Being a Virtual Intern

This blog post was written by our summer intern, Michal Zalewski.

To be perfectly honest, prior to COVID-19, the idea of becoming a ‘virtual’ intern never ever crossed my mind. Not in a million years. Why would it have? When internships are offered in person, why complete one virtually? I can only think that, in the past, I would have downplayed an opportunity with a daft joke or saying that I exist in reality and not ‘virtually’. *sigh* But, virtual internships were not something I was fully aware of prior to starting one. Fast track to the Summer of 2020 I am amazed how quickly things have shifted and a realisation of an opportunity was made. I quickly made a consideration which was never thought of in the past making me ready to take on new challenge.

Having the opportunity to work remotely with a company anywhere in the world is a fantastic proposition of a virtual internship. Virtual internships have been offered by my University for many years, each year only seeing a handful of participants, but this year has been different with the offer growing exponentially. With an increasing trend of all things world of work going online, virtual internships and other courses present a great opportunity to develop professionally.

Since now in 2020, ZOOM conferences, seminars, meetings, touch-ins, lectures, quizzes, drinks, internships and all things other have been held virtually… rather than in person. So the virtual dos have entailed many goodbye waves, with some “oops, sorry I forgot to unmute”, with several awkward moments of speaking with mute on, many dogs barking and kids playing; and some traffic noises with wailing sirens - which have all been experienced through our computer screens. I quickly became familiar with this new reality and embraced it setting on my virtual internship. I sought to take on an opportunity, and grasp firmly with both hands in order to make the very most of a situation which persists. As I thought “life isn’t about waiting for a storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain” I took on a new opportunity. During a time of this global pandemic, it has been a difficult time for many of us for a wide variety of sociological and psychological factors of which each have been unique to each and every one of us. I thought that a virtual internship is an excellent opportunity for me to hone in on my current skills, learn new skills and network in order not to exist virtually, but to make the most of being virtual!

As I have taken on a new challenge and built up key knowledge, I am writing this blog post for anyone who may still be in question of a virtual work opportunity, now, or possibly in the future (which I hope isn’t the case after you read this post), as I will share my personal experiences over the past few months.

In the two months I spent working virtually I surprised myself again, and again, about the tasks I was able to work on as well as how much I was able to learn in a really short space of time. As I became busy on weekly tasks, the weeks flew me by, leaving me a void of time in which I have a longing for the work I was able to work on during my internship. This is only an exemplification of how rewarding my internship was. Having the opportunity to devise practical work in a field which I have found extremely interesting in my studies was an opportunity I will look back on fondly in the future.

Here’s a list of some of my learnings from my virtual internship which I hope you find useful.

Remote working brings a fresh, new and innovative opportunity to work. At a time when remote working is becoming the norm for many professionals across the world, a virtual opportunity is a great chance to be a part of more flexible working.

A virtual internship presented me with a great opportunity of learning how to work remotely, and offered me the chance to work more flexibly. One of the great benefits was saving time being at home and giving me the option of going for a walk/run/cycle during the day then returning back to work! I was fortunate to devise the majority of my tasks and weekly schedule - completing work as and when how I wanted. This came alongside other more rigid timetabled events and scheduled weekly meetings. I found this a really refreshing experience as I became adaptive with weekly schedules frequently changing so it was necessary to work with flow. I was able to work on my organisational skills in a new professional realm. I have held several jobs whilst at University which I enjoyed completing beside my studies; but working remotely brought my organisation a new edge as I deployed more digital tools – both in the work I was completing and the communication with my employers. In the past I enjoyed working across campus, at the library or cafés (as I love coffee), but since this was not an option during my internship I was able to adapt to working at home – being creative in my working environment and ensuring to be productive. Working on my virtual internship has brought me the chance to use digital tools to track progress and produce deliverables from home.

Connect with others, be a part of something you have an interest in so you can complete the meaningful work you want to and have a passion for.

I completed my internship working on Operations at a time when COVID-19 has presented difficultly for supply chains all around the world. With supply chains facing delays from China as PPE has been prioritised with cargo delays at many ports. I found a need to think outside the box during this crisis. I considered the innovative nature of the Retail sector (with supermarket chains and retailers of essential goods) and learned from their resourcefulness of demand planning utilising information flows. I read extensively on supply chains and thought about how supply chains could be adapted to be more disruption proof for the future. For example, using the likes of digitalisation and JIT delivery, as well as partnering with companies to carry out logistics. I was able to apply my theoretical knowledge in practice which produced highly rewarding work. I developed upon my critical thinking skills in planning demand and supply flows, as well as planning operational options and transportation. In my work I focused on vulnerabilities in the supply chain by pointing these aspects out and making relevant considerations as alternatives. Many of my ideas came from conversations I had with the team and considerations I made following the discussions we had. It was a great experience to learn from extremely resourceful mentors who made me consider new approaches. However, the often the initial spark of interest on a weekly area of work led to more excitement for the next, leading to a flame of ideas.

Trying new things by getting yourself out of your comfort zone to reap new rewards which allow you to grow.

When I started my internship I was slightly nervous, being unsure of how things would work logistically (no pun intended), how I would come to grips with completing work remotely, possibly working across time zones and a whole bunch of small niggles which are easily overthought. The chance to complete a virtual internship has enabled me to work on new tasks, learning from them and about myself. I have gained extremely valuable feedback from the whole team at Lonbrella and learned not only from their experiences and feedback; but also more personally from their points of view (in which they consider tasks) and how they lead, taking challenges head on. Being able to work as an intern when there are few expectations of you being an expert, so having the chance to ask questions and thinking inquisitively about tasks is a real blessing. The chance to try to do things your own way and consider various aspects in devising work (as well as making decisions) enables you to evaluate these decisions to learn from them in the future.

I have personally found that taking a risk is worthwhile in gaining an additional insight about your capabilities and seeking out growth. Sometimes I would say try to figure things out your way as a starting point, then if you are unsure seek out guidance in order to learn. But the support I gained from my mentors my virtual internship was made it what it was – a truly great experience.

Through embarking on a virtual internship opportunity you have the potential to learn more about yourself and surprise yourself, again and again.

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