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Megan Tatum
Megan Tatum
March 08, 2021
3 minute read

6 Ideas To Build Community During A Remote Internship

Foster a sense of community during your virtual internship program with these tips.

6 Ideas To Build Community During A Remote Internship

Internships are about so much more than work. They’re also an invaluable opportunity for potential future candidates to get a feel for company culture, colleagues and build a sense of community with their fellow interns. But shifting to a remote internship can make building those same relationships more difficult. In fact, in a RippleMatch survey of over 1,000 college juniors and seniors from 235 schools, only 44% of students rated community-building with peers as a positive experience during their remote internship. 

So how can you maximize community building for your interns? We pulled together some of the best practices from our 2021 Campus Forward Awards Honorees to ensure students have a great remote internship experience. Consider implementing these strategies to create community from a distance.

Create a packed (virtual) social calendar

A remote internship might rule out face-to-face socializing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide plenty of opportunities for interns to relax with one another and build relationships outside of work. Design a virtual social calendar and add it to the introductory materials sent to interns at the start of their program and encourage existing employees to attend where they can too.

Ensure you create a variety of virtual events to pick from. Organize a weekly online quiz and have a different intern act as quizmaster each time; pay for interns to attend a  virtual comedy night or plan a friendly gaming tournament with prizes up for grabs using websites such as Jackbox Games where you can access a huge number of games built for online.  

PEAK6 planned a full calendar of virtual events for their remote interns last summer, hosting everything from a virtual magic show to virtual office tours and weekly happy hours. SAP also made sure to host plenty of virtual events for their interns, with online Pictionary parties, virtual happy hours, and Zoom networking events scheduled throughout the internship. IMC Trading interns had a packed schedule as well, with a chat series, networking opportunities, and even the chance to experience a virtual tour of Chicago via virtual reality headsets they were provided.  

Pair interns up for virtual coffee chats

Not everyone enjoys group threads or multi-person video calls. Make sure you cater to those interns that prefer building relationships with one another one-on-one too. One great way to do this is by using Slack plugin Donut. Simply add interns to a private Slack group and Donut will randomly pair up members as coffee buddies. With the software designed to link up people working in different teams and departments in a company, it’s also a great way to make sure that interns are exposed to and building relationships with people from across the company’s different specialties.

Virtually pairing up interns with team members and other interns is a great way to help them develop relationships. Palo Alto Networks saw great success with their virtual summer internships when they paired each intern with a member of their team who acted as a coach, motivator, and advisor. Ancestry also paired each intern with a buddy from the TA team, who helped them feel more connected with the company. Salesforce prioritized one-on-one relationship building among their interns, setting them up with virtual coffee meetings to network with each other.

Assign remote mentors

Relationships forged between interns and existing employees during an internship can be invaluable in creating a sense of community and belonging. When internships are remote, companies need to ensure they pay even closer attention to cultivating these bonds.

Ask for volunteer mentors from staff and carefully pair them with interns based on skillset, specialism or interests. Set minimum expectations for mentors to create some sense of structure, such as a weekly 30-minute call or email, and communicate this to mentees. Where possible, ask for regular feedback on the relationship from both sides to see if the approach needs any adjustments. 

Crestron saw great success with their virtual summer internships by providing their intern mentors with specific training in developing remote employees before they started working together. Credit Suisse and Anheuser-Busch also relied on mentors to help integrate interns into the company culture while they worked remotely, leading to very positive intern experiences.

Allow interns to collaborate on projects online

Though the nature of a remote internship means some individual work is inevitable, ensure that your program also includes plenty of opportunities to collaborate on projects and build working relationships. Outside of their normal work, you might consider putting interns into groups and have them work on a presentation, pitch, or innovation challenge to foster creativity and community.

You could keep this simple and allow interns to work or brainstorm together via video calling software such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. But where groups might be larger and projects slightly more complex, consider using software designed for collaborative working, such as GoToMeeting or Flowdock, which offer tools such as integrated calendar functions, screen sharing and shared work streams. 

Companies like BMO and UnitedHealth Group made sure to provide their interns with projects to foster teamwork virtually. UHG held a Shark Tank-style competition to promote cross-functional collaboration, while BMO hosted an Innovation Challenge where interns worked in groups to come up with post-COVID banking recommendations. Interns had a lot of fun and built relationships while developing practical skills. 

Set up regular ‘check-ins’

The key word here is check in, not check up. Remote internships require trust and flexibility on the part of employers, so allowing interns more freedom than they might otherwise enjoy is a prerequisite. At the same time, it’s crucial to build community and cultivate interest in any future permanent positions by making sure interns aren’t left to flounder alone. 

For any work assigned, that means providing extra clarity on who an intern can go to with questions and ensuring that person is regularly checking back in to offer support. On a broader level, schedule individual introductory chats with each intern to ensure they feel welcomed and supported and offer catch ups on a weekly basis for those that would like to share concerns or offer feedback. Both SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics made regular check-ins and one-on-ones a core component of their virtual internships, ensuring that interns always felt supported.

Create a virtual ‘water cooler’

A sense of community at work isn’t only created via big boardroom wins or team nights out. So much of it happens in the small moments, be it chatting about your weekend by the water cooler or venting small frustrations as you make coffee. Though these are some of the most difficult experiences to replicate during a remote internship, there are things you can do.

One option is to set up a ‘virtual’ water cooler. Use software such as Slack to create private forums that interns can keep open throughout the day or check in on occasionally. Encourage them to use this space to ask questions of each other, chat about their work or their weekend, and share any challenges they’re working through in a safe space.

Thomson Reuters did exactly this by utilizing Microsoft Teams to foster collaboration among interns. Creating groups on Teams allowed the interns to get to know each other personally through the sharing of motivational Monday posts, funny memes, and information about the projects they were working on.

Building community during a remote internship undoubtedly creates some extra challenges. But there’s also no shortage of inspiration on ways to socialize and build relationships online, be it virtual events, video chats or informal messaging forums.  All it will take from talent teams is a little extra creativity and thoughtful planning.

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