Like many others, we are now almost five months into a remote work environment, a shift that continues to require flexibility, creativity, and commitment from our team. We have all had to adjust and adapt to working differently in a COVID-19 world. Beyond the daily impact on our normal work routines, the current extended period of telework also called into question the viability of some of our traditional talent management programs, like our summer internship program. Going into this summer, the simplest path would have been to cancel our intern program, given our inability to conduct it in person. The Wealthspire team, however, felt it was imperative that our summer internship program be preserved in 2020, both for the benefit of the interns and for the value the program has created for our organization.
Over the years, every part of our organization has found tremendous value in our internship program. It gives our local offices an opportunity to collaborate with the next generation of financial professionals and has been a great source of talent in many other internal departments of the firm. Despite the obvious challenges of the current environment, this is what drove us to remain committed to conducting an intern program, even if we knew if would look and feel different than the past.
So, how did we approach our internship program this year?
Our internship programs have been a success, in part, because of the diligence and expertise of our intern coordinators: Zach Gering, Jenn Moss, Chris Owens, Karl Stiegmann, and Crystal Wipperfurth. This summer was no different. When confronted with obstacles, our intern coordinators responded with solutions.
Early on, our intern coordinators, recognizing we could not work with this particular intern class in person, began planning for the onboarding and training of all interns in a remote environment. As expected, one major challenge in this remote paradigm was planning and executing on all the logistics necessary for our interns to work from home and connect with all of our systems and people. This required extra upfront work by HR and technology, and really challenged us to rethink our overall employee onboarding experience. Coordinators across multiple regions spoke regularly ahead of the program start date, which led to more cross-regional collaboration than if coordinators were focused solely on the interns in their respective offices. It was a true team effort to ensure that the interns were prepped and ready to hit the ground running on day one.
What were some of the challenges of a remote internship program?
With technology in place and general onboarding of our interns accomplished, the next primary challenge our program coordinators faced was making sure the interns were exposed to our typical robust program of training. We want every participant in our intern program to get broad exposure to all aspects of the Wealthspire business and structured training sessions play a big role in that. Surprisingly, we found that we were able to quickly pivot our portfolio of training experiences that had historically been conducted in-person to virtual training sessions. We also quickly recognized that the virtual nature of the training enabled all of our interns across multiple locations to interact and collaborate more effectively than in years past.
As training progressed and the group began to do real work, our coordinators needed to find ways to keep our interns connected to supervisors in a virtual environment. Unlike in-person work, a remote environment does not provide the same level of transparency that would normally enable supervisors to directly see what interns are working on during the day. To remedy this, we staffed the interns on small teams that were responsible for assigning them work and mentoring them throughout the projects. These small teams created a tight working bond that kept the interns integrated with their colleagues despite the physical distance and the fact that they never set foot in a Wealthspire office.
More broadly, we anticipated running our intern program virtually would lead to numerous logistical challenges. But in speaking to our coordinator team, I was surprised that very few appeared. In fact, quit the opposite – many new opportunities to collaborate across our organization were created by the virtual environment.
Realistically, both our interns and our team would have preferred the engagement that comes with an in-person environment. But given our current working remote paradigm, we were thrilled with the outcome of our 2020 internship program and gathered many positive takeaways.
First, we discovered that not only were there still meaningful ways for interns to participate and contribute in a virtual environment, but there were even a few unforeseen advantages – collaboration became much simpler between geographic locations, and video communication tools proved especially useful in certain cases of learning and document preparation. Working remotely made it easier to engage with a larger number of presenters across all areas of the firm, something we may not have done as extensively in-person and one of the interns’ favorite aspects of their time here.
Second, it was rewarding to see the program succeed in part due to the firm’s combined support in a time when everyone has their own priorities. It is powerful for our people at all levels to see us continually invest in our talent.
Finally, to see the group of interns come together through daily video chats and hear about how well they worked and socialized together was gratifying. Because no employees were pulling them into meetings or physically occupying their time, the group became closer than they might have in person.
By taking on this program, it has also given us a strong framework for remote employee onboarding and working which will have lasting effects – even after COVID-19 subsides. It has positioned us more confidently to embrace remote work on a broader scale in the future.
We salute our entire 2020 intern class for their excellent work and contributions to our team this summer and want to acknowledge the many others who made the program such a success these last couple months.
Thank you again to our intern coordinators – Zach Gering, Jenn Moss, Chris Owens, Karl Stiegmann, and Crystal Wipperfurth.
Thank you to those in our Human Resources and Technology departments for their help in making the work from home environment successful.
This experience gave me a glimpse not only into the extraordinary talent on the horizon for RIAs, but also into what our team is capable of when we come together around a common goal.