What its like to undertake a virtual internship

May 16, 2020

Working from home has shown us all that employees are able to be just as productive sitting in their pyjamas in bed with a coffee in hand, as they are in a busy London office working 9-5. There is now no definitive point to when you close down your laptop, pack your bag and head for the train home. When do you switch off from the relentless pinging emails and say I’m done for the evening, knowing full well you are living the same day on repeat. Besides what else do you really have planned during the lockdown? With that said, companies such as Twitter have told their staff they can work from home “forever” after realising their work from home measures during the lockdown had been a success. Moreover, Facebook and Google have extended their work from home plan as “people are proving they can be far more productive working from home.”

In terms of internships, with everything moving online, companies are adopting digital platforms to facilitate virtual internships. So far at least 500 students are set to undergo internships in a remote set up. A few companies are also enabling virtual company tours via video conferencing to ease the learning process. With so many people successfully working from home, it’s prompted businesses to ask the question, do we really need workers in the office every day of the week? According to frontier economics, “with the reduced demand from commercial and industrial businesses scaling back their activities, electricity usage has dropped throughout the country meaning companies are saving a huge amount of money on workforces staying at home.” Will this change the way companies operate in the future?

Fashion Intern speaks to Holly West, who is currently undergoing an unpaid virtual internship for a travel guide start-up company.

Holly West – Intern

Tell us a bit about you?

I am a History and Ancient History graduate from the University of Exeter. I graduated with a first in 2018 and then took 2 years out to work, save money and very fortunately go and travel the world! Writing has always been a passion of mine, be it writing for the university newspaper, for my own blog, or for anyone that wanted to publish my work. It is a hard industry to break into, everyone wants to do it and you have to really stand out from the crowd or know people to get ahead. An absolute dream of mine would simply be getting paid to write. If I could travel the world, eat good food and be paid to write about it, I’d be happy. A good work-life balance is always something I would aspire to, and so getting get paid well enough to freelance in the future and choose where I could work from would be an ultimate goal. 

Who are you currently interning for and how did you get an internship there?

I am currently interning for a travel-guide company called Don’t Be A Stranger. They are a start-up, planning on launching their website and app this year – however, both have been put on hold due to COVID-19. I found the internship advertised on The Dots, which even without Coronavirus, was always set to be a remote position which fitted perfectly at the time as I was travelling around Indonesia. 

What is it like doing a virtual internship? 

It’s actually super easy and flexible, especially since I am not getting paid for it. Each week I have a video call with the editor, she fills me in on what the brand has been working on, and we discuss what I have done that week. Then we talk about which pieces to work on the following week (usually 2-3 articles), bits of research she wants doing, or additional tasks. I have a structure but it is very flexible, some weeks I will send over 2 articles, some weeks I’ll bash out 4/5. 

What does your daily routine now look like? 

So I am currently locked-down with my boyfriend and his family, all of which don’t have office-based jobs, which makes it quite difficult to stay motivated! Generally, I will get some breakfast in, watch the news, maybe do a quick home workout or have a walk and then get to do a couple of hours work before lunch. I often set up in the kitchen, or upstairs on the bed (I get cold sitting still for too long!). After lunch, I do a couple more hours before I go for an afternoon walk to get some exercise in and break up the day. Often after that work goes out the window and it’s time for a glass wine and a game of scrabble. Because I don’t have a full structure, I work on any given day I feel. Some weeks I will work all weekend and then take more days in the typical working week off, other days I will try and work a full Monday-Friday and enjoy the weekend, just to know what a normal 9-5 feels like! 

What does your WFH wardrobe look like? 

Although it would be so easy, I actively try and get dressed to do work, otherwise, it makes me feel tired or like I am not ready to get things done with my day. Before I start work I get dressed properly, but the clothes are often comfy because I wriggle a lot on my chair when I work. A pair of patterned wide-legged trousers and a white t-shirt, a pinafore and a cropped t-shirt etc. Some days when I really want to do exercise later that day, I’ll put on ‘activewear’ to work, so I have no excuse as I am dressed and ready for a HIIT.  

What do you eat during days in lockdown?

So I am a big foodie, and I love cooking. I often use cooking/baking as an excuse not to work! Generally, I am pretty healthy, other than the odd BBQ whilst the weather has been nice, and quite a lot of wine to get us through these ‘unprecedented times’. Breakfast is usually the same, banana porridge or eggs and avocado on toast. Lunch I often roast up a big batch of soup or make a falafel salad with a big mound of hummus. Dinner is always varied because I love to cook and I am staying with my boyfriend’s parents, I am paying my way by cooking dinner all the time – they tell me what they want and I rustle it up! My proudest moments have been making my own roti and flatbreads, and I love making a big batch of dhal – so simple but delicious!  

Do you ever take a ‘Netflix lunchbreak?’ and accidently find yourself immersed in 5 episodes of Tiger King?

I have got through a lot of TV during my time in lockdown – if the weather is even remotely grey, that’s it, it’s a TV day! I think because my internship is so no-pressure and isn’t tight with deadlines, it means I am prone to get sidetracked (but how good was Normal People and season 3 of Ozark though?!). I get that Monday feeling often and tell myself that this week I will treat it like an office job, but it is hard when life is so different from normal and everyone is going out for a mid-afternoon walk. One of my favourite ways of working is the Pomodoro Method – it breaks your work time up into small 25 minute chunks, rewarded with a 5-minute break each time. Once you have done 4 rounds of this you can chill for 30 minutes. It works a lot better for me to do tasks in short bursts rather than just telling myself to work for 5 hours. 

Has working from home made doing an ‘unpaid internship’ a more viable option, now that you don’t have to worry about paying out for travel and food?

Working from home and doing an unpaid internship has been such a better option for me. I live in the countryside with no real contacts in London save a few friends from university. The idea of getting an unpaid internship in London and having to shell out for trains, accommodation and food for weeks or months on end just isn’t financially viable and makes the whole idea of internships really exclusive. Working remotely means I can live at home, make money at my bar job (now furloughed), and gain the valuable experience I really need. Sometimes being unpaid means getting motivated is hard, I have been doing it for nearly 5 months now and to not get financially rewarded for all the hard work is difficult. But at the end of the day, it is important to remember that the experience and the portfolio building is what I really need right now, and with the ability to work remotely, it has given me great insight into what I want to do in the future, just minus the pay.