My Internship Is Preparing Me For A Workplace That May Be Remote… Forever

By Natalie Hohman

Like most college students, my summer isn’t exactly going as planned. Because of COVID-19, the in-person internship I applied for is now online. But that doesn’t mean I’m missing out on valuable learning opportunities. In fact, my summer internship is preparing me for a workplace that could be remote … forever. 

The pandemic brings many new obstacles to the workplace, and companies must decide what is best for both employees and their bottom line. Some, including social media giant Twitter, are allowing their employees to work from home indefinitely. More are expected to follow suit. And others are considering creating shifts for small groups of employees who come into the office.

These disparities have the potential to radically change the workplace. That’s why it’s essential for today’s students to learn how to work and communicate professionally—online. I will admit that I was hesitant to work in an environment where I was not face-to-face with my coworkers. But after the first day, I realized that aside from the in-person interaction I would be getting in an office, my daily tasks would not be much different in a virtual setting. Prior to the pandemic, 53% of professionals worked remotely for half the week. The trend of working remotely has greatly increased over the past few years and may grow even more in upcoming months. 

With most of my internship meetings now happening over Zoom, I am quickly becoming familiar with the platform. I thought it would be difficult to learn how to complete assignments virtually, but the screen sharing tool has helped make training sessions easy to follow. I am also becoming more familiar with how to communicate with my teammates from a distance. Through instant messaging platforms and emails back-and-forth we are able to stay on the same page and push our team goals forward.

These are valuable skills that will set me apart from the crowd after graduation and give me tools I need to succeed in the competitive job market. K12 Inc., the company I am working for, is in a unique position to provide a virtual internship. Working with more than 70 online public schools across the country, K12 provides a personalized learning experience for thousands of students online. This same mantra applies to their internship program. 

As a student at Virginia Tech, sitting in class and learning material from lectures is one thing. Having the opportunity to apply my knowledge in the real-world is something entirely different. Fortunately, this summer I have the opportunity to serve as an intern in a field I want to work in and gain valuable workplace experience while I’m still in school. 

In the U.S., between 500,000 and one million people intern for free each year. With so many internships unpaid, and even those in limited supply this summer, the gaps in earning potential and career advancement for those without access to these opportunities – because they aren’t nearby, or because students can’t afford to work for free or can make more money in jobs outside of their career path – are at risk of growing for too many young people.

Fortunately, the trend toward teleworking can help both students and employers get comfortable with working and communicating virtually. It can even introduce companies to new ways to expand their talent search and improve access to opportunity for students and job seekers. For example, K12 isn’t just extending the world of (remote) work to interns and new hires. During this summer’s Job Shadow Week, high school students across the country will gain exposure to a variety of career fields through virtual sessions with professionals in technology, health care, human resources, and even agriculture. Students will get new insight into future career options, and companies will get familiar with new ways of recruiting diverse talent outside of their own circles. 

As someone lucky enough to have a virtual internship during this crisis, I hope more students are given opportunities for online work. Internships are crucial because of the valuable workplace experience they provide I am glad that I have this opportunity to get a head start, and that so many companies are rising to the challenge. 

Natalie Hohman is a rising senior at Virginia Tech studying Public Relations. For the summer of 2020 she is interning in corporate communications at K12 Inc.

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