and may even enhance productivity. Plus, if you do have a meeting, you want to look as put together as possible.
“I would always put on a nicer outfit like I was actually going somewhere and do my hair and makeup,” Aurora Stromberg, an Ohio State University junior, says.
One downside to remote internships is that you won’t have casual interactions with coworkers. You’ll have to make more of an effort to get to know people, but it’s well worth it to take that extra step. You might, for instance, ask someone to have a virtual coffee or lunch break.
It’s critical to establish these connections because they could very likely be the people who will write you letters of recommendation. They could also alert you to opportunities within the company or industry later on.
Ultimately, your internship can help launch your career. You might land a position at the company that hosts you as an intern, or you could make connections that will lead to valuable opportunities in the future.
Finance writer Ashley Eneriz suggests pitching new ideas and coming up with plans to improve operations at the organization. “Surpass expectations and look for unique ways to do more than just the required work,” she writes.
You want to impress your employer and demonstrate your capabilities. This is true of any internship, remote or in-person. But because your supervisor may not be aware of how much you’re doing on a day-to-day basis since you’re not in physical proximity to them, go above and beyond to show them.