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My Experience as a Virtual Intern

Written by Olivia Willis

I never expected that I would work a virtual internship. Since December 2019, I focused on applying for in-person internships all around the country and was ready to give my all for the right position. Plans changed, of course, and those internships were canceled. When the opportunity came along to intern virtually for Greater Cleveland Partnership, I was completely up for it. I didn’t know what to expect, as this was my first ever internship, but the idea of working in this new, virtual world was intriguing. I was confident in my capabilities and passion for the position, but wondered if I would truly feel engaged with the organization and whether the virtual nature would make work more challenging or tedious. Nevertheless, I jumped right in, and there was a lot that I learned. 

The clear benefit here was the convenience and flexibility that comes with a virtual working environment. I avoided the congested and stressful commute downtown every day which helped keep me energized and motivated in the mornings, and it didn’t seem like a big deal if I needed to stay on a little longer in the evening finishing up a project or attending a meeting. I was even able to account for a small emergency that could have proved difficult to handle had I been out of the house. I felt just as motivated as I would have had I been at the office and having such a flexible and convenient working environment really made me feel like my mentors trusted me. 

Yes, there were a few challenges that I had to account for. Most of the time my technology worked flawlessly, but there were a few embarrassing difficulties during some important meetings. Thankfully, everyone at some point had these issues, and eventually I didn’t feel like it was a big deal. I also quickly realized that since I was virtual, I had to be completely accountable for the work that I was doing, and that diligence and discipline would be important virtues to practice. Since then, I have refined the way I work at home, and, thanks to practice, I am now very comfortable managing myself. The biggest challenge I faced, though, was worrying if I was retaining all the information that was being fed to me. Since the office is now virtual, it’s easier than ever to hop into meetings, and I jumped immediately into dozens. While I loved becoming so involved so quickly, I worried that I wasn’t grasping the knowledge as quickly as I should be. 

What I realized, though, was that the purpose of immersing me so quickly wasn’t to have me learn everything within the first week, but to make me feel part of the team. I began to feel truly connected to the organization and staff without ever having been in a room with any of them. I felt completely integrated into the culture of GCP, not because they felt like they needed to for the sake of my internship, but because that kind of culture was already established at the organization. I was wholeheartedly introduced to everyone in meetings, colleagues were quick to send me welcome emails, and it was stressed that any questions or concerns I had would be handled without issue. The fact that everyone felt comfortable enough to immediately and completely immerse me into the work of the organization made me feel valuable and needed. 

There’s no doubt that I jumped right into the virtual world, headfirst. After experiencing it, I can promise any who reads this that it is not as intimidating or daunting as it may seem. Yes, there may be a learning curve at first, but my advice to both employers and interns is this: do not be afraid or opposed to the idea of virtual work. If you, as an employer, believe your company already has a culture that facilitates a healthy work environment, both in-person and virtually, you will succeed with a virtual intern. And if you, as an intern, know that you have the motivation and passion to give your all to an in-person internship, I guarantee that you can apply that drive successfully to a virtual one. Yes, the landscape of traditional work and internships is changing, but I have seen personally that virtual internships can be just as rewarding and worthwhile, for both employers and interns, as any in-person opportunity. 

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