How to rock your remote internship
December 14, 2015

This guest post was written by Franz Vitulli, Product marketing guy at Human Made and one of the speakers at our London meetup. 

Two and a half years ago I started working at Human Made. It’s a relatively short time, at least compared to all the other things that I do and define me (I’ve been playing bass guitar for 16 years now, jeez!), but definitely represents one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. Human Made permanently changed how I look at work, life, and the integration between the two of them for the rest of my life.

Human Made is a WordPress agency. Simply put, we build websites with WordPress, but there’s more to that of course: we build websites with WordPress, we build products that use WordPress as their engine, we organise conferences on WordPress. Most importantly, we give back to the WordPress community.

WordPress is doing really well. It powers 25% of the web now (from 18% just a couple of years ago), meaning that its ecosystem is continuously grasping for new people.

At the same time, the WordPress industry is big on remote working. It’s one of the most talked-about topics at WordCamps. Many companies that play a significant role in the industry take pride in their flexible working culture. But how exactly do WordPress companies know if they’re hiring the right employee without constant face time?

The challenge becomes even harder when the potential new employee is new to the industry. As the technology/startup environment grows faster than ever, many college students, recent graduates and career changers want to jump on the bandwagon. And whilst many companies are shifting from working in a traditional office to location agnosticism, one of the best ways to test if a new employee is a good fit is still the good old internship.

Test-drive remote working

Remote working isn’t for everyone. Before you get started with your remote internship hunting, you need to figure out if you’re cut out for it.

Freelancing is a great place to start. When I was studying at university, I mostly made my money translating from English to Italian on a freelance basis for clients abroad. Having regular clients abroad has been a remarkable training ground for me – meeting deadlines and staying focused without being supervised by the constant presence of a boss is something that can be learned on the field.

Another awesome way to test-drive remote working is contributing to open source projects. WordPress provides developers, designers, but also content people, marketers and bloggers with the opportunity to collaborate remotely and ultimately find new friends and job opportunities. Just go to make.wordpress.org to find out more.

Make your application personal

Applying for a remote internship isn’t much different from applying to any other job, you just have to care more about some details.

If there is one reason why I think office life will become obsolete for some industries, it’s because most people in the office fake. They live a life they wouldn’t live if they could. Stuck in clothes they wouldn’t wear, faking excitement over an Excel file (!), pretending to like the work buddy they actually despise. The list could be endless.

Remote workers don’t need to fake. One of the most exciting things about remote working and location independency is that you can execute tasks at your own pace, in your own style, embracing your own self. That’s why most remote companies hire people, not another CV or another shiny LinkedIn profile.

It might sound like a catchphrase, but making the application personal will really make the difference. Do your homework on the person you’ll have to get in touch with, understand what they want or need, gather information on the company, see how they work and what they do. Whether you write a honest email or approach them at a meetup or conference, make yourself relevant. You won’t stand out with a Dear Sir/Madam cover letter and a .docx CV, so make things easier in advance for your future boss by developing an online voice and a personal brand; your Twitter profile along with a more specific page (GitHub, Dribbble, etc.), if you’re a developer, designer, programmer or engineer, go a long way.

Get into the company rhythm

Finding out how your new work buddies communicate is one of the first things you should do once you start your remote internship. The answer to the “how do you communicate remotely?” question is usually a list of software, but apps and tools don’t really do things on their own. There are tons of ways to use emails, chats, products and services. It’s easy to say “we use Trello and we love it”, but how exactly do you use it to get things done and avoid miscommunication?

At Human Made we don’t use emails as a primary mean of internal communication, we prefer Slack. We think of Slack as our virtual office, a place where we log in and say “good morning” when we start working and “catch you all tomorrow” when we’re done for the day. The cool thing about Slack is that it integrates with endless other services, so we need much fewer email notifications than usual. Also keep in mind that we work in synergy with the greater WordPress community, and both the global Making WordPress team and other local teams (i.e. UK WP Community and Italia WP Community) are Slack-based, so we’ve got both our company chats and the open source / contribution discussions in one place.

Slack is a team chat tool, so it’s not meant to be used for long updates that need comments, replies and that sort of stuff. For those, we use internal sites with a WordPress theme that has a post editor directly on the front end. Every time we have big company updates, internal reports, new ideas to share, or simple weekly updates, we post them on one of those sites.

We’re big fans of Trello as well, and we use it to track and assign tasks. I use Trello both for personal stuff and at work, and usually adopt a left-to-write approach: start from new ideas on the first column on the left, then move gradually to the right (accepted, working on it, ended but in progress, etc.) as I execute them.

We have conference calls on Zoom.us, on a weekly basis for each department or product, and a fortnightly team hangout.

Of course our communication paradigm is just one of the many possibilities. It works for us, and might need to get tweaked and adapted to make it work for you. As a new intern or employee on trial, what really matters is that you learn how your new team communicate internally and get used to it soon.

It’s all about the output

In a distributed team, responsibility and trust are extremely important. Nobody checks if you are at work, or if you have a computer in front of you. As long as tasks are done, deadlines are met and results are achieved. If you know how to deliver quality work, no one cares if you’re in a coffee shop or in your living room. It’s all about you and your choice to select the best spot.

Focus on the great things you can do

Remote working is attractive. The freedom of setting up your mobile office in a fancy coffee shop with just a laptop and a mouse is tempting. Taking commuting and even living in expensive cities out of the equation seems too good to be true. Having the opportunity to travel and work at the same time is mind blowing. But before you get excited, you have to be 100% sure that your primary intention is to do awesome things from wherever you want rather than just working from wherever you want.

If you’re up to the challenge, start small. The Internet is your friend, as the people who work remotely happen to like talking about working remotely. Scan all the communities of digital nomads and remote workers you can think of (from Facebook groups to dedicated products) and start creating your database of companies that hire remotely. Many of them don’t advertise themselves as a “remote company”, so don’t expect to find them all just by googling some relevant keywords. You’ll have to play it smart and hustle from the beginning of your job hunt to the moment when your boss offers you a full time position and beyond. Opportunities don’t just create themselves, you need to put yourself in the path for an opportunity to come towards you.

If you’re interested in learning more about working remotely, keep an eye on our blog, where we share a bit of everything on our experiences with tech conferences, WordCamps, open source contributions, roadtrips and more; check out Nomadbase, which is an experiment at visualising digital nomads on a real-time map built by a few of us at HM, and don’t forget we’re always interested in hearing from new talents in the WordPress ecosystem.