In the spring of my sophomore year, I applied to twenty internships before the pandemic struck. And I even wrote an article on that experience. As COVID-19 suddenly closed the world down in March, it also closed the doors to the internship opportunities I had applied for. By the time I received my fifteenth cancellation email, I was angry that all of my hard work amounted to nothing and I was disappointed that I would not get the chance to finally work in my field of study (film and television). But just like the old saying goes, “Everything happens for a reason.”
Spending the summer quarantining at home actually led me to complete a virtual internship as a teaching assistant for a filmmaking summer camp, which I used to be a student at. This became one of the most rewarding experiences I have done in college because I got to give back to an organization I love while networking with professionals in the film industry. But my internship had many unforeseen challenges that came with the new, and untested, virtual work environment. There are lots of things I wish I knew before the pandemic hit and before my internship started. The next ten items are just a few of the things I wished someone had told me, and why my internship would have been easier if I had known them.
- I still need to show up to work on time, even if work is a zoom call.
When working via Zoom, I didn’t feel like I was really working. Because it felt so casual, I would consistently log on five, ten, even fifteen minutes late to our daily Zoom meeting. This quickly began to reflect poorly on me and logging on late became disruptive. This was ultimately a very awkward and embarrassing phone call to have with my boss later. No matter where the “office” is, work is still work and I was expected to be on time. Besides, five minutes of sleep never made a difference anyway.
- Communication is an essential skill.
If you can’t communicate your thoughts or ideas clearly over email, or in two sentences over a Zoom call, you are going to have a really difficult time doing your job. My email skills weren’t very strong when I started my internship and this lack of communication quickly caught up to me because I started to fall behind on my responsibilities. To get over this, my rule of thumb became to send emails to my supervisor at least twice a day. I would send one in the morning and one at the end of the day, that way everyone was kept happy and in the loop.
- Stay focused.
In a virtual workplace, there was no one making sure I was staying organized and on task. This independence was nice because it meant that I could work at my own pace. But this also left me open to constant distraction. Checking the news in other tabs or answering emails while on a zoom call was never a good idea. I missed important information and risked getting caught in front of ALL of my coworkers. I could have avoided any potential embarrassment by staying focused during work hours and saving the Twitter time for after 5:00 pm.
- Get dressed every morning.
Working from home made it difficult to stay in a work mode, especially if all I wore were sweats. Not to mention wearing pajamas every day can actually have negative mental health effects. To keep the productivity flowing and stay in a good headspace, I decided to greet each day with a killer girl-boss outfit— that way I was physically and mentally ready to work by the time my day started.
- Create a work schedule.
In my virtual internship, there was no conventional workday. I just had to meet all of my responsibilities on time. However, this also meant that I could procrastinate starting a task until 11:30 at night. But after doing this for three weeks, I quickly ran out of steam and was falling behind on work. I ended up having to find the discipline to create a 9 to 5 day for myself and stay on task until all of my work was done. I really wish I had just downloaded a planner app from the beginning of my internship instead of having to change my workflow entirely halfway through. This would have made my life much easier.
- Mute your notifications.
During a Zoom meeting, I was often asked to share my screen to project slideshows or show documents. The problem was that while my screen was on display, so were all the texts and email notifications I received. Luckily, it was never sensitive information. But, on the whole, it would have been much more professional to mute my notifications before sharing.
- Stay hydrated.
Since my main responsibilities were as a teaching assistant, I had to do a LOT of talking over Zoom. After my first week, my voice was actually a little hoarse. So, to keep my pipes in good condition I kept a large bottle of water by my desk at all times. I could keep talking for as long as I needed and stayed awake even while teaching 8 a.m. classes (which was an accomplishment).
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If I had a question at the beginning of my internship, I would just keep my mouth shut and hope for the best. I just couldn’t muster the courage to speak up on a Zoom call because I felt like I was interrupting the conversation. Unfortunately, this meant that I was in the dark on many of my first tasks. Within a week, this had become a major problem and I was unprepared for work every day. Thankfully, when I finally opened up to my supervisor about this problem she completely understood and made me feel much less nervous about asking for help.
- Stretch after work.
Sitting for four to six hours at a desk and looking at a computer screen actually put a fair amount of strain on my body. I got headaches from my computer’s brightness and at times the entire lower half of my body fell asleep. Luckily for me, to fix this problem I had the world of YouTube yoga tutorials to explore after work. I came to look forward to my post-work stretches and it even helped me destress after particularly chaotic Zoom calls.
- Reach out and send thank you notes when your internship is over.
Even though I was online for one hundred percent of my internship, I still felt like I was part of a team. So, when my internship ended, I missed my students and co-workers. I decided to send a thank you note to my boss and all of my co-workers about two weeks after my last day. They liked my thank you note so much that my boss invited me back as a guest speaker for their students in the fall. I would have never gotten this opportunity if I had not reached out.