Summer 2020 Will Shape the Future of Internships
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Summer 2020 Will Shape the Future of Internships

Covid-19 didn’t kill internships. U.S. Bank, Hormel discover new ways to convey culture and experience while remote.

Every day starts the same: wake up, shower, get dressed. Then I commute to my local coffee shop, which happens to be a machine in my parents’ kitchen. This is where my day becomes a bit unusual—at least, compared to what I thought the summer after graduating from college might look like. As an intern for Twin Cities Business, I work out of my childhood bedroom—more specifically, my bed. After my morning coffee, I head back to my “workspace.” While comfy, it isn’t the ideal spot to work. The bed’s a bit too soft to inspire productivity. I can hear my sister zooming into high school classes through our shared wall. And my mother’s problems with our printer have me running up and down stairs to help. Then I dive into the work: I am assigned important projects by people I only see on Zoom once a week and communicate with primarily over Slack. I’ve never been to the TCB office.

There are upsides to interning from home: the extra 30 minutes of sleep, Zoom meetings where you can sneeze without getting looks from everyone in the room, and of course being able to work in sweats. Remote internships also teach invaluable skills, such as time management. Without someone looking over your shoulder, you are the last line of defense against getting behind on your work. This summer has taught me many skills I wouldn’t have learned in person, and for that I’m thankful.

I’m not the only one who’s been interning from afar during the Covid-19 pandemic.

U.S. Bancorp had over 400 interns participate in their first-ever virtual summer internship program. When the pandemic sent most office workers home in March, U.S. Bank figured out how to move its internship program online. The Minneapolis-based financial institution considers its internship program essential, as a pipeline for entry-level employees.

Ben Stevenson, a junior at the University of Minnesota, was one of those remote summer interns for U.S. Bank. He said the key to a successful remote internship is communication. One of the perks of executives being grounded from frequent travel and working from home as well: easier access. Stevenson got to meet bank leaders he normally wouldn’t have over the course of a summer internship in the office. And to compensate for that loss of in-person connections, U.S Bank created opportunities for remote interns to virtually meet with both the CEO and CFO of the company, an experience only some of them would have been afforded in a normal summer.

Stevenson said the downside of interning remotely was the “lack of getting to know his fellow interns.” When comparing his past in person work experiences he said, “When you’re remote, meetings and communication matter more. You have to get things right the first time.”

Hormel Foods, based in Austin, Minn. dealt with plenty of bumps in the road while drawing up its remote internship program, however, the company was able to salvage the summer. Hormel’s director of talent acquisition Amy Sheehan said interns who had previously worked for the company in person actually reported they felt more connected while working from home.

“Our big a-ha moment was realizing that connection with the rest of the Hormel team is something that we want to focus on in person and remotely.”

Sheehan echoed Stevenson’s sentiment of connection, “One of the great things about Hormel is our culture, and we were concerned that the interns wouldn’t get to fully experience our culture. We learned that they grasped the culture not through our locations, but through our employees.”

Technology doesn’t replace gathering in person, but it does have its perks, Sheehan said. “We place a very high value on face-to-face collaboration. We learned these hidden gems about how to use technology to connect people and learn their story.”

Both Hormel and U.S. Bank plan to continue with remote internships this fall, and possibly beyond.

Stevenson, who has moved on to another remote internship with Minnesota Ketamine Clinics, offered this advice for students and recent graduates who might be worried about the loss of key networking opportunities: “From an intern’s perspective, many things are going to change on your level. Learn to work through problems.”

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