Over the past few months, many full-time employees have had to adjust to remote working environments due to COVID-19. While this changes the course of business for the foreseeable future, it’s not just full-time employees who have to adjust to the work-from-home environment; internships are adjusting, too, with many going fully virtual or being eliminated entirely.
For example, companies like Bank of America (BoA) and Morgan Stanley opted to shift their internship programs to a virtual model. Although their virtual programs easily transition projects originally slated for their in-person internships, the challenge for BoA and similar companies will be creating an experience that entices interns to return for full-time positions.
As the summer comes to an end, many HR leaders are likely asking themselves how to apply what they learned from the first iteration of remote work to create a successful fall internship program. With one in three employees reporting they have felt disconnected from their company’s culture and peers during the pandemic, the success of virtual internship programs begins, and ends, with engagement.
Create a Culture of Recognition
Starting a new job can be both an exciting and a nerve-racking experience for many employees. Now, imagine the amplified emotions of an intern starting a new job virtually and during a pandemic. On top of this added stress, 73% of Generation Z workers aged 18 to 22—the most common age range for interns—report they sometimes or always feel alone. For this reason, it is crucial for these young professionals to feel connected and engaged when signing off at the end of day 1 on the job.
To accomplish this, HR leaders and internship program coordinators must create a culture of recognition. Recognition is a leading driver of engagement, as 90% of workers are motivated to work harder when they receive recognition—and interns are no exception.
In fact, I would argue these young professionals need more support and recognition than ever before. As new workers in the corporate environment, implementing a recognition system will help them feel motivated and committed to the company.
Gather Feedback Quickly
With any new program or transition, businesses should have a strategy in place to collect feedback on the process to determine what is and is not working so improvements can be made. Especially in this case, ignorance is not bliss; HR leaders need to keep interns’ perspective in mind if they are truly invested in their success. With 85% of employees worldwide reporting they are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their jobs, soliciting feedback from the intern class of 2020 workforce is pertinent to running a successful program.
This can be accomplished simply by implementing anonymous surveying tools to collect feedback from interns at various stages of the program to understand how sentiment changes throughout the program. Collecting this feedback will help interns feel they are heard and allow employees to take action and make positive changes, ultimately creating more engaging programs for the future.
At the end of the day, it is important to keep in mind that virtual internships are likely a new experience for both employers and employees. This means it is unlikely that businesses will implement them perfectly in the beginning—and that is OK so long as they are gathering feedback on how to improve and then take action accordingly.
As mentioned before, the process of working remotely is new to many, and businesses must be flexible with their new interns. Although it is easy to dismiss interns as temporary, they are still employees dealing with a volatile job market, rent to pay, or maybe other hardships like helping to watch over siblings at home or taking care of a family member who has fallen ill during the pandemic.
Regardless of what they may be facing, it is likely there are factors like the ones mentioned above that impact their ability to be “on” for 8 hours a day in a remote work setting at home. For this reason, it is important to create a culture that is flexible and empathetic to every intern’s unique situation.
Frequent manager check-ins and flexible working hours will be extremely important for the fall intern class as many of them adjust to changing class schedules this fall with universities transitioning to remote and hybrid learning.
Creating a transparent environment where an intern is comfortable asking for a shift in schedule or an hour break to take care of personal priorities or school work is critical to building an employment pipeline that drives engagement in the long run.
Dr. Natalie Baumgartner is the Chief Workforce Scientist for Achievers and has spent her career advising companies of all sizes, from entrepreneurial startups to Fortune 500 firms, on issues related to company culture. Specifically tackling key hire assessment and portfolio due diligence issues, she’s found success analyzing what most overlook—the human element. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a specific focus on assessment and additional training in strength-based psychology.
Dr. Baumgartner serves on the board of the Consulting Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association. She is a popular speaker on culture and recently did a TEDx talk on the importance of culture fit. Dr. Baumgartner is a culture evangelist and is passionate about the power that culture fit has to revolutionize how we work. As an avid Boot Camp aficionado, if you can’t find Dr. Baumgartner in the office odds are good that you’ll bump into her sprinting up mountains in her hometown of Denver, Colorado.