Tips for Developing Soft Skills in a Remote Workplace
According to Learnlight, 86% of executives cite ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of business failure and 89% of new hires fail for reasons associated with attitude. Interpersonal skills are crucial to an effective team and are even more important as workplaces transition to remote environments.
One concern for the hiring of virtual internships is if remote work will restrict the development of these essential soft skills when interns are not interacting with a team in person. We’d argue that remote work creates an environment where soft skills are even more important as teams are forced to over-communicate and make up for the fact that they are not interacting face-to-face.
Whether your internships are role-based or project-based, the development of soft skills should be built into the scope of your placement. Continue reading for some tips on how to ensure your virtual work environment encourages the development of interpersonal skills as well as how to measure the progress of these skills while working with remote interns.
Tip #1: Create a Learning Plan
The first part of working with an intern is to consider what both the manager and the student would like to get out of the internship. Following the onboarding process, when you’re outlining the tasks or projects they’ll be working on, identify the skills they’ll use to successfully complete their internship. This would be a conversation where the two parties discuss their goals that include both hard and soft skills. Even in a shorter internship, it’s important to have a conversation about these goals at the beginning to set the right precedent for the rest of the term.
For project-based internships, consider how the various tasks within the project will influence their skills as a member of your team. For example, work ethic is key for project-based internships as independence and self-discipline are the foundation of their success as a virtual intern.
Tip #2: Conduct Regular Check-ins
Depending on the structure of the internship, check-ins will vary by frequency as project-based internships will require less supervision. When these check-ins are conducted, however, it’s important to include the human element in communicating with your intern. It’s easy to stick to online messaging on Slack or Teams, which can be great for quick updates, but video conferencing to exercise verbal communication is also important for virtual interns in a remote work environment.
As working remotely is likely new for the intern, be sure to check in on their well-being along with their progress. Scheduling these check-ins in advance will give them the opportunity to prepare with questions and showcase their progress, and as a result, practice their time-management skills.
Tip #3: Set Up a Feedback System
Feedback is most useful when the receiver is given the time to grow from it. This is why feedback at the end of the term works best with consistent feedback prior. However, to offer improvement suggestions isn’t always the most comfortable part of being in a team. As a result, many companies use anonymous feedback systems on HR platforms, such as Bamboo, to facilitate a process that allows employees to be honest with their concerns.
For something a bit more simple, you can also create a structure as simple as asking their wins and challenges to see if you can support them better during the check-ins with your interns. Being on the receiving end will also develop their emotional intelligence and communication skills as they’re encouraged to reflect and express their suggestions. When giving feedback, it’s best to discuss what method they prefer. Hence, improvements can be implemented effectively before they become a bigger problem.
Tip #4: Think Beyond Your Work-Environment
Although they’re your virtual interns, they’re also a part of the bigger team. If your team has a virtual book club or fitness challenge, include your interns or organize activities between the other interns. Including them in aspects of your team culture, even in for a short duration, is crucial in developing teamwork skills for a full-time job in the future.
On a broader note, internships are opportunities to learn for both the manager and the intern. Virtual work can sometimes boil down to the necessities as we quickly try to respond to extenuating circumstances. Interns have always been a source of fresh insights, so take advantage of their different perspectives to not only adapt but innovate within the “new normal”. Encourage them to think beyond your usual work environment and provide the opportunity for your interns to share their ideas because who knows - it might be extremely useful.
A Two-Way Street
Integrating these ideas into your internships can be a meaningful change for both the company and the intern. The best part about developing soft skills is flexibility as even small changes can make a great difference in your employees’ experience. Whether it’s a short or long term internship, there’s a lot to learn for everyone depending on how much you’re willing to put into it.
If you’re struggling with capacity or bandwidth to work with interns, consider Riipen’s Virtual Internships. After using our marketplace to match with a variety of students for an internship, you can use tools like Milestones, Chat and Feedback tools to work with your interns and implement these tips efficiently to develop and measure soft skills.
About the Author
Yogmaya Singh is a fourth-year Entrepreneurship student at the University of British Columbia, and a Marketing Intern at Riipen. Driven by her need to explore and grow, she's always found herself working within roles that challenge her. She's interested in all things music, enjoys trying new foods and dabbling with art.