Dear Class of 2020: If you’ve landed one of the coveted tech internships this summer, congratulations! Little did we know six months ago that IsMyInternshipCanceled.com would even be a thing, or that entirely remote internships would be the norm as we weather a global pandemic.
I’ve been an HR leader for over 20 years, overseeing Twitter’s HR department pre and post IPO, and now leading the People team at Cloudflare, a public infrastructure company that operates one of the world’s largest networks. In all my years in HR, I have never experienced anything quite like this. Entirely virtual internships bring an unprecedented set of nuances and challenges for both hiring managers and interns alike.
In April, our team made a commitment to double our internship class, making this our largest (and 100% virtual) internship program to-date. Nearly a month into the program, we’ve already learned a lot about how to navigate this uncharted virtual territory.
Here are a few tips to ensure a successful ride through your remote internship:
Reach out to leaders who might otherwise seem “out of reach”
It may seem paradoxical, but working from home is an excellent time to reach out to leaders from across the organization to learn more about their role and team. Keep in mind that your company’s workforce has been working remotely for going on four months now. Leaders are well aware that spontaneous meetings aren’t happening any more, and are therefore more willing to create those experiences virtually. Additionally, the lack of commutes and travel have created more space in otherwise very crowded calendars. At Cloudflare, we encourage interns to reach out to leaders from different teams – for example, Engineering interns are encouraged to reach out to Marketing and Product leads – in order to learn from them and walk away with a more well-rounded experience.
Show up for cultural activities as much as possible
When working remotely, you’ll have to try even harder to demonstrate your presence and visibility on a team. Fortunately, companies are getting creative with ways to engage and connect employees – so join in! At Cloudflare, for example, we started a group called “Funflare” which hosts regular virtual events, from board game nights to Netflix parties, as a way to bond and lift up employees during an otherwise lonely time. We love when interns show up for these events because it demonstrates their commitment to integrate in the company, beyond their assigned projects. Participation in events like this will also give you a good sense for the company’s leadership and culture, both of which can be difficult to gauge when you don’t have a physical office to show up to everyday.
Connect with your comrades
It’s easy to feel isolated when interning from home. Remember, chances are you are one of several (in our case, one of nearly 80!) other interns who feel the exact same way. Be proactive and reach out to other interns in your program, or take advantage of any intern-specific events put on by your company. This group of individuals will be your comrades throughout the entire summer, so put in the effort to get to know them whether it’s through weekly virtual happy hours or quick daily check-ins. You’ll find that if you take the time to get to know and share your experiences with other interns, you’ll have a more rewarding experience in which you not only grow your professional network, but make potentially lifelong friends while you’re at it.
Over-communicate and err on the side of formal
Casual hallway chatter and quick desk conversations are a thing of the past. With your workforce relying almost entirely on email and its preferred messaging tool, you’ll have to be even more conscious about when and how you communicate with your manager and team. Make sure you’re responding promptly to requests, sharing regular updates on project areas you own, and frequently checking in – this is important for making your team feel your presence, and clearing up potential ambiguity on your part about your areas of ownership. Moreover, keep in mind that everything in the virtual realm is “on the record” so keep your communication professional – limit the use of emojis, slang and acronyms when writing to your team and manager.
Identify a trusted buddy for fielding “silly” questions
It’s the responsibility of managers to be super prescriptive and detailed with their jobs and projects so that interns understand what is expected of them while working from home. Interns should also feel empowered to ask clarifying questions of their boss to ensure they feel set up for success, though it can be understandably nerve-racking to do so. To this end, we’ve introduced a buddy program in which interns are paired with an individual – who is not on their team – who can act as a safe and trusted mentor, and field questions that might otherwise seem silly. If your company does not offer a formal mentoring program, simply ask your boss who would be a good off-team buddy for you. It will make a big difference to have this person available as a resource to you.
Embarking on an internship this year is certainly more daunting than usual. However, take comfort in the shared experience – from CEOs to interns to every role in-between – we’re all navigating this new remote experience together. In the absence of a shared work space, companies have created new ways to engage their communities, managers are more amenable to passing on learnings, and peers are seeking camaraderie. In the end, you might even find the experience to be more rewarding.