This time last year, companies were scrambling to consider how to handle their 2020 corporate interns. We posted about what we were seeing and shared information on how to run an effective virtual internship program. The post finished with a reference to these virtual internship best practices and stated, "It's a must read for those who are designing remote internships for the first time. It may actually change the way you think about managing your internship program post-pandemic too!" 

According to Ripplematch, 73% of companies hosted summer interns virtually/remotely last year and 16% actually cancelled their programs. And for the most part, interns liked it and it worked.  The Gen Z Job Seeker Report shared that students gave their remote internships an average rating of 4.2 out 5 in 2020, suggesting that they found the virtual internship experience to be rewarding.

So a year later, what is happening in 2021?

As companies continue to grapple with the next phases of work models and determine how to best open up and bring people — at least some people — back into the office, they are also considering implications for best-practice management of intern programming. While most have the summer intern programs planned and moving along, according to the final results of NACE's Spring 2021 Quick Poll on Internships and Fall Recruiting, which ran April 6-30, more than 40% of employers are planning to hold a hybrid internship program this summer, while 38% will be exclusively virtual. Only 13% are planning to be fully in person. To support those findings, the Gen Z Job Seeker Report found that only 7% of companies for 2021 were planning to host interns onsite. Really, almost anyone doing onsite at all is because the work cannot be done remotely!

Fast Company just published, "What you need to know about summer internships this year" and they agree that the majority plan to be remote or hybrid. They predict the experience will be even better this year as companies have had time now to benefit from the learnings of the past year. However, they really expect that both employees and interns a year from now will mostly be in-office, much closer to pre-pandemic arrangements.

One question you might have is, "What exactly is a hybrid internship?"

According to Ripplematch research, this varies a lot by organization. For many (63%) doing hybrid, it means that the internship will be split by the business unit. Some interns will work remotely, while those whose roles can’t be done virtually will meet in-person. So not really hybrid for the intern, but for the overall program. Then, nearly one in five doing hybrid are allowing the intern to have the option to work fully remotely or work onsite. Their choice entirely. Another 6% will mostly work remotely and do a few occasional "get togethers." 

How will interns connect?

One of the concerns for companies doing hybrid or virtual internships is how to keep the interns connected to each other. The two most popular options (84% of companies for both) will be by using messaging software (like Slack, Teams, Ring Central, etc.) to communicate about work projects and through virtual social events for fun. 66% of companies said they will use messaging software of social media channels to create and facilitate a space for interns to gather informally. Sounds pretty familiar to me and seems to be exactly what companies have been doing with their staff!

How best to engage interns in their work?

With regard to how best to keep interns connected to their supervisor and/or teams, some of the most popular ideas being implemented are:

  1. Pair interns with a buddy/mentor
  2. Use messaging software
  3. Tap other networking opportunities with alumni, leaders and employees
  4. Use daily check-ins with a supervisor
  5. Use virtual social events for fun (like lunch and learns, etc.)
  6. Use informational interviews/discussions with internal leaders

Looking ahead

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of companies will host their internships virtually once again in 2021. From here on out, it seems most options will be considered based on what interns and companies want and less around health and safety issues. When it comes to considering fall recruitment, recruiters were asked about how they will handle their jobs. Approximately 45% of recruiters expect and prefer to attend both in-person and virtual career fairs this fall.