Being a Remote Intern

Bridging Distance decided to take the plunge where remote workers are concerned. The firm’s partners tested the virtual internship waters with an intern – me. While I spent my summer between Mozambique and South Africa, I worked with the team in Massachusetts.

As a TCK (third culture kid) from Mozambique, I spent eleven years of my youth outside my home country, so wearing my intercultural spectacles is almost second nature. As a Gen Y adult, I do not shy away from technologies that will help me bridge distances. If I had maintained enduring relationships despite the distance for personal reasons, then surely I could for work too? The key, I thought, would be observation and patience.

This is partly true, but it takes observation, patience and open mindedness from all team members. These are my summarized lessons learned from this experience:

  • Have weekly video calls. In my case, it was weekly Skype meetings. In an environment without brick and mortar, weekly check-ins maintain momentum and strengthen relationships that may otherwise seem one dimensional via email.
  • Defining productivity. Productivity for us meant delivering on pre-defined goals. I did not have to send incomplete bits of work I had produced during the week. The key was delivering a good quality end product.
  • Reading electronic body language. This is a skill that I am learning about and developing. Through this internship I have discovered just how many things we do or encounter as we use technology that we do not have predefined rules of engagement for. For example, When should I CC the partner in an email? What is the expected response time for emails? It will do well to either test the waters until you establish a pattern, or discuss some of these issues with your team members. Having e-tact is also key to being a remote intern.
  • Make small talk. Relationships can be built by getting to know each other’s interests, hobbies, home life, etc. Small talk bridges gaps that are accentuated by the distance and lack of face-to-face contact.
  • Flexible meeting times. When working across time zones, it is important to establish times that suit all team members. Rotating meeting times means that it will not always be one person getting the short end of the stick. Be open to flexibility to ensure fairness.
  • Empathy. This component of emotional intelligence allows people to “listen” to emotional queues given by others that are many times unspoken or communicated indirectly.
  • Passion. Having an interest for the work you do fuels self-motivation and drive. Without this you’ll find yourself doing… well, nothing.

Another point worth mentioning – working across time zones can have a way of potentially hampering productivity when feedback is critical. In those cases, opt in making a phone call at an acceptable hour.

Feel free to share your comments/stories about working remotely.