The ‘virtual internship’ is a fairly new term that has been tending over the last decade. From the outside, allowing remote working looks like a bit of a fad — used by businesses who want to brand themselves to look modern and Facebook-esque. Yet, in practice, having remote interns can be incredibly useful for your business. In-fact, Virtual internships can have a big impact on how your business operates.
Virtual internship programmes allow you to diversify your recruitment pool, save your employees’ time and money, help the environment, give you an edge over your competitors, while at the same time not adding a cent to your overall costs.
What is a remote internship?
A remote internship, otherwise known as a virtual intern, is an exciting new approach to work that benefits both employers and students who may be trying to juggle school and other obligations. While it may sound a little presumptuous to think that this will revolutionise the world of work, virtual internships promise to greatly help companies grow, while reducing costs.
Simply speaking, a virtual internship is when an intern works remotely, usually from at home or anywhere that isn’t the office. They are becoming a popular short-term fixture in today’s increasingly flexible workplace. Hiring interns to work remotely has various advantages, both economically and for scouting the best-suited talent for a business.
In recent years, I have started to employ the virtual intern scheme into my website marketplace business investors.club. As an employer, I have found it so beneficial in so many different aspects and ways. It increases productivity, mental diversity and, perhaps most importantly, morale, while saving money and reducing my company’s carbon footprint.
Why Businesses Should Use a Remote Internship
1. Increased productivity
For small businesses who might not be able to support a full-time internship, a virtual internship makes it easy to utilise interns on a per-project basis. This saves so much unnecessary time, as interns can complete tasks and then check in and out as they please.
As long as you guarantee an intern a firm number of hours per week or month, you can assign projects to be completed remotely as they arise. This means that employers like myself are not paying unnecessarily for interns to come in, but rather maximise the efficiency of both their time and our expenses.
With the rise of super-fast wi-fi technologies, communication between the office and the remote intern is swift and efficient. Long gone are the days of buffering and straining to find the best place with internet connection. I can communicate perfectly with an intern, irrespective of whether he or she is a couple of streets away or several hundred miles away on the other side of the country.
2. Less interruption and cost
A busy office environment can be particularly distracting for a small business. However, hiring remote means you won’t have to overwhelm one employee with the task of training or supervising an intern for forty hours a week. As soon as interns are taken offsite, the employer has more control to train and answer questions at their own pace. While this can be considered a drawback for students, the reduction in workflow interference is seen as a solid benefit by staff members. By supervising an intern online rather than in person, workers have more time to meet their own objectives and targets, further increasing productivity and, hopefully, profit.
Whereas, previously, an intern would be given a task, but then, having completed it, not have much to do, with virtual interning this problem can be eliminated. Interns can be given tasks remotely, which they can work around their other commitments. If the intern has other jobs or is a care-giver or student, this allows them to join your company, where previously they would have been unable to.
Susan Sutton, founder of 1MFWF, believes that flexible working is “wanted by all kinds of people, from all walks of life, and for all types of reasons”. Citing statistics from the Global Workplace Analytics that show that American Express employees were 43% more productive than their office colleagues, she believes that people are happier and healthier when they have some control over their working lives.
3. Expands the Talent Pool
When you hire employees to work remotely, then the talent pool is a lot more vast. The ability to work in this way means that there are many less restrictions in terms of distance and location with regard to commuting to a physical office space. It also allows for potential student scheduling conflicts to be resolved. With its innate flexibility, a virtual internship program easily accommodates busy school-year or university students. If I like the intern, I can then ask him or her to start coming into the office more and more, with the view to hopefully offering them a job. If I do not think the intern will be such a good fit, then I will not feel like I have wasted so much time and so many resources on them.
This particular benefit has really made a difference to my business. My sector of business requires specific technological knowledge in order to create, manage and sell websites. These skills have been much easier to find when there is a wider talent pool to reach employees. The access to such a wide market of technologically-advanced individuals has undoubtedly provided my business with significant growth and the potential to grow more and more.
Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who previously would have been unable to intern, for various reasons, can now take that vital step in climbing the career ladder. Traditional internships can be very challenging for those from less privileged backgrounds. The cost of commuting, as well as taking time off any other jobs they may have, can be very prohibitive. Who knows how many young people with huge potential do not join businesses that would be perfect for them because they cannot afford the cost of attending an internship programme?
With virtual interns, there are no barriers to recruiting the very best interns. Speaking to Forbes, Peter Mead, head of marketing for Bitcoin Australia, extolled the virtues for him of virtual interning, explaining how in Australia, “there is a limited number of people with knowledge of key technologies that we use… By promoting a virtual internship program, we get access to a global talent pool of technology geeks. When a traditional intern finishes a task, they stick around, expecting that there is always more work when, sometimes, there just isn’t. If the intern has traveled hundreds of kilometers for this empty opportunity then this is just unfair. Virtual interns can clock out when they finish their tasks and back in when they’re needed.”
4. Increases diversity of thought
With a larger talent pool as a result of instituting virtual interning, you will also find that your business’ diversity increases. As well as being good for its own sake, increasing diversity will increase overall performance across the board. Decreasing monoculture is scientifically proven to increase creativity, teamwork and morale, amongst many other positive indicators of performance.
In my business, I’ve worked with people from Europe as well as the Philippines. The two types of people have had differing approaches to tasks which I’ve generally found useful.
In his book Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking, former table-tennis Olympian Matthew Syed demonstrated how the more diverse a company is, the more they are going to succeed. Drawing examples from how Gucci achieved 136% retail growth over four years when Prada’s declined by 11.5%, to how the CIA and FBI failed to anticipate the 9/11 terror attacks, Syed shows why some companies succeed where others do not. Ending his book, Syed takes his conclusions into the territory of politics, explaining how when smart people from a very similar background come together to make decisions, their collective blindness can have horribly destructive consequences.
With a more diverse workforce, your company will be better equipped to deal with marketplace challenges. A more diverse workforce is a more resilient workforce, with a greater ability to adapt and think long-term. A diverse workforce will also, unfortunately, give you an edge over any competitors whose recruitment processes may hinder those from less privileged backgrounds.
5. Space and equipment savings
Since virtual interns don’t work at your office, you don’t have to allocate additional workspace. With virtual interns, you can expand your office’s capability and size without incurring the costs of changing the size or make-up of the office. Furthermore, like other remote employees, virtual interns will have their own computer and internet connection, basic office equipment and standard supplies. While these seem like minor details, for smaller businesses they can make a big impact on overall profit margins.
In this way, virtual interns can achieve the impossible: increasing growth at zero expense. Moreover, whereas no regular worker is going to be able to unleash their inner Stakhanovite selves and work from 9-5 with no breaks, a remote worker will, naturally, work in precise, efficient chunks, getting more done in less time than he or she would at the office.
For your employee, working from home may bring even more savings than you would have thought. Research has shown how, for example, two-thirds of employees would take another job to ease their daily commute. Likewise, 80% of workers are specifically concerned about the rising cost of their commute to and from work each day. Even if your intern were to be semi-virtual and only work from home a couple days a week, it is clear that the reduced commute would greatly improve his morale.
Just as it has been scientifically proven that greater diversity increases creativity and success, it has also been proven that happier workers are better workers. An extensive recent study by the University of Oxford found that, according to its findings, happier workers were 13% more productive. Forbes, in their own examination of the topic, found studies claiming respectively that happiness added 20% and 37% to productivity. Regardless, allowing workers to save money and work from home is not just going to increase their mood, but productivity and profits too.
6. Better for the environment
With employees working from home, workplace carbon footprints will improve. Most of the world is aiming to become fully carbon-neutral by 2050. As a result, every business will have to play their part. Having interns work from home, you can ensure that environmental awareness does not reduce productivity, with key decisions still made by key players at your offices. In our age of super-fast internet and ecosystem fragility, the most forward-thinking companies will do as much as they can to reduce travelling for work.
Just as in the UK companies are becoming legally obliged to publish their gender pay gap, it is not unlikely the same will happen with regard to a company’s environmental impact.
Instituting a culture of working from home will give your company a head-start with this and allow you more time to think about environmental sustainability.
How I Manage Virtual Internships
Although some have proposed possible setbacks to having virtual interns, I believe that success is determined by a business’s willingness to support their virtual staff. I have found that the best way to efficiently manage virtual interns is by ensuring that there is enough support available, communication tools and tracked progress.
Although not perfect, if carried out effectively, virtual interns have the incredible capacity to expand your workforce, diversify your recruitment and increase your productivity, while costing you exactly nothing at all. Virtual interning will also allow young people to join your team, who never would have done so in normal circumstances. Perhaps your next CEO will be someone who was able to join your company through a virtual interning scheme.
About the Author:
Andrej Ilisin is the European founder of Investors.club – a popular digital marketplace for buying and selling websites. Over the years, Andrej has reaped the rewards of hiring remote workers. His business, which predominantly hires staff from all around the world, is now grossing over 7 figures a year.