Dana-Maire Knetsch, third year student studying BSc Fashion Management, has recently completed her Diploma in Professional Studies placement year with Nike. In the shadow of a global pandemic, she found her role and duties with the brand much changed. She adapted to this new way of working and was invited to speak at the annual BUTEX Conference, exploring ‘Virtual Mobility & Student Perceptions of Online Mobility Experiences’. We caught up with Dana to find out how she successfully navigated working I this difficult climate.
Hi Dana – firstly, congratulations for being chosen to speak at the BUTEX conference! How did your placement experience impact this decision?
The BUTEX Conference itself is set up to help the mobility of students to different countries, universities, and internship exchanges. Butex was intrigued by how I started my internship in person and then had to transition into a digital working environment. I started my DiPs year as normal; I was introduced to the campus and role, for the first half of my internship I was physically in the office. When March 2020 came, Nike were really cautious and closed the office early on. After joking with my colleagues about not seeing each other again on the Friday, we received a message on Monday to let us know that we were not allowed on site until further notice! The focus of the session was to find out whether virtual internships can add value to an experience, and how students feel about this version of career building.
How have you found the difference between online vs offline internships?
My first question was: how will I continue my learning and my corporate cultural experience, and personally interact with the team? I noticed we were having more meetings than usual. In reality, I was able to consider and include colleagues situated all over the world in my presentations. I learned how all these different places and their staff approach the online space. Such as how they prepare for an online meeting, and how they may approach asking and answering queries. All this brought a whole new worldly and personal dimension to my cultural learning, which was enriching. We shared work but also regional news updates, adding an extra layer of connection and window into peoples’ situations.
It sounds so simple, but the need for breaks is so important. You realise how valuable it is to step away for a short while.
Also, the general office vibes are something I missed. Corporations often put a heavy emphasis on the office culture and design to grow a team and brand values. At home, we do not have the chance to be invited to develop team working in the tactility of the physical space together. In the office, you’re more likely to be aware of other things going on. When overhearing conversations about projects and general gossip, it often led to people asking for your professional opinion on things you wouldn't have otherwise been involved in. Now that environment has diminished, it increases a need for pro-active communication efforts to remain involved on different levels.
Were there any surprising extra learnings?
I tried to look at the change as a positive. A new and different type of working experience, by learning more about the virtual side of being part of a team. At the same time however, I had cautious thoughts of maintaining the level of what is expected of me, ability to network, track my learning and progress, things like that. When you’re in a home office, you are in an efficiency driven set up. We began to dedicate a few minutes at the beginning of meetings to have informal conversations. This keeps up morale and allows light-hearted parts of the working day. For my productivity, my networking skills and approach had to adapt to the change. I was needing to actively approach people instead of being able to create a rapport with them through idle chat in the run up to us needing to work together. I know that my learning style is very much based around watching people do tasks so I can better understand the process.
I do like how I was pushed out of my comfort zone to reconsider new ways of developing. I realised that although virtual spaces offer great ways to visualize rationales behind a project, there are some tasks which can be more effectively done in person.
How were you able to build and maintain connections throughout a digital internship?
At first, I did find it a struggle to continue my relationships with my teammates and catch up with them. Before, I used to go up to their desks and ask questions. Working from home meant I had to call people instead. It sounds easy, but in my head there was a barrier of privacy and my tiny question didn’t seem worthy of a full-on phone call. It took me a while to become comfortable with asking for help this way. It was beneficial in the end, because I was able to have a general catch up as well, which was what I was missing from being in the office.
Sometimes I would have to call the same person several times a day, my Manager/Mentor up to 3 or 4 times a day! Especially on new tasks or important project decisions, as I wanted to make sure I was working correctly, so needed advice. In the end, it became the norm in our team. Even during meetings, someone may make a call to somebody else in order to check something, and relay it back to the group instantly. It proved to be a good way to connect the team and add the human element to communications.
Generally within corporations, many have now become used to sending and receiving instant messages within the team. If we had continued as normal, I believe it would've taken many teams longer to arrive at that modernised working style, as there was no pressure to change. Even though my internship has now ended, the conversations have continued on these digital platforms and informal manner, so I am confident that I made a lasting impression, and happy I am able to stay in touch with my old team so easily.
Dana will be returning to LCF to complete her final year this autumn.