Highs, Lows, and Advice from a Remote Intern
Oh, internships. Essential to the learning process but difficult to navigate regardless of where your internship is or how it’s structured.
Hello there, internet-readers. My name is Hannah Cormier, and over the past four months, I’ve experienced the joys and challenges of interning—and interning remotely, at that. With my last weeks at One Design approaching, I thought it necessary to reflect on and share some of my learnings about my experience with you all—future interns, studio leaders, and everyone in-between.
There are still deadlines and meetings, but no commute greatly frees up my day. Not being in an office also makes taking breaks a bit easier—I truly have the space to recharge and come back without the usual atmosphere of engaging with coworkers and managers in real life. I can start my day earlier or later than usual if it doesn’t conflict with a meeting (and the same goes for signing off), which helps me prioritize my work and personal life to a degree I haven’t been able to do with in-person work.
Learning remotely will force you to build confidence independently. Being resourceful and self-sufficient goes a long way in any internship, and a remote environment presents a larger opportunity to develop these skills. I quickly became comfortable with and fluent in using several digital resources (Notion, Miro, Principle, Box, Google Meet, and 1Password, to name a few) that I wouldn’t have used that much if I were in person.
Listening, observing, and codifying processes
A remote internship forces you to be more intentional with your learning process. Traditional classroom note-taking requires a new level of organization and purpose when you need to know how to implement those notes into other programs and use the information in more interactive ways. Use that flexible schedule to copy project documents and study them, and figure out an efficient setup for all your windows and programs. Miro and the bookmarks feature in Google Docs were particularly helpful tools to document my processes, but the best thing I did for myself was integrating all of my apps into Slack.
Lack of culture & office experience
Interning remotely means little live interaction. It’s apparent how much of the social aspects I’ve missed out on working from home instead of from the office—it takes longer for you to get a feel for the team and where your personality and skills fit in, especially if you’re an introvert. What helped me was joining some of the more fun-themed channels in the ODC Slack workspace (#office-dogz was definitely a favorite).
Barriers to getting to know everybody
I felt awkward trying to virtually introduce myself to everyone. Video chats made it more difficult for me to express myself, especially when I couldn’t tell if the room had an intense or casual atmosphere. How weird and funny are my colleagues? When can I be weird and funny around them? How much do I show? Some of this resolved itself with time, but having one-on-one meetings with different people from ODC and sharing content in casual Slack channels made it easier.
Sharing feedback live
Video meetings felt stilted when giving feedback or asking for feedback—you’re quite literally talking to a screen instead of real people. I felt my words go flat sometimes. Since I didn’t have physical space to feel and assess how my words were being received, I found myself taking more time to formulate my thoughts before speaking any of them. To make this easier, I started looking at the designs and presentations before the meeting and noted down some of my initial feedback, or I would review the broader goals that the design or presentation aimed to meet.
The Double-edged Swords
I had plenty of control over how fast or slow I wanted to take things. However, having this freedom meant more responsibility on the outcome of the internship; how can I be sure I’m taking on enough to make this a meaningful experience? What if I’m taking on so much that I’m just doing busy work and not actually learning anything? Regular weekly and semi-weekly meetings with my mentor and supervisor became an important time to reflect on how things were going and if my goals were being met or needed to change. I wasn’t afraid to reach out and schedule a new meeting or have a conversation over Slack if something wasn’t working.
Actually being remote
The fact that everything is remote to some degree can seem limiting. Yet everyone’s in the same boat, which prevents certain team members from being left out. Remote environments also promote awareness and intentionality in communication, but this comes at the expense of not articulating some of those fun, one-off comments—it feels weird to toss a joke out in a video meeting. I tried to make the most out of it by remembering to engage in other Slack channels, whether that be looking and reacting to shared content or replying to a thread. Of course, if the opportunity to say something fun happens during a video meeting, don’t let it pass you!
Ask questions even if they’re open-ended or unfinished. This gets even harder to do when you feel put on the spot in a video meeting. Because remote formats make it more difficult to ask questions all the time, you should also trust yourself to try and figure things out first. Most of all, avoid trying to play it too safe; the pressure to prove that you’re a “good intern” shouldn’t hinder your ability to bring new (and sometimes risky) ideas to the table.
In the end, I’ll cherish the confidence I gained from being more self-reliant and learning how to improve on my own processes. If I had completed the internship in-person, my confidence would have been pushed socially in ways that aren’t possible remotely. But becoming comfortable being on my own is a big lesson—one that can be carried through the rest of my transition from college into “the real world.”
If I had to summarize my three most important takeaways, they'd be:
- Interns, trust your ideas and take time to prioritize what you want out of your internship experience.
- Studio leaders, allow interns the space for deep exploration within real project processes and be accommodating with how much the internship might change directions.
- For future-me, keep acting on new and even ambitious creative ideas without allowing your experience to hold you back.
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