The Basics

7 Reasons to Consider the Virtual Internship

The start of the school year brings new opportunities for students; it also brings new challenges—especially in terms of time management.

As an employer, there are tips to help you hire and manage interns carrying a full load of classes. But there are also innovative new internship approaches that benefit both employers and students trying to juggle school, an internship, and other obligations.

Introducing the Virtual Internship

Simply speaking, a virtual internship is when an intern works remotely… as in anywhere other than your office.

Sometimes referred to as “telecommuting” or “offsite work,” in the job market in general, hiring virtual employees has officially become a trend. (You’ve likely heard the buzz about “virtual assistants.”)

With the internship arena following trends in the traditional business world, the virtual internship is catching on as well. And with good reason: Hiring interns to work remotely has an array of advantages. Moreover, it’s an outstanding solution for making the most of intern talent while classes are in session.

Employers: 7 Advantages of the Virtual Internship

Sure, students are attracted to virtual internships because they allow them to gain experience without commuting, committing 40 hours a week, or considering physical proximity of jobs.

But virtual internships also offer a number of appealing benefits for employers:

1.  Larger applicant pool. Hiring virtual interns allows you an almost endless choice of candidates. No longer are employers limited to only those interns who live nearby or—in the case of unpaid internships—to those who can afford to work for free.

2.  Workers only when needed. For small businesses who wonder whether they have enough work to support a fulltime internship program, a virtual internship makes it easy to utilize interns on a per-project basis.

As long as you guarantee an intern a certain number of hours per week, month, or semester, you can assign projects to be completed remotely as they arise, without worrying about creating work when things slow down… and an eager intern is standing in front of you.

3.  Space and equipment savings. Since virtual interns don’t work at your office, you don’t have to allocate additional workspace.

Furthermore, like other remote employees, virtual interns are expected to have their own computer and Internet connection, basic office equipment, and standard supplies. So while it may seem miniscule to consider paperclip costs when assessing an internship arrangement, eliminating larger items—think furniture, paper, and printing expenses—can add up to significant savings.

In other words, if internships in general are a cost-effective source of motivated, intelligent labor, virtual internships take the value focus one step further.

4. Payroll pare down. Speaking of savings, in some cases, virtual internships can nearly eliminate the number of unproductive, paid hours of work.

Assuming your organization implements a solid system for tracking hours worked remotely, offsite work can actually maximize productivity. The reason is that, when an employee is onsite for an entire day, a certain percentage of time will often be spent socializing or doing other less-constructive activities to mentally recharge. Because many interns—or employees for that matter—simply don’t spend eight hours straight in dedicated work mode. Yet the timeclock ticks on.

On the other hand, remote workers are taught to bill their time in blocks and to log in and out when they take breaks or switch gears. Therefore, the result can be far fewer hours billed for the same amount of actual work.

5. Interruption reduction. If you have a small staff, hiring remote interns means you won’t have to overwhelm one employee with the task of training or supervising an intern 40 hours a week… or with an intern having unlimited access to assistance.

Of course there will be time spent training, but when interns are offsite, it is the supervisor’s choice when to respond to questions or requests for instruction. For instance, the staff member can address questions in a single email or phone call at their convenience, as opposed to having an intern pop into their office at will.

While this can be considered a drawback for students, the reduction in workflow interference is seen as a solid benefit by staff members.

6. Student scheduling convenience. A virtual internship program easily accommodates busy school-year students because of its innate flexibility.

With onsite opportunities, students must make time for an internship during normal business hours; this can be a juggling act since classes often take place during the day as well. And if a student must work a second job to make ends meet, balancing the three can be a losing battle.

By contrast, virtual intern tasks can be completed at the student’s convenience. Midnight, midday, or Saturday afternoon are all perfectly acceptable hours of operation.

7. Capitalization on familiar communication. Virtual internships take advantage of the fact that today’s intern is likely most comfortable communicating online.

Generation Y connects, learns, and socializes via a computer or portable digital device; because of this, blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking from their couch or favorite coffee shop simply feels familiar. Meanwhile, suiting up for corporate life in a traditional office setting may seem incompatible with their more mobile way of living.

This doesn’t mean learning how to function face to face with coworkers isn’t important: Ideally, tomorrow’s employee will be adept at both ways of working. But a student who is already saddled with responsibilities will be grateful for the chance to gain experience in a virtual setting. And as employers know, happy workers are hard workers.

Employer takeaway: Don’t let busy student schedules deter you from utilizing intern talent during the school year. Innovative approaches, such as the virtual internship, are becoming increasingly popular methods for employers to reap the many rewards of internships, while working around student time constraints. In fact, the virtual internship program has become a viable option for capitalizing on employer benefits year round.