Should You Offer A Remote Internship?

By Danielle Wirsansky on July 25, 2020

Internships are a pretty commonplace experience for college students hoping to pad their resumes before graduating and entering into the workforce. Studies have shown that students with internship experience are more likely to get hired full-time upon graduation or enter graduate school within six months of graduating with their undergraduate degree.

In the same vein, internships are a very commonplace offering by businesses and companies. While unpaid internships are a current controversy, internships are still career staples for young adults trying to get a leg up in their work field.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the world has certainly put limits on how many and what kind of internships can take place. Thousands upon thousands of companies shut down their internship programs and were unable to hire any interns as quarantine and shut down orders were in place.

Many businesses have had to tighten their belts as income and opportunities decreased, which caused them to have hiring freezes or even let employees go. In the United States, several million people have become unemployed as a side effect of the pandemic.

Others did not want to add new employees into their workplace and allow any opportunities for cross-contamination or new exposure. Other companies were not sure if they could or how to utilize interns if they could not work in person on the premises, which would be impossible if their area had a mandated shutdown.

This leads to a big question for companies around the globe: should you offer a remote internship? Some companies already had remote internship programs available. But a greater number of companies who did not have remote internships available are now being forced to come to a decision. Should you offer a remote internship or not?

It is a weighty question for any and every company to contemplate as the world adjusts to a new normal that makes working together in person unsafe, unwise, and untenable. There are many factors that a business should consider before making this decision. Read on to help your business decide if you should offer remote internships or not!

Can the Work Be Done Remotely?

This is the first and most important question you must ask yourself before deciding to offer a remote internship. Whatever job or tasks you would have an intern do: can it be done remotely?

If you are a company that already had many employees working from home before the pandemic and now have the majority (if not all) of your workers working from home, then it is very possible that an intern’s work could be done remotely as well. If the intern’s work would be computer-based, either answering calls (which can be redirected so remote workers can control a business’s phone lines), responding to emails, joining conferences, and working on their computer from home, then they could very well have a remote internship.

However, if your company has work that is very hands-on and it is already very difficult for workers to work from home, either because they can’t use the facility’s resources (like tools), then a remote internship might not be a very good fit. For example, if you are a jewelry design company, it might be difficult for an intern to work remotely because they would need a workspace and specialized tools and materials to work with, which could be very expensive. Shipping materials and tools could be very risky and time-consuming, especially in a pandemic. This kind of company might find a remote internship incompatible with their business.

Tech, computer engineering, marketing, accounting, mortgage, finance, and other related industries are able to flourish during these times. Others, like the performing arts, guest services, hospitality, and more are struggling because their businesses depend on human interaction in a live way. Can your company fit into business models that utilize remote work or not? And even if you can alter your business model for a remote experience, is there a place for interns within that new structure?

Building a Remote Internship Program

Some companies have informal internship systems in place. This is for companies that usually only hire the occasional intern who works they are needed. Other companies have more formal internship systems and have designed whole internship programs for their interns to complete. This includes specific job roles, tasks, milestones, goals, and sometimes even mentors. This is not to say that internship taking place outside of an internship will not also include these aspects, but they most likely will not be as generalized for a group as they would be for an individual.

If you already have an internship program in place, the next step to ask yourself is can this program be translated to a remote experience? If the program structured around in-person meetings, networking, and other experiences that are tied to your company’s physical location, then it may not be a suitable program for a remote experience. So if the program you have is not well suited, you have to ask yourself, is it worth the time, effort, and money that it might take to restructure the program? You have to reconceptualize it, redesign it, take the time to implement it. All of that costs man-hours when your company might already be feeling the pinch.

And on the other hand, if you do not have an internship program in place, is it worth building one from scratch in the midst of this pandemic? Restructuring can sometimes be easier than building from scratch because at least you have something to work and build from. But it can also give you the freedom to create a program that will be very tailored and extremely effective for the current situation. There are pros and cons to both so you and your company must decide which is the best choice for the resources you currently have available.

Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels

Tools

This factor weighs heavily into the two previous ones. If you offer a remote internship, will you be able to provide your interns with the tools that they need in order to fulfill their obligations to you? Internships are typically non or low paying. Interns are still employees and should be treated as such. They should not be expected to provide their own tools or supplies in order to accomplish their tasks. That is the company’s responsibility. Are you able to do so, whether this is a physical or financial obstacle?

Shipping can also be an issue during a pandemic, as mentioned previously. Do you trust your tools and materials to be shipped? Will they be damaged or even lost in transit? How much will it cost you to ship things back and forth? Shipping can be incredibly expensive, especially if an item needs to go back and forth quite a lot. This leads to the question, can the shipping occur fast enough to make it worth your while?

If your intern is working from home, do they have a reliable computer to use? Other resources for computer use, like libraries, are not easily or widely available during the pandemic. Do they have internet that is fast or strong enough to carry out the tasks you need them to complete? Perhaps you need them to create something. Can you send them the tools they need to do so?

Or if you need them to do work online, do you have a tool or program built for them to be able to work remotely? Do you have tools set up for communication, for meetings, to actually accomplish your work? There are many different tools available to help you and your employees be able to collaborate and still work remotely, so you may be able to find existing ones that would work for what you require. But if your needs are very specific and niche and there is no existing program to fit your needs, can you have a platform or program built? How much will this cost? And how long will it take to build? And is it worth the effort of pursuing? Does the benefit outweigh the cost?

If you chose to hire this employee, then it is your obligation to make sure that they have the tools to complete their tasks rather than the other way around. Your interns do not owe you for hiring them. And if you limit your candidates for the position only to people who already have the tools you need, then you are hurting your company more than anyone else. By only choosing people privileged enough to have the tools you require, you are pushing out candidates that could possibly be more qualified or talented but who are less privileged. If you are unable to provide your interns with the necessary equipment and your work becomes a burden to them, then most likely you and your company should not be offering a remote internship experience at all.

Candidate Pool

Another really interesting aspect to consider when deciding whether or not to offer remote internships is the fact that because the work opportunity is not in person, you are no longer restricted to hiring people in your immediate vicinity. Technically, you can hire someone from anywhere in the world. And that opens up a world of possibilities for you and your company.

Maybe your business is located in a small town and while the people who work for you are awesome, the people that you find that are actually qualified to do the work are few and far between. Opening up your internship program remotely will definitely help you draw in qualified people from around the world rather than just your little corner of it.

Or perhaps you find yourself on the other end of the spectrum and you live in a big city with lots of people who could fit the bill, but perhaps as a small fish in a big pond, you find it harder to get cream of the crop employees, or employees that stick around, or even employees that are super passionate about and loyal to your company. When you open your company up by offering remote internships, you find people from areas who are qualified but have fewer opportunities to do what they love locally and who would be thrilled to work for and be recruited by a company just like yours.

If the work you do is time-sensitive or you have lots of meetings and you want to be sure that everyone can make it, you could or might want to restrict your candidate pool to be in the same or a nearby time zone. Working with someone twelve hours ahead or six hours behind can sometimes be a scheduling nightmare if not everyone can be flexible, and that is understandable. But even opening up your options to the same time zone still gives you a whole heck of a lot more options than you had before.

You can open up a whole world of opportunities and innovation for your company by offering remote internships and hiring and getting to work with employees you might have otherwise never been able to work with.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

You know your company, your company’s needs, and what your company can provide better than anyone else, so in the end, only you can make the final decision about whether or not offering remote internships will benefit your company. While the pandemic has changed a lot of what life is like and created a new normal for everyone, reflect on this: life has changed so much. Is there a way that your company can comfortably move, adapt, and grow during this trying time? If ever there was a time to change things up or radically innovate, the time to try new tactics and seize new opportunities is now. Your company has to roll with the punches, and changing or modifying your business model and the opportunities you can offer employees might very well be what keeps you afloat during this trying time.

By Danielle Wirsansky

Uloop Writer
Florida State University
Danielle Wirsansky graduated from FSU with a BA in Theatre, a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in History, and an MA in Modern European History with a minor in Public History. While a graduate student, she served as the Communications Officer for the History Graduate Student Association and President/Artistic Director of White Mouse Theatre Productions. She studied abroad in London, England for the Spring 2015 semester at FSU's study center for the Playwriting Program and interned for the English National Theatre of Israel in Summer of 2015. Her first musical, City of Light, opened as part of FSU's New Horizons Festival in Spring of 2016. She has also won the MRCE and URCAA Research grants from FSU. In the past, she served as the Marketing Director for the FSU Student Theatre Association, the intern for the Holocaust Education Resource Council, and the research assistant of Prof. Nathan Stoltzfus. She has previously written for Context Florida (Contributing Writer), USA Today College (Contributing Writer), Sheroes of History (Contributing Blogger), No(le)Reservations (Contributing Blogger), Female, Reloaded (Arts/Entertainment Editor) , I Want a Buzz Magazine (intern), Mandarin Newsline (youth arts update columnist), Distink Designs (Guest blogger), whatscheaper.com (associate editor), escapewizard.com (associate editor), Spark TLH (Contributor), the Tallahassee Democrat (contributor), Elan Literary Magazine (Head of Marketing), and the Improviser Newspaper (Opinions Editor). Danielle has been lucky to be writing for Uloop since 2015 and to have served as the FSU Campus Editor since 2015.

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