As my time as an intern comes to a close (along with my time as a graduate student– eep!), it has come time for me to offer my final reflections about the internship.

Frankly, kids, it was a really good experience for me!  But I have a sneaky feeling that no other IEDP student will ever want this exact internship, because most people come to  IEDP because they want the practical experience and opportunity to travel and see a new place that comes with the internship.

So why did I want to (and love) working from home for my internship?  Mostly because I had spend the last three years of my professional life on planes and away from home.  By the time I got to IEDP, I was pretty burnt out on long plane rides and navigating new places. The thought of being home felt like more of an adventure than seeing a new place.  Plus, I got to have the adventure of working with Amy Jo Dowd (the head of Save the Children’s education research division and one of my personal sheroes) and her team of smart young researchers at a new organization.

I was lucky to have had lots of experience working remotely by the time this internship materialized, so I didn’t feel intimidated by the prospect of working alone all day every day of the internship.  But despite this experience, I discovered that it’s one thing to become a remote worker with an organization you’ve already worked at for years and it’s another thing to join a new organization as remote worker… and it’s yet another thing to join a new organization as a lowly intern.  None of these circumstances are bad things, but I do think they require personal preparation and proactively getting in the right mindset.

In light of my now years of experience working remotely, I thought I could use this blog post to talk about some learnings I’ve had as a remote worker, since there are a lot of false impressions available online.  Like these google image searches I found of supposed remote workers which made me laugh out loud:

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In reality, it’s nothing like this.  It’s mostly like being in an office without the free coffee and the business casual dress code.  Although I do not recommend wearing your pajamas to work in your home office.

Anyway, without further ado, my official tips for working or interning remotely with a new organization:

DO

  • Be communicative: Because you’re not in the office with lots of face-to-face time with your new coworkers, it’s really important to be more communicative than you would be in a traditional work context.  Your coworkers won’t be able to see when you’re having a great time or when you’re struggling. You also can’t pop by their desks to just ask a quick question. All of your work communication will require a little more effort than it would in an office.  Be prepared to spend some extra energy giving updates, reaching out for support and asking questions when you have them. This is important beyond just talking about work, too. The tone of your relationships with anyone you work with will depend a lot on your demeanor in phone calls, skypes and email.  Making the effort to get to know these people a little bit and sharing some of your own life will go a long way.
  • Be proactive:  It’s important in any internship or new job to demonstrate your value and potential.  It’s especially important to make sure to set that impression of your initiative and drive early in the job or internship.  One important way to do this is to alert coworkers or your supervisor when you have the space in your workload to give them some extra support or take on a new task instead of waiting for them to assign you work.
  • Be flexible: Everyone you work with is bound to have a ton to do. Sometimes the unexpected happens (a coworker cancels a meeting because of an urgent matter they need to attend to, someone asks you to do something on a short timeline).  The way that you choose to respond to the unexpected will go a long way in setting a good impression with your coworkers.
  • Follow through: Because you’re working remotely, it’s going to be almost all on you to get things done.  You won’t have the same supervisory relationship you might have in an office and you’ll be mostly responsible for independently self-managing the things you’re asked to do.  Don’t use remote work as an opportunity to procrastinate. Hold yourself accountable the same way you would be held accountable in the social context of the office, because ultimately, you have the same obligations you would in an office.
  • Expect to learn a lot: Your new coworkers have these jobs for a reason – they’re almost certainly full of valuable experiences, life lessons and wisdom.  Take advantage of that and try to soak up as much of their knowledge as you can!

DON’T

  • Expect to be a priority: Probably everyone you work with is really busy and has a very full docket of important work.  They will be happy to have your help, but may not have the time or space to make you their priority.  This is especially true if you are coming in as an intern or an entry-level associate. And that’s ok!  You’ll still learn a lot and make important contributions to the team’s work even if you don’t get the warm fuzzies from your coworkers.
  • Expect to feel like you’re ‘part of the team’ if you’re an intern: Because you’re an intern who will only be on the team for a little while, because you’ll be working remotely and because the people you’re supporting are very busy, you may at times feel a little disconnected from the synergies of the team.  That’s ok! If you’re proactive and communicative and you do your best to do good work, you’ll offset some of this, but mostly it’s in the nature of both interning and remote work to feel a little disconnected. Don’t let it discourage you or stop you from doing your best work and adding value to the team.