By Melissa Suzuno, HR and L&D Insights Writer, Udemy

Over the past few months, working from home has quickly become the norm. Gallup reports that nearly two-thirds of Americans are working remotely. But it’s not just current employees who have been affected by these changes. There’s a wave of 2020 college graduates and students who were about to enter the workforce as interns. How are they faring? College Reaction found 75% of the students surveyed had their jobs canceled, delayed, or moved remote.

Some large employers with well-established internship programs like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google announced they’d be running their internships virtually this summer. And some smaller companies are adapting their internship programs to accommodate remote workers as a way to continue building their talent pipeline. Emily Cardner, Manager of Campus Recruiting at MongoDB, says, “The company didn’t consider getting rid of the program, because it is one of our most successful pipelines for talent. About one-third of our current engineering organization has come through this program.”


If your company is going to be welcoming interns or recent graduates, you’re likely to face some unique challenges. How can you help these new employees adapt to a remote work environment when they may not have much work experience to begin with? What can your organization do to support these employees and ensure their success? We’ll explore these questions in this two-part series. Part 1 (this post) will focus on best practices for remote internships and new hires and Part 2 will explore the skills remote interns and recent graduates will most benefit from developing.

Best practices for remote interns and recent graduates

1. Start with the onboarding basics

First, it helps to have realistic expectations. Not everything will go smoothly right away. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that 71% of employers were struggling to adapt to remote work. Research by Asana shows that companies shouldn’t assume their employees have the appropriate work setup in place: 53% of knowledge workers said they lacked a dedicated desk, personal computer, laptop, or reliable internet connection in the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a first step, it’s a good idea to make sure your interns and new hires have all the equipment they need. Perhaps you can consider offering a stipend to help them set up their home office.

Once you’ve ensured that your new hires have the right equipment and work setup, you’ll also want to consider their onboarding experience. This will likely include an overview of big picture topics like your company’s mission and vision, introductions to company leaders and departments, and training and support for any of the tools they’ll be expected to use. 

Switching from in-person to virtual onboarding can be challenging, but you may find some additional benefits such as the ability to gain a better understanding of how new hires are absorbing new information. This was what Intuit’s Senior Program Manager of Global Onboarding Dwight Davis discovered when moving Intuit’s onboarding program online. Hear more from Dwight about how he quickly adapted new hire onboarding to a virtual environment in the Udemy Connect webinar.

2. Create regular communication check-points

Interns and new hires need extra communication even when they’re working alongside their manager and peers. They’re learning to navigate a new work environment while also confronting the challenges of the work itself. This means in a remote environment, it’s critical to prioritize communication across a range of channels including email, messaging, video, and project management tools. 

Keep in mind that it’s not just about when you communicate, but how you communicate. A Harvard Business School article suggests, “It’s also important to set clear expectations around communication. If your team has a default mode of communication, make sure interns are well informed about what channels to use and when. How quickly are interns expected to respond to messages? What belongs in chat and what is best for email or a video conference meeting?”

You may want to consider creating customized training materials that introduce interns and new hires to your company’s remote communication culture and other essential topics. Learn about creating custom course content with Udemy for Business here.

3. Carefully consider the right type of project

The only person interns will be making coffee for is themselves (and maybe their housemates), and finding purpose in their work is a huge priority for members of Generation Z, so you’ll want to be extra conscientious about giving them a meaningful project to work on. In a Harvard Business School article, GitLab’s Head of Remote Darren Murph recommends assigning projects that are important or notable to a large group of employees since “This ensures that many people in the organization are invested in the intern’s success, and it widens the scope of available mentors who are knowledgeable about the project and can step in and help across time zones.”

Similarly, it’s important to think about how the project can be broken down into concrete steps so the intern or new hire has deadlines and milestones along the way. This approach can help them gain critical time management skills and provide opportunities to develop relationships with stakeholders as the interns report on their progress.

Also, consider how you’ll give interns and new hires the chance to share their project with the company at large, whether you invite them to present at a virtual department or company all-hands, ask them to write a blog post, give them space in an internal newsletter, or through some other communication channel.

4. Encourage social learning and relationship-building

McKinsey finds that members of Generation Z “don’t distinguish between friends they meet online and friends in the physical world. They continually flow between communities that promote their causes by exploiting the high level of mobilization technology makes possible.” 

Since learning will be such a critical part of your interns’ experience, you can support their desire for fostering connections by encouraging social learning. This may include a blended learning approach that incorporates time in a virtual group classroom setting, participation in social communities, and self-guided online learning.

You may also find it helpful to set up formal mentorship or buddy programs, giving these new hires the opportunity to regularly check in with someone other than their direct manager. This person can be available to answer any of their questions about company culture, processes, or work in general.

Help your leaders develop the skills they need to support recent graduates — and all their other direct reports. Check out Udemy’s free resources for managers here.

5. Help them think about what comes next

Early work experiences like internships and first jobs help people to learn more about themselves and their priorities — the types of projects they enjoy and the type of work they excel at. Even in a remote work environment, managers can encourage employees to find time to talk with people across the company to learn more about their roles and the industry at large. These exploratory conversations can have a big impact on their career trajectory.

Learn more about how managers can encourage reflection and introspection in Career Navigator: A Manager’s Guide to Career Development. Taught by Udemy’s VP of Learning & Development Shelley Osborne, this course covers topics like identifying career values through peak experiences and setting career goals.

The shift to a remote environment is challenging for everyone, but especially the newest members of the workforce. Proactively planning how you’ll support interns and new hires increases their likelihood of success on the job — and in the next stages of their careers. 

Check out Part 2, where we look at the skills interns and new hires will need to be successful in the remote workplace.

This article was originally posted on Udemy’s Blog: How to Help Recent Graduates Succeed at Remote Work: Part 1