Top 5 Keys to Effectively Managing Your Virtual Internship Team

Managing interns and entry-level employees physically located in the same office as you is challenging enough. Managing young professionals virtually can be a whole different level of challenge, if not done well.

Typically, virtual interns contribute from multiple time zones, are students with already difficult academic schedules and commitments, have family and social lives (some are single parents), and some are developing business ideas of their own.

Welcome to the world of internships in 2011!

Mentoring these classic over-achievers can be a test of even the most experienced of managers. But there are numerous ways – using what we call our “M3C2” method of managing to bring out the best in your interns:

  • Meetings
  • Mentorship
  • Motivation
  • Communication
  • Coaching

Meetings

Weekly team meetings with founders, executives and managers – with all virtual interns invited to participate – are important to create a sense of cohesion and contribution. While you’ll rarely get 100% attendance, those interns who can make your established weekly meeting will get a sense of the company’s focus points and the current projects of each individual member. Weekly meetings also provide virtual team members a forum to engage and interact with each other.

For those whose schedules preclude them from participating in the team calls, create a weekly individual meeting, or smaller, separate team meetings. The interns will appreciate the structure, the opportunity to give input, and the chance to receive feedback from their colleagues and management.

Motivation

Let’s face it – some people are self-motivated and others need a push. Some individuals immediately buy into the company mission and become real contributors right out of the gate. At the other end of the spectrum are those who see the opportunity as just work; another commitment in an already busy schedule. And it shows – in their demeanor, work ethic and production. The key for the mentor: maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Real motivation, however, is hard to assess. Interns often seemed eager, motivated and enthusiastic during the initial set of hiring interviews. Motivation can diminish quickly in some; with others, it takes a while for the decline in their desire to contribute to become evident.

Some ways to keep interns motivated in their work and the company’s mission include:

  • Team Projects – Small team projects helps keep virtual interns engaged; interacting with other team members is a major influence on overall motivation
  • Meet-ups – Encouraging interns who live in the same metro area to have periodic meet-ups helps build a sense of camaraderie and engagement
  • Intern Presentations – Having interns give formal presentations on their projects during weekly meetings helps them develop important presentation skills – and shows the importance of their work

Mentorship

Chances are that each intern on your team will be at a different stage in their professional life. Therefore, your mentorship activities must be tailored for each individual.

For some interns, their soft skills may need the most help. For others, writing or blogging may be an issue. Bringing interns into higher level discussions with partners, vendors and via social media can elicit both excitement and some consternation. Are they representing themselves – and the company – well? Are their comments being presented in an appropriate manner? Are they sincerely engaging?

While challenging, mentorship is where your work can make the most difference – and perhaps provide you the most personal satisfaction.

Communication

Encouraging and maintaining active communication through phone, email, text, IM, Skype, Facebook, and/or Twitter is critically import when working with virtual interns. Without both scheduled and spontaneous communication, the intern can feel isolated and unimportant. In other words… less than motivated to be part of your team, or complete tasks.

With no break room, water cooler or nervous knock on your office door available, the mentor’s job is to make sure that as many appropriate communication channels as possible are open to virtual interns – and that they are comfortable contacting you.

Succeed at open communication – and you bridge the gap that leads to many problems with managing virtual interns.

Coaching

Some interns are more experienced and seem able to take on leadership roles in addition to their assigned projects. They not only excel at their primary assignments, but also see opportunities for improvement in the company. Others, well, need a little more direction – through one-on-one coaching – to succeed as virtual contributors to your team.

This is where regularly scheduled one-on-one calls between you and the intern are most important. Use this time to discuss project assignments in-depth, as well as allow and encourage the intern to ask questions to make sure they understand completely what the assignment entails – and what is expected of them, by when.

Management of virtual interns is more art than science. One must be coach, motivator, mentor, and master communicator. Master these skills, however, and you’ll not only get more out of your team of virtual interns – you’ll become a much better manager, mentor and leader.

About the Author: Joe Gagliano, a founding member of YouTern and our CMO, brings years of start-up management, strategic planning, marketing and market research experience to the team and his blog posts. Joe, who runs our learning center for interns, also brings a passion for start-ups, entrepreneurship and mentorship to our team.

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