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Top Takeaways from Our Workshop: Designing a Remote Internship Program that Cultivates Community

Written by Mitra LeBuhn on April 21, 2021
4 min read

Last week, internship program leaders and career services specialists from across the U.S., Canada, and Europe joined our team for an interactive virtual workshop on Designing a Remote Internship Program that Cultivates Community. During the small group sessions, participants learned best practices for community engagement in a virtual environment and workshopped their remote internship community pillars. They were provided creative event ideas and engagement strategies to help bring their ideal intern community to fruition. 

We took a quick poll with our attendees to gauge how they will be hosting their next intern cohort and found that most plan to run remote or hybrid programs. Looking forward, we expect many programs will continue to incorporate remote elements after the summer.

Read on for several key takeaways from the roadshow workshop on remote intern community development.

Identify your remote company culture and internship community “pillars”

Improving the remote intern experience begins with understanding your organization’s overall remote culture. This is your interns’ first exposure to your company and how it operates. If your goal is to train developing talent for the workforce, especially as a potential employee of your company, transparency is critical. The intern community culture you build should echo that of your whole organization. 

The program leaders in attendance shared that they hope to foster intern communities that are flexible, innovative, inclusive, professional, lively, curious, inviting, challenging, impactful, and connected. If this sounds like the community you wish to inspire, read on to get program activity ideas and learn how to conduct them in a way that is true to your brand, culture, and values.

Ensure events are well planned and your execution is intentional

Your first step in community development is to create opportunities for connection. Begin by establishing a manageable cadence of program activities, ideally offering at least one type of event per week spaced evenly throughout the program (including before and after). Communicate which events are mandatory and which are optional to avoid the dreaded “Zoom-fatigue.” Keep the following factors in mind when scheduling your program activities:

  • Your budget for events may influence what types of community engagement activities are available to your team. Plan accordingly.
  • Be mindful of time zones if you have interns tuning in from different locations.
  • Ensure your interns are equipped with the tools (or treats) necessary to participate.
  • Represent diverse topics and guests speakers for the events you host. 
  • Foster inclusivity and space for dialogue throughout the program (this includes making sure your interns’ voices are heard). Designate a support group or contact person to help encourage that inclusivity.

As you develop your community-building timeline, focus on hosting events that speak to your intern community “pillars.” Here are some suggested approaches used by past successful remote internship programs.

Pre-program community cultivation strategies

  • Kick-off your program with a welcome event that sets standards and gets them excited to be on board.
  • Schedule 1:1 coffee chats within the first week between interns, and between interns and potential mentors.
  • Establish affinity groups where interns can meet like-minded peers and mentors. CBSi customized their community feature on Symba to include a quick introduction to their peer’s interests, hobbies, and quirks. Another initiative is called the Intern Cafe, which IBM launched last summer to match interns with employees who share similar interests. 

Mid-program community cultivation strategies

  • Create mentorship opportunities. For example, Accolade created a virtual intern program that matched each intern with a member of the Operations Leadership Team. Even if your leadership team is not the one leading the mentoring relationships, mentorship should still be a component of your program. You can match interns with employees or former interns based on their areas of interest. A tool that can help facilitate this is Donut.
  • Give interns a seat at the table with “intern-only and intern-led” events. Weight Watchers accomplished this by recreating nearby “seating arrangements” that interns would’ve had in an in-person program. Each morning, interns checked in with their "Zoom Pods," and could pop in any time throughout the day to get to know one another. Other organizations have designated alumni-interns as mentors to facilitate intern-only socials and professional development events.
  • Incorporate leadership development with workshops. Lenovo hosted several “enrichment workshops” last summer and covered timely topics like “How To Stay Productive During COVID-19.” Another professional development opportunity is to assign your interns cross-functional virtual capstone projects that end with a virtual celebration. For example, Apeel hosted their Annual Intern Symposium, where each intern gave a 10-minute presentation on their summer project to the founders, who then evaluated and selected a winner.
  • Allow interns to participate in virtual community projects with local non-profits to introduce purpose-driven activities. You can organize virtual reading sessions for local public schools, create COVID-19 care packages, or have the interns suggest how they would like to give back!
  • Gamify your project distribution process. One of Symba’s customers, Genentech, hosted a house cup competition where they divided interns into Harry Potter-inspired teams to compete throughout the program to accumulate points and earn rewards. 
  • Encourage liveliness with social events. Genentech achieved this by inviting a Michelin star chef to lead a virtual cooking session. FIS interns participated in virtual scavenger hunts, weekly Kahoot trivia, and a virtual talent competition. Maxim Integrated made leadership introductions fun by hosting a live virtual Pictionary game with the CEO. CBSi shipped their interns a DIY tie-dye kit and hosted a virtual event for National Intern Day.

Post-program activities and opportunities for improvement

  • Establish a feedback collection strategy. We encourage this to be an ongoing process, with a more robust feedback survey distributed post-program. Databricks' University Recruiting team utilized open-forum sessions and met with interns weekly to receive feedback on how they could make their virtual internship program a great experience.
  • Intern send-offs and Alumni engagement can set your program apart. OneTrust concluded their first-ever fully virtual internship program with a virtual awards ceremony finale. Interns received awards based on nominations by fellow interns, peers, and mentors.

However you choose to design your intern community experience online, keep your overall company culture in mind and facilitate engagement opportunities that match. The environment you create directly showcases your company’s values, mission, and vision, and can make all the difference in creating a meaningful remote program experience.

For more information on best practices for remote internships and Symba’s remote internship management software, sign up for a demo.

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Mitra LeBuhn

Mitra is the Head of Impact and Communications at Symba and leads social impact, PR, and marketing partnerships for the business. She combines a unique background in Global Health and Higher Education, and speaks French. Beyond Symba, Mitra spends her time outdoors, traveling the world and making music.

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