4 Tips on Successfully Leading Interns This Summer

In 2020, companies that hired summer interns had to revise their internship programs on the fly. As businesses reopen their offices and other facilities after a year dominated by work-from-home, they are adapting internship programs once again, this time to a hybrid model that includes in-office work and work-from-home.

Here are four tips for success in this new environment.

1. Let interns meet with managers, mentors, and other teammates face-to-face.

Describe the company’s on-premise health and safety measures. Explain company policy for working in the office versus working at home–and that the policy is evolving. While there is considerable evidence that remote work has been a success, employees acknowledge that they miss human connections.

PwC reports that 87 percent of employees say the office is essential for collaboration and building relationships. If that is true for regular employees, imagine how important an in-office environment is for summer interns–whether they realize it or not. Be flexible, but now that businesses are restoring face-to-face interaction, create a framework for summer interns that includes some in-office experience.

2. Communicate intentionally, consistently, and honestly.

You hired summer interns to impact your business–that’s the reason to commit resources to help them succeed. Assign each summer intern a manager who believes in giving interns meaningful work. Set aside 15 minutes every morning for daily rapid-fire check-ins that are in-person at least a couple of times a week and on Zoom or other cloud-based collaboration tools on other days.

Mix it up. Interns have different learning styles and different approaches to business. Some will be aggressive in making contact. Others don’t feel comfortable reaching out, so having a set time to talk makes connecting a habit.

Ask the intern’s developmental goals over coffee. Schedule a one-on-one to hear in person what they want to learn during their internship. What do they already know how to do that might be beneficial to the company? Decide together which activities will be in-office and which exercises are optionally in-office or remote.

Create a blend of assignments that includes specific projects and deliverables (with in-office collaboration) and at least one task that is less defined and more strategic, an independent opportunity for interns to demonstrate their ingenuity, very suitable for remote work. Hold in-office reviews at least every two weeks.

3. Assign each intern a mentor who is not their manager.

Remember why you hired summer interns in the first place–to impact your business and to provide a developmental opportunity for emerging talent. To work remotely, interns have to be self-starters and self-learners. They have to seek answers and act on their own. They have to be willing to make a small mistake, accept feedback, and start again, but they need feedback.

Assign an engineering major to your marketing guru or a finance major to someone in sales. Challenge the mentor to help the intern network across the company. Challenge the intern to become comfortable and confident using the mentor as a sounding board. We are in a hiring crunch. Summer internships are an excellent opportunity to recruit outstanding talent for the long term. That starts with making interns part of your culture and part of your team. It is virtually impossible to accomplish that over Zoom.

4. Invite interns’ ideas and perspectives on how to create a best-in-class hybrid work environment.

The office isn’t going away, but it is going to change. Employees like working from home so much that in a recent in-depth study from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, employees said they would even accept pay cuts in return for the option to work remotely.

While employers are more optimistic about remote work than ever before– 83 percent describe the shift to remote work as successful–nearly 70 percent say that a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week.

Summer interns represent the next wave of talent. From a year of remote learning, these students deeply understand the positives and negatives of working solo versus the energy in a classroom with other human beings. Efficient remote work is dependent on technology-driven collaboration strategies, and Generation Z is the most tech-savvy generation ever.

Yet, in a study commissioned by Smartsheet, more than 95 percent of Gen-Z workers reported having difficulty working from home, and 60 percent of them said the time spent on video calls made it difficult to complete their work. Their perspective is nuanced and unique. It can be invaluable as executives and managers in companies from coast to coast define the “new work” environment–a hybrid model of in-office and remote.

There is no road map yet for designing the perfect hybrid model, yet companies have to act. Summer internship programs and the bright and capable students they employ are an unexpected and serendipitous resource in helping companies experiment and plan for a new work environment that blends in-office and remote.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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