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Virtual, Hybrid or In-Person: The intern’s perspective…

1 Oct 2021 2:42 PM | Dan Beaudry (Administrator)

By Hae-Song Jung

This has been the second summer of internships that have been impacted by the pandemic. Thankfully, compared to last summer, the availability of vaccines has provided more flexibility in work location and design. We’ve also collectively learned about how to work in this “new normal”: driving impactful work in and out of the office, connecting and conveying company culture virtually, assessing the real value of the workplace to employees after nearly 2 years of remote work.

So how did companies implement these learnings into their internship programming this summer – amidst the continued challenges posed by Covid-19, and what were the interns’ experiences?

To tackle this question, we interviewed 3 Masters/MBA-level students whose internships were 100% virtual, hybrid, and 100% in-person, respectively. These interns’ full interview responses below may help you re-think your own future leadership development program strategy. But here are a few highlights:

1) Yes, there is tremendous value in in-person work and the physical workplace. But interns absorb company culture and learn their required skills in myriad other ways. Workplace flexibility will continue to become an increased priority and expectation for early career talent.

2) The role of the manager is critical. A good manager is not only someone who clearly communicates expectations and extracts high-quality deliverables. Good managers also give and ask for feedback and connect interns to people and opportunities that will expand their perspective. This is especially critical for very early career interns and virtual interns. In other words – are your internship managers strong managers of work? Or are they also strong leaders, mentors, and role models?

3) Your company’s response to Covid-19 may have a larger impact than you think on how an intern considers the company’s culture, strategy, and employee value proposition.

Q: What was the rationale behind your internship design (aka in-person, hybrid, virtual)?

• Virtual: I interned for a financial services company for a project involving data analytics, so there was nothing about my work that necessitated in-person presence. Furthermore, most of the workforce had been working remotely since March of 2020, so our internships aligned with the larger organizational experience.

• Hybrid: My project itself did not require me be physically present in a workplace. However, our internships had an in-person component because my company strongly believed that in-person was the best way to connect early career talent to company culture, peers, and senior leaders. Overall, my company has a culture that’s built on in-person connection, so this influenced the design of our internship.

• In-Person: For the most part, I did have to go in-person because much of my work took place in a plant. I also interacted with plant employees for whom in-person work was a requirement, so the in-person internship design felt very appropriate. I did feel that I could have done some of my work remotely.

Q: This is now the 2nd summer of internships that have been affected by the realities of Covid-19. Do you know if and how your companies adjusted their internships compared to last summer?

• Virtual: My leadership development program’s internships were also virtual last summer, so that has not changed. However, they applied last year’s interns’ feedback to implement meaningful changes. One example of this is lengthening the internship so we could work on more substantial projects. Another is providing semi-structured opportunities throughout the entire internship so that we could build lasting relationships with senior leaders and understand overall company strategy. This felt much more beneficial and genuine than things like “virtual happy hours” or recreational events that are well-intentioned but can begin to feel tedious and more “mandatory fun.”

• Hybrid: Our internships were also hybrid last year with an in-person component, so no major changes that I am aware of.

 In-Person: Our internships were also in-person last year, given the nature of our workplace – manufacturing plant – as opposed to an office space.

Q: We’ve seen enormous variability in the way companies have responded to the pandemic. How did your company respond, and did this impact your evaluation of your internship/company?

 Virtual: Most of our workforce had been working entirely remotely for well over a year by the time I interned, but it seems like the company will roll out a hybrid working model. This summer revealed that my company really leans into a culture of communication, employee feedback, and data, and that strengthened my belief that I was a good fit for the company. Our CEO and senior leadership held townhalls and established regular communication with employees to get a sense of our desire for/comfort with returning to the office. We’re also rolling out surveys to make data-driven decisions based on employee needs and wants.

• Hybrid: Our office did put up signs encouraging vaccinations, but there were and are no vaccine or mask policies for employees. There were also no conversations about masks or vaccines at work. While I did benefit from having an in-person component, I also felt like my level of concern about the pandemic was very different from my company’s. That definitely impacted my thinking about whether I could work and fit in here.

• In-Person: We had mask policies and safety measures in place. We also had policies that gave generous PTO and incentives to ensure that employees who contracted Covid-19 or got vaccinated were taken care of. The level of care and detail the company put into all the different types of employees and their circumstances really impressed me. Furthermore, my manager also added me to our weekly Covid-19 strategy calls. This gave me great insight into how the leadership makes decisions in times of continued crises.



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