Supervising interns in a virtual environment: Five tips to keep interns engaged

By Rick Kempinski | May 22, 2020

This post is the second in a three-part series on how to ensure a successful virtual experience for interns and supervisors. Read the first post here.

Summer interns will be arriving at agencies in the next few weeks and, as their supervisors, you will need to keep them engaged and working effectively. It may be the first time these interns have worked in a traditional office and, in the current situation, they must navigate their virtual internships. Ensuring they feel connected to your team and your agency’s work is key to helping them work effectively. Here are five tips for engaging your interns throughout their programs:

  1. Include interns in important meetings, even if just to observe. Attending these meetings can enhance their understanding of your office’s work and strategic priorities, and how both align to the agency’s mission. It also introduces them to important players and the major decision-makers.
  2. Assign interns specific long-term projects. This responsibility will keep them engaged with their work. Whether it’s researching relevant news articles or responding to external stakeholders, give your interns responsibility for at least one or two activities or tasks that they need to work on daily or weekly.
  3. Have interns routinely update their teams on their work. Adding time to team meetings for interns to present updates on their projects ensures they’re held accountable for their performance and shows your team’s support. This also gives them opportunities to practice and hone their written and oral virtual presentation skills. 
  4. Always attend scheduled check-ins. Consistent interaction between you and your interns shows you’re invested in their experience, committed to their growth and development, and value their work, so be sure to attend check-ins as scheduled.
  5. Provide regular, ongoing performance feedback. The only way interns will know if they’re on the right track is through your feedback. Schedule time to let them know what they’re doing well and what they need to improve. Gain an understanding of their perspectives and ask what you can do to improve their experience.

More resources for supervising remote interns

The Partnership encourages agencies to look to the Virtual Student Federal Service—an eight-month remote internship program managed by the State Department that offers students the opportunity to work from wherever they are—for additional information on how to manage virtual interns.

Nora Dempsey, senior advisor for innovation at VSFS, said the secrets to the program’s success throughout the past 10 years are “a combination of saying yes, staying flexible and always answering emails with kindness.” She suggested regularly video chatting with interns to keep you both connected and energized.

The Partnership’s blog also has more resources for supervising remote employees including, How to supervise interns in a virtual environment: onboarding and orientation and Agency resources for managing remote teams.


Rick Kempinski