Don’t Be a Dinosaur: Keep Remote & Hybrid-Remote Internships.

A Student Voice survey reported that 49% of college students are extremely interested or somewhat interested in a fully remote job after graduation.
7 min read | by Neoma Mullens, PhD

As we enter another fall, a time for new beginnings and reflection – the return to office conflict is top mind for both employer and employees. Some companies are embracing workplace flexibility, while others are demanding that employees and interns go back to the office resulting in office space occupancy rates being at their highest level (55%) since the pandemic started.

Over the past two summers, over one-third (33%) of college students surveyed by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse participated in a fully virtual or hybrid-remote internship, while 36% of respondents had traditional in-office internships. Overall, 60% of respondents were reporting on their recent summer 2022 experience. With the return to office movement, college student internships are also reverting to in-person, but before making the switch back to only in-office internships, we suggest that organizations ask a few key questions: Why do we offer internships? Are we using interns to build a diverse talent pipeline? What skills do current students need to be ready for the future of work?

Students & Companies can Learn Together.

During this unprecedented time for higher education and business organizations, the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment is critical. The workforce of today is expected to continually grow their skills and acquire new skills through lifelong learning – including the ability to perform in a remote environment. Companies know that internships build important skills. According to a recent Gallup poll on college life, students who complete an internship are twice as likely than those who did not to be engaged in their work and in another study, were 1.5 times more likely to report high levels of wellbeing – something organizations, students and parents are demanding from colleges and universities.

Today’s college students proved that they are not only willing to adapt to different modes of learning but in fact, can thrive in a remote world when divergent learning styles are supported. For example, when reflecting on complex issues like diversity, engagement, and inclusion, asynchronous e-learning (online but not in real-time) can give students time to craft their responses to managers and their work groups and to incorporate multiple ideas before submitting their work. In contrast, synchronous e-learning (online in real-time) can simulate an in-person experience where interns work in real-time, quickly getting to know each other, plan tasks, and immediately can contribute to an exchange of ideas, but leaving less time for critical thinking or reflection.

During the pandemic, many companies replaced traditional in-person internships with hybrid-remote or fully remote internships, utilizing Zoom and other web technologies. While asynchronous work offers interns time to reflect on the material through discussion boards, email, and other facilitated technologies, synchronous work provides an immediate social connection and can better motivate interns – especially those in small workgroups. In these remote and hybrid-remote environments, interns can be expected to work in a cohort and exchange ideas or plan tasks together.

According to research published in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, collaboration with peers and professional communication skills are strengthened when students have opportunities for both types of learning communities. With this in mind, we suggest that together interns and organizations can create powerful learning networks where both types of fully remote and hybrid-remote internship experiences contribute to the organization’s success and bottom line. When concurrent or in-person meetings can’t be scheduled due to time zone differences or other access barriers like transportation or family commitments, hybrid-remote or fully remote internships help build the critical skills required for effective workplace leadership in today’s workplace. For example, managers that want to present complex topics – such as negotiation skills – can first present the content in a Zoom lecture and then follow up with a reflection exercise done through a Blog or video post deliverable. Finally, in a complementary synchronous session, managers can address intern’s questions, negotiate workgroup conflicts, and plan future work. This combined learning method provides both interns and management the chance to develop skills together and reflect deeply, while also connecting in community – something most organizations don’t prioritize in today’s fast paced business world. 

Group of people doing yoga
Both students and current employees desire workplace flexibility.


Employees & Students want Flexibility.

In the recent Student Voice survey of college students, conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, 49% of respondents reported they are extremely interested or somewhat interested in a fully remote job after graduation. Furthermore, 27% of college interns reported that they were not too likely to relocate for an internship – with another 15% of potential interns not at all likely to relocate. These statistics mimic global workplace data collected by Gallup that shows nearly 70 million employees worldwide identify their current jobs as remote capable. This shift in workplace behavior aligns closely with the preferences of many remote-capable workers, as 60% report wanting to secure a long-term hybrid work arrangement.

Build a Diverse Talent Pipeline.

Not offering remote or hybrid remote internships impacts underrepresented and other marginalized students the most. As social justice and authentic community engagement become more important to both employees and organizations, offering hybrid-remote and fully remote internships can assist companies in recruiting talent, who may not be able to participate in on-campus recruitment programs. Often access to internship opportunities is limited to students attending four-year colleges and universities, leaving non-traditional, differently abled, and many rural students attending local community colleges out of the mix. And, often due to transportation barriers, family obligations, cultural differences related to country-specific lockdown policies, and the potential for future pandemics or other global disasters – there are thousands of prospective interns left unrecruited.

The Student Voice survey offers excellent ideas on what schools can do to help students get workplace experience with 64% of respondents suggesting partnerships with local companies, and another 42% noting the importance of local companies developing pathways for former interns. An additional 48% of respondents say that colleges can partner with outside organizations that help them find internships. We’ve written before about how Groupthink can create blind spots for organizations – don’t let your internship recruitment strategy fall victim to this trap. Give remote and hybrid-remote interns a shot, while also building your future talent pipeline.

Room for Improvement & Shared Success. 

Interns expect positive virtual work experiences and not everyone had one. Again, according to the Student Voice survey, 25% of students who had a virtual internship said it was hard to tell if they would want to pursue that kind of work in the future because of the limitations of their virtual experience.  Interestingly, the Student Voice also reports a 7% improvement in the virtual internship experience in just one year from 2021 to 2022. While there are challenges involved in creating and maintaining a positive remote culture where interns can connect with management and their peers, we argue these statistics are a significant indicator that organizations are just now learning how to execute and improve the remote and hybrid-remote internship experience. Although social connections are difficult to simulate in a virtual environment, we’ve shown it's possible with the right strategy, programming, and leadership in place.

Offering remote and hybrid-remote internships is the norm and not a passing trend. Don’t become a dinosaur – we say build on the recent success of hybrid-remote and remote internships. Instead of returning to the days of interns learning in the office only, organizations can give students the flexibility and support that they want and need and trust that both business needs and interns’ interests will align creating a win-win for everyone!

Originally Published by Neoma Mullens, PhD on Monday, September 26, 2022 | Updated on Wednesday, April 3, 2024
Remote Internships
, Hybrid-Remote
, Culture
, Lifelong Learning
, Internships
, Human Resources Today
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