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Working from a distance, are virtual internships for better or worse?

College students nowadays are in for many unique learning experiences. For a number of learners, a stressful commute to and from school has been reduced to the time it takes to open and close their gadgets. Joining and leaving a class can be done in one click, and lively recitations have been swapped for discussion boards. 

Today’s internship experiences aren’t much different. Along with the suspension of face-to-face learning came the closing of many work sites. With still no foreseeable and definite end to the pandemic, companies now offer interns with many opportunities in spite of their location, individual mobility, and other factors that may have disadvantaged them in the past. 

But in the virtual internships’ pros,  there are certainly cons; working in a remote environment is an experience that varies from person to person. What was once a remedy to the pandemic reality is quickly becoming the future of work experience. However, only time will tell if that future can build an equally monumental transition from student to professional.

Unconventional opportunities

A notable appeal in many virtual internships is their flexibility. Work hours are nowhere near rigid for Melissa Guino (IV, DSM), who did her internship at a nongovernmental organization for businesses’ human resources unit. The output-based setup allowed her to work whenever she desired, “On a weekly basis, the interns do research assignments, secretariat work, written reports, and other necessary activities related to the job.” 

Initially, she was worried about underdelivering in her internship work. “Luckily, my company was very understanding and my supervisors were hands-on with us,” she notes, putting her worries at ease. Additionally, the aforementioned setup also does wonders for maintaining her work-life balance. “I was able to perform my tasks despite doing other things at school and at home. It’s an opportunity that [allowed] me to maximize productivity,” Guino continues.

Similarly,  Janine Siy’s (III, APC) stint with a food production and distribution company, which ran from October 2021 to February 2022, involved a slew of projects that didn’t feel hectic to her. She recalls her superiors “lessening any meetings I [had] to attend, but [still] made sure that I was present for the most crucial ones.” This gave Siy opportunities to balance her academics, personal life, and her obligations at the said company.

Apart from fulfillment of academic requirements, others like Angela De Castro (IV, CAM) took up an internship as a way to do something meaningful in their spare time. “[One day], I realized na wala akong ginagawa,” she explains, noting that she wanted to put herself in the corporate world. “I also realized that I should be doing something that’s inclined with my specialization.” A worthwhile opportunity came her way by taking a paid internship at a digital content agency which specializes and handles social media marketing, branding, and design for startups and small- and medium-sized enterprises. 

(I realized that I wasn’t doing anything.)

Another key advantage that virtual internships may provide is its remote nature, which allows interns to do away with the hassle of a daily commute. “[Noong face-to-face,] hindi ka pa [nakarating sa opisina], pagod ka na,” De Castro quips. But Siy is thankful that this burden is lessened when she took her internship virtually, “You don’t have to [spend money on your commute] to the office kasi you’ll be able to do everything online.” As pandemic restrictions loosened with Alert Level 1 being implemented in many regions in the country, this view is also being held by many Filipinos who worked from home during lockdown, as some employers and government agencies alike push for a mandatory return to on-site work. 

(You’re already tired even if you haven’t arrived at the office yet.)

In turn of the good and bad

Establishing oneself virtually is undoubtedly a daunting prospect. After all, nothing can truly beat the face-to-face setting. Getting to know people through video conferences lacks the ease of in-person interaction, but Siy was up for the challenge.

However, she laments that it wasn’t all untroubled initially. She clamors for the need to liaise more clearly and effectively to prevent miscommunication. “Baka ma-misunderstand ‘yung message mo kasi you won’t be able to talk to your boss kaagad like sa face-to-face,” she explains. This made it difficult for her to bond with her mentors and colleagues. But after cementing proper communication between herself, her superiors, and her colleagues, she remarks that “[the process] became smoother.”

(Your message might be misunderstood because you won’t be able to talk to your boss directly like in a face-to-face setting.)

To combat this, Guino believes that employers should check on their employees outside of work and sharpen communication skills over virtual gatherings. Likewise, Siy believes that any room for improvement in virtual internships best takes place in how one gets to know and to work with their mentors and colleagues. 

Improving the immersion

Unfortunately, not all companies are as well-prepared and compassionate in the remote work setting. As De Castro recalls an experience at a different internship she took, “[They would assume] you’re always on your phone or lagi ka nakaharap sa PC (personal computer) mo,” with most of her deadlines being after dinner or during the late hours of the night. Additionally, she recalls a time when she lost electricity at home during her interview with her current company; the rest of her interview was done over the phone. With that, she hopes that companies could be more lenient considering that unexpected moments like these could appear at any time. 

(They would assume you’re always on your phone or in front of your PC.)

Further, she believes that more companies that have unpaid internships should compensate workers. “You’re already paying for your education, and then some companies are just benefiting from you,” she remarks. Many Filipino interns online have shared horror stories of being exploited by companies as cheap labor for menial tasks, hampering their professional growth. In response, Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Bill No. 994, or the Intern’s Rights and Welfare Act of 2019. The act aims to not only protect interns from discrimination at the workplace; it also aims to enforce reasonable work hours. However, the bill has not yet been passed as of press time and remains at the committee level. 

Regardless, Siy supports having a bill specifically for protecting interns, noting its similarities to the mandate of the Commission on Higher Education that companies are expected to follow when accepting students with on-site internships. However, as companies also have their own policies on human resources, she hopes that institutions would put in their own effort to uphold interns’ rights regardless.

But as for whether or not a virtual internship is the way to go is a decision unique to the person. De Castro and Siy encourage future interns to take the opportunity if they have the mental, physical, and financial capabilities to prepare them for the limitations remote work can bring. “Iba talaga when you get to experience the work and apply the theories that you learned in school,” the latter shares. “Parang, it goes well together.”

(It’s different when you get to experience the work.)

Echoing these sentiments, Guino deems it as a great opportunity. “More than the added job experience on your credentials, it will equip you with different soft and hard skills that will [make you] future-ready.” After all—for what it’s worth—experience is everything, no matter the form. But lest we forget, the most valued experiences are grown in places that value the individual, not the struggle.

By Matthew Gan

By Marypaul Jostol

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