Learning & Development, Talent

Making Connections in a Virtual World: Creating a Remote Internship Program

For Webster Bank, the decision to retain our summer intern program was easy. The program is a pipeline to future bankers, and it is part of an overall corporate strategy to promote career growth and development among all of our bankers. We also decided that if we were going to move ahead with the program, we would not reduce the number of interns, reduce their pay, or move the program start date from what was originally planned.

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The goal of Webster’s summer intern program is to provide college students or recent graduates with experience that will help them over their entire careers by developing their talent early on and providing them with insights into the banking world. An equally important goal is to identify students who will continue their careers at Webster after they graduate.

Before our 18 summer interns started on May 26, we were already two and a half months into the pandemic-induced shutdown, with 70% of our bankers working remotely. We knew that we needed to reimagine the program in a virtual environment.

The Challenge

The technology was relatively easy to figure out because we had the proven capability to bring people together virtually through the WebEx platform. We made sure each intern had a company laptop sent to his or her home and provided training for the various technology platforms.

The more challenging part was creating ways to convey Webster’s culture and ensure a meaningful experience for interns working from home rather than in our office environment. How do we replicate in a virtual environment the personal interactions and relationships, the spontaneous conversations that just happen, and the observations interns learn from as things play out?

How We Did It

The interns were assigned to six of the bank’s business functionalities: Community Banking, Commercial Banking, HR, Legal, Information Technology, and Finance. Each intern had a manager assigned to him or her, but because managers were also heavily involved with managing their teams remotely, each intern also had a buddy: an early-career banker in his or her work group who took on a greater role to help with the intern’s assimilation.

Buddies were bankers interns could rely on for day-to-day questions and who could help reinforce company culture. Orientation sessions for managers and buddies were scheduled a few weeks before the interns started to set expectations and help ensure a smooth onboarding process.

Once the interns began, we held weekly check-ins in groups of three to five, facilitated by our HR intern. This helped them meet the other members of their groups to talk about what they were working on, share learning experiences, and just get to know each other personally.

Virtual networking sessions gave the interns broad exposure to bankers outside their work teams. They were able to meet with senior leaders to discuss career paths and get advice. Talent acquisition team leaders provided insight into landing jobs after graduation, reviewed résumés, and offered tips for job interviews.

HR’s learning and development team created a curriculum of virtual courses through live and recorded webinars on topics ranging from career development and teamwork to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Finally, at the end of the 10 weeks, each intern was responsible for creating a virtual presentation for his or her work group describing the group’s experiences and summarizing how they planned to apply what they learned to the remainder of their education and into their careers.

By carefully focusing on the content and discussion provided through each of these channels, we were able to translate and convey Webster’s culture and values to the interns virtually.

Lessons for the Future

The weekly check-ins were incredibly successful, and we plan to keep those whether next year’s program is virtual, in person, or a hybrid. We also learned that we need to improve our video capabilities, which is important to the way we communicate. You can learn so much through nonverbal cues.

This generation expects transparency and honesty through the planning phases and as changes occur. They want to know where things are and where they stand, even if there are a lot of unknowns. Interns will stay for the ride if the communication continues. By involving them more, we can leverage their feedback and insight for greater engagement.

Finally, we’ve proven that we can pivot and execute quickly, using this momentum to do and think differently. Interns continue to challenge us to do things differently than how we have in the past, and we must rise to the occasion.

Brianna Cataldo, who has been with Webster for 10 years, oversees the company’s intern program.