This post was written by our 2020 Summer Intern Hannah Salsbery at the conclusion of her internship in August 2020.
I was devastated when I found out the rest of my semester would be online. I went into panic mode, wondering what would happen with my classes, moving out of my dorm room, and what I would end up doing over the summer. Oh, no! The summer! Internships? Jobs? Anything? Feeling out of control or being without a plan is not something I enjoy so losing all plans in a split second threw me for a loop.
When I got offered the opportunity to intern at Willow Marketing for the summer, I was wary. What could a virtual internship look like? How would I make connections with the people I work with? How would I manage working from home all summer? Would anybody even need me for anything if I wasn’t physically there?
I think most companies took this summer off from internships because of all the unanswered questions — I mean, why put more work into an internship in a time when most businesses were still getting their footing with going virtual. Not Willow, though. From the start, Maggie and Erin were reaching out to me, trying to figure out what a virtual content internship would look like.
On my first day, I felt all my worries about what was in store drift away. I very quickly felt welcomed by the whole team at our Monday Motivation meeting, and though it took a second for people to throw work my way, suddenly everything started to take off! From Google Meet chats to Zoom meetings, I was no longer concerned nobody would know I was there. Everyone made time for me when I needed it, responded to my 1,000 questions, and gave me feedback when I was lost.
I thought the fact that my internship was virtual meant that it would be harder for me to make connections with everyone, and while I definitely wish I could’ve sat around a table and had lunch with everyone twice a week, anytime I needed someone, they made the time for me. I didn’t feel like I was out of place or put on a back burner just because we weren’t in the office. Being able to work with people who trusted me to run with my writing while always providing me feedback when I needed it helped me expand my abilities as a writer.
When I think about what I missed out on with a virtual internship, I think a lot of it comes down to just missing the office environment. Having been to Willow many times before my internship, I knew how friendly and fun the office was. And yet, that same spirit was still brought to every Monday Morning Motivation, every spontaneous Google Meet or phone call.
It’s understandable that some places weren’t ready to figure out how to do a virtual internship, and in a lot of ways, I don’t think my experience would’ve been the same anywhere else. While at times it was frustrating waiting for a chat or email reply instead of just knocking on a door, I don’t think a lot of places would’ve tried as hard to make it work. It took patience to figure out where exactly I fit in, what projects I was needed on, and what little tasks I should do, and because everyone at Willow was so open and willing to work with me, it never really felt like I was missing out on much.
I feel that even if I didn’t wake up at 7 a.m. to go to the office, I still learned how to manage my time — especially with so many distractions at my fingertips. I still learned how to receive feedback more effectively, how to plan events in a virtual world, and how to be an intern virtually.
As we continue to navigate our new normal with COVID-19, a lot of companies will probably keep pushing back in-office interns as they make decisions on who is deemed “essential” in the office. Instead, I challenge these companies to make virtual interning work. If companies are willing to put in the time to reorganize intern work so it can be done virtually, I truly believe that virtual interns get just as much out of their experience as being in the office.
I can sit here typing until my fingers cramp up and talk about how much so many people have missed out on this year, but I can honestly say that I didn’t miss out on having an internship experience that I’ve grown and learned from. Not everyone may have been able to pull it off, but I am not surprised the Willow team did during a time when nobody really knew what they were doing.