12 tips for thriving in a virtual placement
We use the term ‘Virtual Placement’ to mean any type of work experience that doesn’t require you to be physically located in the placement providers premises or place of business; your placement provider might be just around the corner or in another country.
Undertaking a virtual placement – working remotely from home rather than in a physical workplace – can present challenges, alongside benefits. Read on for some tips for how to succeed in the remote working world.
Prepare for your placement
Your first meeting: Take time to prepare for your first meeting with your placement supervisor. Think about the role, and write a list of any questions that you have beforehand. These might include finding out about expectations, project tasks, deadlines, who else you might be working with, and working hours.
Check how you will appear: If you are meeting online using a video platform such as Zoom, check your camera beforehand so that you know how you will appear on screen and what can be seen in the background. Use a virtual background if you feel that would look more professional. Also check how your name appears before the meeting. Think about what you are going to wear, remember this is a professional meeting.
Communication methods: Find out from your supervisor the preferred methods of communication in the workplace – email, phone, text, Zoom, Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, chat... Is there any training available in any technology you are expected to use? Check that the equipment you have available is suitable to carry out the role, discuss any issues you might have with Wi-Fi connection.
Your home workspace: Set up your home workspace if possible – which might not be easy if you don’t have much space or suitable furniture. Ideally, sit at a table/desk rather than on the sofa. Let your manager know if you have difficulties with your homeworking situation such as not having access to a quiet space on a regular basis.
Your placement is underway
Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions as you need to. It can be easy to become stuck with a task when sat on your own at home, when in a physical workplace you would simply ask a colleague. Perhaps arrange to have regular check-ins with your manager or a colleague in your team. Ask for feedback on your work, so you know you are on the right track.
Meeting etiquette: In big meetings there will often be an etiquette, for instance individuals are asked to raise their hand before speaking, and to keep microphones off unless they are speaking. You may be asked to use the chat function to ask questions or to make a point. Unless mentioned otherwise, you will be expected to have your camera on as this make communication much more effective.
Take a break: Regular breaks from your screen are important – set a timer to remind you if necessary, get up, walk about, make a drink, and give your eyes and brain a rest. Make enough time to have lunch, to go outside and get some fresh air every day. These seem simple and obvious actions but they are crucial to maintaining our wellbeing.
Don’t hide difficulties: You may find you are struggling to meet a target on placement for all sorts of reasons. Don’t hide this, but let your manager know as soon as you realise this might be an issue - they would much prefer to know about any hitches sooner rather than later.
Don’t neglect the social: In a virtual work environment it is easy to just focus on work. However, building working relationships is key to a successful placement experience, and the more social aspect of work is very important. Find out about any opportunities to get to know people in your placement setting socially.
Reflect: Pay attention to what you are doing on placement, think about keeping a reflective diary. What are you learning, what skills are you using and developing, what are you finding difficult and challenging? What feedback are you receiving? What are you finding out about the organisation and the jobs that people do there? This will help you identify how you have developed during the placement and will be useful to refer to when applying for jobs in the future.
Finishing your placement
Handover: Make sure you are clear what you need to handover to your manager at the end of your placement – this might include the outputs of a project or a report, but also any equipment you have borrowed.
Stay connected: Think about asking your manager or supervisor if they would act as a referee for any future job applications. Ask to connect with people you meet during your placement on LinkedIn, you never know when these contacts might be useful.