Virtual Internships Step 3 - Onboarding

Virtual Internships Step 3 - Onboarding

Once selected, the next stage in the cycle for onboarding virtual interns is induction. This was an area where we saw considerable evolution from the traditional approaches to intern management. Organisations reported their struggles to replicate the bonding and socialising of the bootcamps that were core to traditional programmes. Indeed, the value of bringing virtual teams together face-to-face in the initial stages of their formation to build such trust and collaboration, is well established in the research on virtual working[1]. That said, virtual onboarding was also one of those areas where interviewees predicted that at least some of those innovations would likely endure as intern programmes returned to traditional or hybrid models. The onboarding phase of programmes are very important in assisting the intern to adjust to the job and organisation. Research evidence finds that role clarity, confidence in ability to perform in the role and social acceptance, are crucial in facilitating adjustment[2]. These elements are central to steps 3- onboarding and 4- the role of the line manager and mentor.


Being Onboarding Early

In those organisations that were more mature in their virtual internship programmes, the preparation of interns for their placements began before the beginning of the programme. For example, a number of organisations provided interns with tool kits to aid with tasks that would be required early in their programmes such as how to schedule a meeting with a colleague or manager. These ranged from simple how to lists to short video resources. Some organisations had dedicated learning platforms that included much of the information required by interns and also welcome videos from key stakeholders.

Line managers scheduled calls with all incoming interns in a number of organisations. The aim of these calls was to check in and give them a sense of what to expect from the programme. A template often provided those line managers with the steps they should complete, a timeline, and some prompts for the call. Intern programme managers also engaged with interns at this stage in many organisations.

A key consideration for programme designers related to the technological and other resource requirements for successful internship programmes. In many organisations a laptop computer was provided to interns for the duration of the programme. Some firms offered ergonomic consultations to interns to aid in setting up their home working space. Swag provided to interns was also adjusted to facilitate working from home. Examples included mouse mats, china mugs as opposed to travel mugs, branded headsets, and the like.



For the most part, the steps above all occurred before the beginning of the internship programme. The early days and weeks of programmes were very much focused on socialising interns into the organisation and equipping them with the knowledge and skills required to be successful in their programmes.

As noted above one advantage of the virtual format was the increased exposure to senior organisational leaders and in many organisations, the most senior organisational leaders contributed to induction programmes in a manner that was not possible in the past. Such contributions were seen as key in showcasing the importance of the programme, exposing interns to these leaders, and highlighting some key aspects of culture. These virtual sessions were an example of an innovation that many organisations said they would like to retain when they return to traditional or hybrid programmes. Culture was also introduced through social activities. These activities also helped to develop social relationships for the interns. Examples included virtual table quizzes, escape rooms and the like.

The final common element was a curated learning programme focused on providing interns with the tools and skills required to engage virtually with the organisation, such as how to organise a Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting, time management and resilience. These learning programmes also included content required to complete the technical aspects of their programmes. Organisations often leveraged content already available on learning platforms and worked with Learning and Development teams to curate such content.




  1. Begin onboarding in advance of start date.
    1. Provide detail on the process (welcome, vision & values, health & safety, site tours, access, software training).
    2. Schedule calls from line managers and intern programme managers.
    3. Arrange necessary resources- laptop, monitor, ergonomic assessment etc.
    4. Distribute welcome packs including swag.
    5. Provide a learning manual with details on where and how to access required resources, learning platforms and materials to engage with before commencing.
  2. Design engaging induction programmes
    1. Involve senior organisational leaders to welcome interns and showcase culture.
    2. Introduce organisational culture and history as an introduction to culture and values.
    3. Curate content to build skills and competencies to work virtually, to do their jobs and to develop personally and professionally.
    4. Design social activities to build relationships with other interns, project teams, their department and to share the culture.


[1] Attributes of Effective Virtual Teams: Rapid evidence assessment of scientific literature. CIPD Technical Report, May 2020

[2] Scott CPR, Dieguez TA, Deepak P, Gu S, Wildman JL, Onboarding during COVID-19, Organizational Dynamics (2021)