With social media and blogs being the must-have for companies and start-ups, it comes as no surprise that remote (interchangeably known as “virtual”) internships are sprouting up everywhere. Granted, with any opportunity, there are positive and negative aspects with which we can associate it. And having interned/worked remote before, I can perhaps weigh in on all of this.
The benefits of working “virtually” are quite evident – flexible hours, work at home, and independence. There’s never the worry of having to stack your classes or to rush to the metro to catch the 6 train up to midtown, nor is there the morning anxiety of having to wake up at 8 AM on a non-school day only to head into the office. Feel like researching more one day than you feel like analyzing? It’s up to you – the projects are merely often only listed, and have due dates that you manage. In other words, you’re pretty solo – of course, your manager does check in with you from time to time, but the atmosphere is quite different than if you were to be at an office. It’s pretty ideal if you are a real go-getter and don’t have the luxury of conveniently timed classes, but want some experience in a field with a digital spin.
This is where the negatives come into play of having a remote internship. Part of the experience of being a part of a company is lost -reason being that things change and can do so rapidly. Not being there to watch the landscape change, only to have it explained to you, leaves you a bit removed. And that in turn can take away from your experience as an employee/intern.
We all need a home base. Without having something concrete, something as simple as a biweekly in-person meeting in someone’s living room (for instance, which can serve as an “office” for start-ups), you’re not connected, and not an integral part of the company structure, per say. Granted, you can have as many phone or Skype calls as you like, but there is something that in-person communication permits – more expression and generating of ideas. To add, a lack of in-person communication creates a divide between your manager and self. It is to say that assignments become more so tasks, as opposed to projects. I divide the two since I consider tasks to be menial and quotidian, whereas projects are challenging and develop skills for you. There is a lesser connection, which makes it difficult to assess your level.
And most importantly, you don’t develop social skills. I don’t mean the skills required to talk verbally about relevant topics, but rather, the skills in navigating an office setting, which means small talk, socializing with co-workers, and possibly dealing with conflict. That is what seems, most importantly to me, to be lost in a virtual internship. Even if an office internship may be with only perhaps two other persons, there is always the possibility of the coming and going of people. Not to mention, I find that we can learn a lot about our job and the industry in which we are working through conversations of others. I don’t mean to say to eavesdrop, but rather, passively absorbing information from others’ meetings and such. For a digital person, I really believe in the organic relationship, I know.
But it is not to say that I am completely opposed to working remote; in fact, some of my own work is remote, and believe it can be great, especially for freelancers. It’s just that when you are looking for opportunities to develop your skills and help you discover what it is you want to spend your future doing, virtual internships may not be the best idea. Granted, if you’ve already had office experience or are particularly interested in a position, then by all means go for it – remote or not – but be sure to weigh all the pros and cons before saying “yes.”
Remember: any internship might not necessarily be better than no internship.
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