Are Interns Right for Remote Work? Pros and Cons of Virtual Internships

With a global pandemic changing how companies do business, it’s now more important than ever to consider whether remote internships make sense.


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Are Interns Right for Remote Work? Pros and Cons
Does it make sense for interns to be remote, and will they get the full experience? Here is a guide that may help.

An internship is like a golden ticket for college students looking to gain real world experience in their chosen fields. Interns gain valuable skills, on-the-job training, college credit, competitive wages, and an exciting new title for their resumes. Moreover, many internships lead to full-time job offers after college. Employers also benefit from internship programs. Companies that take on interns (including remote interns) gain access to bright young professionals that are eager to work hard and impress for a reduced price tag.

Though internships are typically positive experiences for both students and businesses, the COVID pandemic has thrown a wrench in the process. With many small, medium, and large businesses allowing employees to continue to work from home, it only makes sense to allow interns to do the same. The only question is: is it a good idea? According to survey data, virtual internships are now more common than ever, with 60% of employers planning to offer them in the coming year. This article will discuss the feasibility of remote interns and the pros and cons of hiring interns to work at home.

What does a remote internship look like?

Companies looking to hire remote interns must carefully construct an internship agreement that outlines the technology provided for remote work, the expectations as a remote worker, and the process for recording work hours, among other things.

Remote internships are internships done entirely online, similar to other remote work. Interns use email, online chat, video chat, computer software, and phone calls to perform onboarding, training, internship tasks, and to speak to their managers. College students often find remote internships attractive because they offer flexibility and allow them to remain local.

Companies looking to hire remote interns must carefully construct an internship agreement that outlines the technology provided for remote work, the expectations as a remote worker, and the process for recording work hours, among other things.

Pros of remote internships

Internships, in general, are beneficial to companies — and making these roles remote offers even more advantages.

  • You can broaden your pool of applicants

There are many benefits to hiring interns remotely, but perhaps one of the most significant benefits is the ability to widen your talent pool in a tight labor market. Nearly half of American companies say they are short on skilled workers, and remote internships can help bridge that gap. Without geographical restrictions, companies can recruit top college students from anywhere in the country. Additionally, more students are likely to apply for an internship if they know they will not have to relocate, spend money on moving, leave family obligations, and uproot their lives.

Allowing remote work can widen your pool of intern candidates to people anywhere in the country.

  • It is a great way to build your future workforce

Another key benefit of hiring remote interns is that businesses have the opportunity to build their future workforce. Remote work, in general, requires an understanding of digital communication and technology, discipline, focus, and a proactive mindset. By hiring remote interns, you will be able to shape and mold them into the type of employees you would like to hire full time after they finish their studies.

  • Proven Increase in productivity

Companies offering remote internships may also enjoy increased productivity compared to traditional in-person internships. Remote work is well-suited for project-based assignments that are easily trackable with project management software. Interns can complete project-based assignments remotely, and company leaders can provide instructions, due dates, resources, review and provide feedback on them quickly. This project-based model allows businesses to have peace of mind knowing that their remote interns are staying busy. Moreover, remote internships reduce disruptions and distractions that are often found in the office. All of these factors do wonders to drive up productivity.

  • Cost efficiency

Lastly, remote internships are more cost-effective. Since remote interns don’t work in the office, businesses don’t have to allocate additional workspace or spend money on workplace supplies like computer chairs, printer ink, paper, pens, and more. Remote interns are usually responsible for their laptops, internet connections, and printing products, though many firms offer compensation for these items.

Cons of remote internships

As with most things, remote internships do have their downsides, but there are ways to get around them.

  • Lack of in-person experience

One of the most obvious downsides of hiring a remote intern is that they simply don’t get the full company experience. Remote interns cannot experience what it is like to work with other people in the office. They may miss out on learning from other interns and colleagues or won’t be able to get their questions answered in real time. Beyond the workplace, remote interns are also excluded from company social events, making them feel isolated. Having a personal connection with coworkers is crucial to engagement and understanding company culture.

  • Miscommunication

Miscommunication can occur easily, leading to decreased productivity or frustration on the part of the worker and their manager.

Another potential con of remote internships is the high potential for miscommunication. With remote internships, everything is dependent on clear communication through emails, online chats, or video calls. Therefore, miscommunication can occur easily, leading to decreased productivity or frustration on the part of the worker and their manager.

  • Remote work isn’t for everyone

Lastly, not all remote interns will work out. Remote work isn’t for everyone, and some people simply do not thrive in digital environments. A remote internship requires high levels of self-motivation and time management to be successful. These things can take time to master; however, many interns need an in-person experience to thrive. Hiring a new intern could potentially cause a company significant time and money, which is a hard pill to swallow.

Are remote internships the future?

While internships offer many benefits to college students and employers, the shift to online work due to COVID has made virtual internships a rising trend — a trend with both pros and cons that must be considered. Remote internships:

  • Widen the talent pool for companies
  • Allow them to build their future workforce
  • Increase intern productivity
  • Reduce costs

Conversely, remote internships can minimize exposure to colleagues and company culture, increase miscommunication, and lead to potential turnover. Even with these potential negatives, remote internships will continue to rise in popularity.

While it can be a challenge to have interns who are not working in the office, mingling with coworkers, and attending in-person meetings, the experience can be easily replicated with the right technology. Many businesses have discovered effective ways to keep operations and company culture revved up with technology like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello, and more tools that most young students are already familiar with.

As the workforce continues moving to a digital model, companies that hire remote interns are gearing up for the future, one Zoom call at a time.

Would you consider hiring a remote intern? Why or why not?


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