When I started my internship as a software engineer at Coursera amidst the pandemic this fall, I was excited to finally have a chance to work from home. Getting an extra hour of sleep and skipping the brutal winter commute in Toronto were things I had only dreamed of in previous internships. I thought to myself that there was finally a silver lining to being in lockdown. As the term progressed I soon discovered that working from home was not as easy as I’d thought. The two biggest hurdles I faced were feeling isolated and managing work-life balance.
As I started to settle into the internship the feeling that something was missing slowly crept up on me. I realized that what was lacking were the face-to-face communication and lively atmosphere of an office setting. What I previously took for granted, like taking a walk to get coffee with a teammate, to things I’d thought were bothersome, like office background noise, I now sorely missed. The physical distance made a significant difference. The dead silence after leaving a Zoom meeting served as a stark reminder that I was sitting all alone in my parents’ basement.
Remote work doesn’t have to be lonely. At Coursera I learned there are many ways to bridge the distance. My manager asked me to organize and host one of our team’s bi-weekly socials. It also happened to be the first team social that I would be attending. At the time, I had only spoken to the other engineers on my team in one-on-ones or very briefly during our team’s standup just to give updates on my project. Luckily for me, my team was receptive to my social event, where we shared our desk setups, cracked jokes, and played a game. It was at this social and the ones that followed that I was really able to bond with the other members of my team.
Bonding with the team made me feel more confident and integrated. This newfound confidence made me more comfortable in reaching out to them for help or asking for a quick Zoom call to talk through a problem. This was especially helpful when I was facing a problem that wasn’t so easily explained through text-only channels like Slack. Using Zoom to walk through the problem with another engineer via screen share proved to be a great way to simulate the in-office “white-boarding” experience.
Making an effort to go to social events, whether it’s with your team, the intern cohort, or even the whole company, really helps combat the feeling of isolation. The same applies for scheduling recurring one-on-ones with other team members and fellow interns. Organizing and participating in company activities also gives you a chance to stand out and let your personality shine.
No longer feeling so secluded, I began to notice that my work and home life were blending together. Without a commute there was no clear way to mark the start and end of the work day. During my time at Coursera I picked up a few tricks to overcome this.
For starters, it’s a good idea to create a schedule: Start work, take your lunch, and sign off at the same time everyday. This will confine your working hours to the same time frames each day. Second, keep your home office in a different room from your bedroom. While not an option for some, if it is possible this can be a great way to divide your home and work environments so it doesn’t feel like you’re sleeping in the office. My final suggestion is to step outside of your home office every so often. Going for walks to take a break was a great way to get a change of scenery. While fresh air is the best, just getting up from your workstation and walking around your living space works too.
Despite the challenges that come with working remotely, I really enjoyed my experience as an intern. I was able to grow as a software engineer by learning how to adapt to the new normal while honing my technical skills. It took some getting used to but working from home can be just as fulfilling and effective as working in an office. I’m thankful for the experience I had and the help I received along the way to get the most from my remote internship.
About the author: Nichalus is a senior Computer Science student from Toronto. He interned at Coursera from August to December 2020.