5 tips for successfully empowering your remote intern

What I learned from managing an intern who said good morning when I said goodnight

Remote working is on the rise.

Nearly 40% of U.S. workers are working remotely regularly. If this trend maintains and increases, how can we help the next wave of new hires (AKA your next intern) succeed when they take on the remote work challenge?

For nearly two years, I’ve worked remotely for about.me. During my time at the company, I’ve lived at home with my parents, spent a summer in New York City draining my bank account, and a month in Denver crashing at a friend’s place. Not to mention the little trips in between.

Now, I’m on Remote Year, traveling to and living in twelve cities across the globe in a year all while — you guessed it — working remotely.

This summer I was lucky enough to have an intern join my team. The catch: He was in San Francisco while I went from Peru to London to Prague during his time with us.

Here’s what I learned on how to make this kind of long distance relationship work and my tips for how you can empower your intern, no matter how many miles are in between the two of you.

1. Hire the right one.

Seems simple enough, yeah?

You and your intern are going to be miserable if you’re not a good match.

Hire the go-getters. The problem solvers. The ones with goals.

But how do I hire those “ones?”

You test them. What are their goals for the internship? Do they want to learn new things, or just use old skills to get through the internship? Are they stepping out of their comfort zone? Chances are, if they’re taking a bit of risk, they’ll be more likely to do whatever they can to succeed. They can’t just rest on their laurels here.

If you hire correctly, you can help them achieve their goals. It’s important for an intern to come out of their experience with outcomes. Things they can point to. Not just for their resume, but for them.

Remote interns should be autonomous and proactive. They need to be able to think as if they’re the you when there’s no you.

Regardless of if your intern is remote or not, you want this kind of person on your team.

2. Communicate clearly.

Know what you want, how you want it, and when you want it. Clarify the priorities. Don’t leave an intern guessing what they’re supposed to do. Before the intern arrives, create a wiki for your site (Notion or Trello work well). Provide the proper resources an intern needs to do their job before they have to ask it.

The catch here is not holding their hands or providing a step by step guide of exactly how you want everything. That gives them very little freedom to get it right.

A note to interns: If your manager doesn’t give you the information you need, you need to ask for it.

3. Trust them.

In the hopes that you’ve communicated a task clearly, trust them with it. Don’t micro-manage. Let them feel what it’s like to get something right, or fail and then have to re-do it.

Trust them to get their sh*t done. The good ones won’t take advantage of your trust.

It’s important to treat your intern like an employee. Assign them tasks that you would do. Don’t dumb it down. Don’t enforce a hierarchy. Show them what it feels like to be a part of a team.

By trusting your intern, they get ownership over the work they’ve done. They’ll come out of the internship experience with something to point to and say “I did that.”

4. Show them the value of time.

When you’re working in different time zones, you just can’t take time for granted.

Schedule meetings. Stick to those meeting times. Be a good example. Don’t waste their time and they won’t waste yours.

5. Be consistent for them.

Schedule a weekly check-in. See if they need anything before you sign off for the day. Have rituals they can rely on.

All-hands meetings are not enough. An intern needs face time. Make sure they have the time they need to address questions or issues before it’s too late.

Listen to them. Have a laugh. Ask about their weekends. Make sure they are on track with their goals for the summer. Use this space to get to know them.

Shoutout to my remote intern, Quinton Peppin. 👊