At the beginning of April, while I was still up in Montreal writing exams, I received an email from the Brookfield Institute asking if I could start my (now virtual) paid internship a few weeks early. With many of my peers on the wrong end of cancelled interviews and lost opportunities owing to the disruption of COVID-19, this pleasant surprise set the tone for the rest of the summer. For those navigating remote work experience for the first time, or expecting to in the future, I’ve put together a brief guide below on how you can make the most of a virtual internship.
You can be physically distant but still socially close—it just takes effort
Going into a fully remote role, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I had previous experience working in virtual environments, but not in a full-time position with people I’d never met before. Doing the work (well and effectively, of course) is one part, but a huge aspect of any new role is immersing yourself in the organization’s culture and getting to know your co-workers, especially when you’re fresh out of undergrad exploring longer-term career options and seeing what you like, and what fits.
Fortunately, when applied effectively, online tools like Slack and Zoom can create a collegial atmosphere that mirrors the in-person environment. After an initial sprint of virtual coffee-chats to meet all the members of BII+E (great for immersion, less great for screen fatigue), I settled into a very manageable rhythm of one or two Zoom meetings a day, complemented by extensive Slack use for both work-related and casual conversation. BII+E also hosted virtual events like the weekly #WellnessWednesday yoga sessions (shoutout Michelle and Sarah!), which were always a highlight. This ability to step beyond work and interact more authentically with co-workers is a huge part of what made this internship so enjoyable. By working remotely, you’ll miss out on the natural interactions that happen with a shared office space, so it’s up to you to put in a bit more effort to build virtual bridges that last—a clear case of the more you put in, the more you get out.
Make the most of online events
With the cancellation of large, in-person gatherings, the pandemic has led to a surge in online webinars and events. As part of my internship, I helped organize Zoom-facilitated panels on building career skills for interns and young professionals interested in the policy space (in collaboration with BHER), as well as virtual town halls on COVID-19-related policy discussions (via the First Policy Response initiative). Online events are advantageous in many ways, with none of the in-person limitations of capacity, cost, and distance. This allowed us to engage speakers and audiences from across Canada who may have been previously out of reach. . Through this work, I had the opportunity to meet a number of fascinating professionals in the policy space and beyond, who will be superb contacts to have going forward. In addition to organizing events, I also had the opportunity to attend many. BII+E facilitated a number of opportunities for me to partake in insightful multi-day virtual conferences like Collision and RightsCon, as well as one-off webinars on topics of personal interest, ranging from political communications to surveillance and data policy.
Embrace the new perspective
Governments and businesses are rethinking many of their systems and processes as a result of the current workplace disruption, and I’ve found it’s been an opportunity for me to do the same. A prime example for my team was the need to take all of BII+E’s communications and marketing online, which involved, for example, leveraging the aforementioned virtual events for brand building. One of the projects I worked on during my internship was a jurisdictional scan and analysis of different COVID-19 policies, such as digitalization measures. It was interesting to research and write about digital policy, digitally. When analyzing different areas of policy, it’s not uncommon to feel out of touch with what’s actually happening, but it becomes a lot more meaningful when you’re being impacted by the changes you’re researching on a daily basis (i.e. working from home ).
Keep in mind that working remotely is a privilege
All this considered, it’s important to remember that it is a privilege to be able to work remotely. It requires a computer, an internet connection, at-home office space, and an amenable household situation—things that are easily taken for granted. This internship experience has been a privilege, especially during this pandemic when many have been laid off or are facing new barriers.
A huge thank you to everyone I worked with this summer at BII+E and beyond, and a special shoutout to my boss and mentor Coralie D’Souza for showing me the ropes, Michelle Park for running a great internship program, Sarah Villeneuve, Jessica Thompson, and Erin Warner for simultaneously collaborating with and teaching me, and of course my co-intern Sihwa Kim for putting up with me.