Remote work is ruining internships. Here are 8 ways employers can improve the experience for young workers.


While many full-time workers prefer remote work, one group of typically young professionals is still struggling to learn the ropes from afar: interns. 

Instead of spending the day in engaging activities at the office, many interns have been forced to spend the past two summers sitting in front of a computer, alone for eight hours, thereby souring their attitude toward the internship experience. 

According to a new analysis from Glassdoor Economic Research, about 70% of intern mentions of remote work between October and December 2020 in US Glassdoor reviews were negative. As the chart below indicates, the jump in intern discontent from previous months breaks from the attitudes of full- and part-time workers.

Lauren Thomas, an economist and data scientist at Glassdoor, said that many crucial elements of internships — learning and development, onboarding, mentorship, and many social aspects of work — have "all been things that have really suffered in the remote-work environment." 

"It's a bit of an underestimate to say some interns are unhappy with remote work," Thomas added. "There's definitely been a huge increase in negative mentions."

To ensure this year's class of interns gets the most out of the experience, Thomas and other career experts said now is the time for employers to evaluate a variety of factors around their companies' internship programs, especially if they're remote.

Improve the onboarding experience

Businesses can try to make sure interns have a smooth internship by first taking a look at their onboarding. Thomas said employers should "provide interns with the equipment they have in a timely fashion" and "give them schedules so that they know what to do." 

Toni Frana, the career services manager at FlexJobs, said onboarding should be "warm and welcoming" in addition to getting the intern all set up. This could include logistics like ensuring they have the necessary software and logins.

Clear communication is also a main component during the onboarding process. For instance, Frana said companies can ask how the intern wants to communicate, such as whether they want to talk through emails or communications software.

Training opportunities

Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume, said training is a key area where employers can improve internship programs. Many companies have been working remotely for two years but still fall short when it comes to giving remote interns the tools they need to succeed, Augustine said. 

She added that there are lots of easy and affordable online options that companies can use. It can be as simple as saving relevant recorded meetings or using the screen-share feature to walk interns through the steps of a task. 

"Everyone really needs to reevaluate their training," Augustine said. "How much training are you doing? Have you really formalized it, written it out, or created a schedule of some sort? How are you involving other members of your team in really fostering this young individual talent?"

Know the job description

Aliza Licht, the author, and host of the career-development podcast "Leave Your Mark," said it's important that employers have a clear scope of an intern's tasks and a plan for what an intern should get out of the program.

Even before remote work, plenty of interns was sitting around waiting for assignments. With remote work, it's even easier for them to end up doing nothing.  

"Make sure it's a meaty job versus just handing off busy work," Licht said. "If you're not in the office and you're on a computer and no one is seeing you, it's easy to be out of sight, out of mind." 

Offer mentors 

Just because remote interns might be working alone from a college dorm room or from their homes doesn't mean they have to figure out the position or company alone. Employers can give interns another point of contact beyond a supervisor by assigning mentors. 

Augustine said mentorship goes hand in hand with other training opportunities and programs that create a company culture in general. Mentors can help them get oriented to work and come away from the program with specific career advice. 

Frana also mentioned a mentor or work buddy as a good idea for interns — someone with who the intern can ask questions and offer support. 

Communication is key

Thomas stressed the importance of companies overcommunicating with interns. She said it's important "especially given that they don't have the same level of experience and know-how about the office environment that older employees or more experienced employees might have."

If interns are feeling unhappy with their experience, "sometimes it's just a matter of really nailing down the communications expectations, and that can make a difference," Frana said.

Explore other teams

In remote internships, young workers often end up interacting with only their manager and direct teams, Licht said. But exploring other parts of the company is an important part of learning how a company functions. 

Licht said interns should have coffee chats with employees across different departments to help them put the pieces together. Internships are also educational experiences, so it's important to connect the work with the bigger picture at the company. 

"Interns are the next generation of hires," Licht said. "So giving them a good experience, maybe they'll be someone you end up hiring at your company."

Make time to socialize

Augustine said companies need to build camaraderie to create successful remote internships. She encouraged managers to add an extra 10 minutes to all meetings for casual conversation and checking in. 

"You have to work harder to create genuine interactions," she said. "You have to create those opportunities that you would have gotten if you both were in the elevator together or both in the break room."

Thomas suggested that companies can offer virtual events, such as a fireside chat with the company CEO. She added virtual game nights as another possible option.

Recognize your interns' accomplishments

Managers don't have to wait until a certain time to recognize the efforts of their interns, Frana said. They can "reward and praise the intern from the beginning."

She suggested emailing them a note about their good work or giving them a shout-out during team meetings early and often throughout the internship.

"Positive recognition really can reinforce strong work habits and show the intern that they're headed in the right direction," she said, "which can be really motivating." 

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