This is Remote Life: Embracing the Suite Life of Interning from Home
With only a handful of years of wisdom under my belt, I’ve come to realize that the world works in ways you never expect. The big “P” was a challenge that no one could have prepared for, but one outcome of 2020 surprised me in the best way possible: interning from home is kind of nice, and I want to share a few reasons why.
The Home Office™: Working Here, There, and Everywhere
I hear that Duo’s offices are the pinnacle of an open-office tech start-up floorplan, complete with cool wall art and unlimited fancy coffee. However, I’d like to think that my humble remote setup can still spark joy. For starters, it exists wherever I want it to be.
Although I primarily sit at my crammed (but cable-optimized!) desk, seven feet from my bed, some other Home Office choices include: at the living room/kitchen table with my other fellow WFH roommates, outside in a hammock under some trees, and in an air-conditioned university building when the heat becomes too much. I have the freedom to choose where I work best and the flexibility to continue working, even if I choose to move back to my hometown or spend a few weeks in a different city.
This luxury of comfort and mobility is facilitated by the way teams here at Duo adopted remote working. While the initial shift to remote was challenging, Duo workshopped processes and programs (like summer internships) that adapt to needs and feedback. I frequently find myself hopping on quick calls, sharing my screen to get quick troubleshooting advice or creating a collaborative board to brainstorm with my team.
Tools like chat programs, Webex, and Mural, when complemented with supportive management and an openness to learning new methods of working together, contribute dramatically to establishing digital best practices that create a healthy and collaborative work culture. These are changes with longevity — a third of the Product Marketing team works in places without any Duo offices, so these practices will continue even as buildings begin to open.
A Broader Scope: Variety is the Spice of Life
Speaking of chat programs and Webex, one of the greatest advantages of a digital-first internship is the variety of conversations, projects, and unique learning opportunities I’ve been able to experience.
This internship I set a goal for myself: overcome my fear of “coffee chats” and talking to strangers. There were definitely a few factors at play here, like re-learning post-quarantine social skills, but for the most part I was successful — driven by both the ease of setting up 30-minute Webex meetings and the knowledge that the people I reach out to in a direct message are excited to talk to me. As a result, I’ve learned that CS stands for Customer Success (and not just computer science), compiled a list of more than 50 pieces of life advice (a go-to question particularly around my 20th birthday), and honestly met a bunch of really cool people.
Being able to reach out across the organization also allowed me to dive into functional areas that interest me. For example, I’ve been able to explore the international marketing scene in ways I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to if I were sitting in the Ann Arbor office. I’ve been in meetings with people from London and Sydney to Canada and Japan, giving updates, working on campaigns, and generally growing a deeper understanding of markets beyond North America through firsthand experience, rather than feeling confined by the small office area I would’ve been assigned.
After a few months’ experience in the remote world, the number of digital experiences drastically expanded. At Duo, I was surprised to learn about the “Intern Learning and Development Budget” — and that’s on top of the pre-existing unlimited book fund. I’ve been able to attend specialized conferences, read recommended books, and even sign up for training and certifications without the significant costs of travel and time.
Imagine my surprise when I heard a fellow intern animatedly sharing her early-morning dance session that kicked off a virtual Customer Success Festival she was attending, all in week two of the Summer Internship. Duo hosted several virtual guest speakers, webinars, and learning sessions, and I somehow found myself interviewing Daniel Dae Kim for AAPI Heritage Month (first name basis, 100% bucket list accomplished). Suddenly, something I’d never even considered an option became a major part of making this internship memorable.
Breaking Barriers: Unlocking Opportunities and finding Connection
This summer cohort is the biggest at Duo yet — 26 undergraduate and graduate interns across both technical and non-technical roles. Remote internships have mitigated a lot of traditional barriers to work experience: cost of living in cities; logistics of leasing and housing; commuting; and even time zone challenges. In the cohort, people log in from New Jersey and New York to California, Texas, and… throughout the Midwest. For many, including myself, this is a first exposure to roles like technical writing, program management, and product marketing. It also opened the opportunity to co-op and get professional experience while taking classes in the winter and spring (shout-out to the three-person intern chat during hard winter months).
Feeling connected during the workday is a real challenge, and it takes more than beloved “meeting icebreakers” to fix. Rather, I’ve found that frequent, smaller interactions can help drastically humanize the WFH experience: quick messages, virtual working hours, drop-in lunch, and maybe even some happy hours putting our trackpad drawing skills to the test. As an intern cohort, we have our own chat channels, attend Design Thinking training together, and keep each other in the loop on our diverse projects. All of this, and more, felt more genuine than I had expected — even though only four of us are located near the Ann Arbor headquarters.
Reflections: The WFH Internship Experience and the Future of Work
In an ode to myself rediscovering and watching “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” I’d like to kick off this conclusion with a quote from the iconic 2005 theme song that aptly describes the remote work life:
“Here I am in your life, here you are in mine.”
As I enter week 24 of my second fully remote internship at Duo (they don’t call me a “senior intern” for nothing), I’ve come to appreciate many of the things working from home has brought to my attention. Overall, there’s a greater focus on work-life balance, building accessible experiences, and giving people more autonomy to decide for themselves how they work best. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a generation where technology has touched almost all aspects of my life, or maybe it’s because I’ve admittedly never worked a “real-life, in-person, 9-to-5 cubicle office job” before, but the shift online felt like a natural progression of where I would find myself.
In school I took a class on the future of work, reading articles about applying machine learning to customer service bots and discussing the implications of autonomous vehicles. We explored the different fields of application — healthcare, education, manufacturing, global economics, public policy — and zoomed out to see the greater (exponential) rate of growth of technology. It’s interesting to think that in January 2020 the future meant a looming workforce of robotics, AI, and automation, and only a few months later it shifted to mean finding a solution for the most human-centric needs for connection, collaboration, and balance.
While the Fourth Industrial Revolution is definitely still something to consider, I think in the closer future is a work world where in-person and online hybridize. Maybe in the coming months and years there will be a visible shift in office spaces. Maybe interactive calls and virtual experiences become the default, building for accessibility and opportunity. And maybe it’ll be led by the interns who know that it’s positive, healthy, and feasible because they’ve experienced it before. After all, sometimes the world works in ways you’d never expect.
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