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Coronavirus has transformed the workplace across the globe, as Zoom replaces conference rooms and dining room tables replace cubicles. Originally intended to be a temporary transition, many organizations are now seriously considering keeping their operations entirely remote. As of June, 83% of workers surveyed by PwC said they prefer to work from home at least some of the time, even after the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple major corporations are hearing and responding to employees’ preferences. Among them is Twitter, who recently announced that employees will be given the option to work from home indefinitely if they so desire. Another is Nationwide Insurance, a company which recently announced the closing of five regional offices following a transition to remote work.
As virtual work seems likely to stick around in the post-COVID world, how can students gain legitimate on-the-job experience that prepares them for the remote work realities of the future?
One answer may be virtual internships—and companies of all sizes certainly seem to agree. General Electric, Deloitte, ViacomCBS, financial advisory firm Grant Thornton, and global law firm Linklaters, are just a few of the many employers who host virtual internships. The U.S. government alone hosts over 1,000 virtual internships every year across 50 federal agencies through their Virtual Student Federal Service program.
Employers—and we here at the Hub—often try to emphasize that virtual internships are just as valuable and legitimate as onsite internships because they complement one another, offering a similar core experience but with different benefits. One analogy that can be helpful when thinking about virtual and onsite internships is to compare them to watching the Maize and Blue in the Big House versus watching the game via our mobile phones at a tailgate. They both offer valuable experiences with slightly different benefits—and when done together, provide a holistic experience of gameday in Ann Arbor.
There is no doubt that onsite internships provide students with hands-on opportunities to learn about company work culture and also immediate access to feedback and mentorship from supervisors. Onsite internships also offer students the chance to travel and visit new locales if their internship is in a different city and/or country.
That said, there can be some limitations with onsite internships, and that is where virtual internships come in. We’ve taken some time to outline some of the complimentary benefits that virtual internships offer below:
Flexibility. Do you have another job or coursework to complete? Are there family care responsibilities you have to attend to? Work hours for virtual internships are often more flexible, with interns often completing their work outside of the standard 9-5 workday and from whichever locations are most convenient for them.
Projected-Oriented. No making copies, running errands, or picking up the office coffee order. As virtual internships are entirely remote, employers often have to think critically about an intern’s workload and assign higher impact projects.
Communication. Strategic planning via Zoom and email isn’t always easy. Virtual internships provide students with an opportunity to gain valuable experience through the nuances of communicating effectively across a range of platforms. It’s a great, realistic primer for what work life is like for a career professional.
Affordability. Let’s be honest—onsite internships can be expensive, especially if they require you to relocate and travel. That’s not to say that virtual internships don't incur costs, but they are often more affordable than onsite internships.
Haven’t been made a believer yet? Take it from the experts: media companies and publications like LinkedIn, USA Today, and Forbes also endorse virtual internships, citing former virtual interns who secured amazing opportunities to work for global employers. As we consider what our work cultures will look like in a post-pandemic world, one thing is certain: virtual work—in at least some capacity—is here to stay.
As you plan for summer 2021 and beyond, you can start by exploring a bevy of internship opportunities through the LSA Opportunity Network with new positions being added from now until February. Pay special attention to listings labeled as part of the “Hub Internship Program”—students who apply for these internships get hands-on, tailored support from internship program coordinators which includes application review and feedback.
Paid or unpaid, within U-M or internationally, environmental sustainability or health, there’s an internship opportunity to be found. Looking for more personalized support? Set up an appointment with one of our internship program coordinators by emailing us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.