The end of the academic year is usually a time of transition, with college students and recent graduates entering the workforce as interns and new hires. But in 2020, this looks very different from previous years. With many companies asking their employees to work from home at least until the fall or into 2021, the company office is not likely to be the hub of intern and new hire activity it once was. But this doesn’t mean you need to cancel your internship program. It just might take a little reframing to transition it to a remote setting. 

Good news: Early career network Handshake found that 84% of students would consider a remote job or internship, and 3 in 4 students say that they are set up and able to do a remote internship from home. 

In this two-part series, we’re exploring how companies can best support their intern and recent graduate new hires. In the first article, we looked at how to set up a remote internship program. In this post, we’ll look at the skills your interns and new hires are most likely to need when they join your company.

5 skills your interns and new grads will need to succeed in a remote environment

1. Written and verbal communication

Despite the fact that they’ve grown up in a digitally connected world, the majority of Generation Z employees (those born roughly between 1995 to 2010) prefer to communicate at work via face-to-face conversations according to research by Robert Half. Members of Gen Z tend to thrive on genuine relationships with authority figures, so it’s important for managers to prioritize communicating in an authentic and meaningful way with their youngest employees. In a remote setting, this may involve leaning more heavily on video and phone calls rather than messaging or emails to ensure these employees feel they’re getting sufficient one-on-one, real-time communication with their manager.

Generation Z employees have grown up writing text messages and social media posts, but they may not be familiar with the conventions of writing in a business setting. Abbreviations, emoji, and a lack of punctuation may be commonplace in social media, but they can come across as unprofessional in workplace communications. For example, Udemy’s 2019 Workplace Boundaries Report found that 37% of employees believe their coworkers are too informal on chat and messaging.

Employers may find that offering training on written business communication helps interns and recent graduate new hires adapt their writing style to the work environment.

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2. Handling difficult conversations

While interns and new hires may prioritize verbal communication, they likely don’t have much experience discussing difficult topics or handling confrontation in a constructive way. This is a skill many people struggle to develop — research by mentoring platform Bravely finds that 70% of employees avoid difficult conversations at work and 53% of employees handle toxic situations simply by avoiding them.

Since an internship or new graduate role will likely be an introduction to workplace communication, it’s important to equip these employees with the skills they’ll need to feel comfortable discussing difficult topics. Udemy instructor and communication coach Andrea Wedell writes, “I’ve learned that we tend to build these conversations up in our minds. They take on an outsize role in our thoughts, causing us to ruminate and stress outside of work. But when we make the commitment to engage in these difficult conversations, we have the ability to move forward, both in the specific situation and in our careers in general.”

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3. Giving and receiving feedback

Growing up with the instant feedback loop of social media has led Generation Z to expect regular feedback on their performance. According to a study by Future Workplace, 25% of Generation Z desire regular feedback while only 3% want annual performance reviews. This means that managers will need to prepare to engage their interns and recent graduate employees with regular check-ins about their performance.

While these employees are likely to want regular feedback, they may find it challenging to receive feedback in a work setting for the first time since it differs from what they’ve grown accustomed to at school. They may also find it difficult to provide feedback about their manager, peers, and employer without a little extra support.

The Feedback Is Fuel course provides a framework for giving feedback, helps learners develop a growth mindset associated with giving and receiving feedback, and reduces the fear and anxiety around feedback.

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4. Focus & productivity

Interns and recent graduate new hires have grown up with the internet and social media — the answers to questions are just a quick search away and their phones are constantly available as sources of information, entertainment, and companionship. But phones are also a source of distraction. The Udemy 2018 Workplace Distraction Report found that 69% of younger workers say checking their personal device interferes with their concentration. Millennials and Gen Z are also the most likely generations to describe themselves as distracted at work: 74% say they’re distracted, 46% say it makes them feel unmotivated, and 41% say it stresses them out. 

Of course, in the current setting with record numbers of people working from home, distraction can come in all shapes and sizes. As workforces have gone remote, employees say their top distractions are:

To help interns and new hires learn to minimize distractions and improve their focus — no matter what their work setting — consider training to help them build these skills. The Udemy Workplace Distraction Report found that 70% of employees believe that training can help people learn to block out distractions and become more productive. There are a number of courses available in Udemy for Business to help employees develop skills like overcoming procrastination, prioritizing work, and creating systems to boost productivity.

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5. Stress management

With the current uncertainty in the world and the isolation many people are feeling due to social distancing measures, most people are experiencing more stress. For your interns and new hires, this may be exacerbated since they’re also adapting to a new work environment and expectations around their performance. 

Stress can harm us in many ways, including lowering neurogenesis or the creation of new cells in our brains. Low neurogenesis has been linked to depression and anxiety. When we reduce stress, we can boost optimism, youthful energy, and lust for life, which helps keep employees happy and engaged at work. 

Interns and recent graduates may not yet recognize the symptoms of stress or may not have developed strategies to manage their stress levels. These are critical skills that will benefit them in their personal and professional lives.

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The skills you encourage your interns and new hires to develop will help them succeed in their current roles, but it goes beyond that. By promoting learning and skills development, you’re helping these young employees develop a growth mindset that will help them be successful well into the future.

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