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COVID-19: Libra gets its interns home and gets them virtual working

Quinn Smeaton, Programme Manager for Libra Group Social Responsibility, writes about how the Winter 2020 Internship cohort was mobilized at the beginning of the COVID crisis for safe return to home cities and the transition of their experience into virtual working. 

Stay at home orders due to COVID-19 were announced in the US and the UK by 23 March this year. Two weeks before this, the Libra Group had already switched to remote working for the security and protection of all its people. This included the cohort of Winter 2020 interns who had started in January with an orientation week in New York. With lockdown measures taking force, we had two important considerations: how to get interns back to their home country safely, and how to continue the internship as a valuable experience for them.

In anticipation of Libra’s own initiative for office closures, we coordinated with teams to ensure interns had laptops for remote work and advised them to purchase groceries and home supplies for two weeks. We also kept in regular contact with the mentors and buddies, who serve as the in-office support network, so that everyone was aware of our crisis response. Of course, it was an evolving situation and we offered all interns the opportunity to return home early. We regularly checked in with each one over Slack and by phone as the latest COVID-19 developments came through each day. We also knew we were running against time as some countries, such as those in South America and Europe, were talking about border closures and this brought greater urgency. The majority of interns felt that was the most sensible approach and we were grateful for our travel agency’s diligent and hard work to help us arrange earlier return flights, all within 48 hours. The interns who traveled home early made it back safely to cities across four continents before border closures began, and many had to go into self-quarantine because of the journey.

Given the global reach of Libra, all interns were able to continue their internships remotely despite the time difference. Fortunately, the cohort was already accustomed to working and communicating in a virtual setting. Prior to their arrival, we invite interns to a Slack channel to interact with their fellow intern cohort and the Social Responsibility team. During the programme, Slack is used to share important announcements, professional development resources and messages with each other. It became an even more active platform for us given COVID. The team and interns used Slack to circulate resources, such as at-home workouts, movie and book suggestions and virtual cultural activities like museum visits. Everyone kept in touch – the whole cohort and the Social Responsibility team – through Slack messages as well as Zoom video calls and it was clear that they could always count on each other and the Libra Internship community for support. Despite different time zones, the interns maintained a Monday check-in call and a more social Friday video call where they played games and trivia. The Winter 2020 cohort also organized the first-ever virtual meetup with Libra Intern Alumni, including participants from Colombia, Greece, Haiti, Israel, Greece and the US. Furthermore we continued to celebrate important milestones such as birthdays. The interns and Social Responsibility team pre-recorded a birthday message for an intern who celebrated her birthday over a weekend and arranged for a cupcake delivery. Part of what we do is about the personal touch and we wanted to ensure this didn’t get lost with COVID measures. Another life event we marked was the graduation of another intern who was unable to receive the honour in person from her university, so her intern colleagues recorded a fun message for what would have been the day of her ceremony and sent congratulations.

In terms of content and structure of the overall schedule, we expanded our professional development programming, which was already hosted on Zoom video calls, with intern-led sessions on “Working from Home Tips” and “Mindfulness” in response to COVID-19. In addition, after we knew all interns were home safely and working, Chairman & CEO, George Logothetis, hosted a virtual ‘Town Hall’ discussion forum over Zoom with the interns. Following that call, the whole cohort submitted 90 ideas to Libra’s leadership, as requested, on how Libra could improve or evolve its business – all ideas with energy and enthusiasm, meaning they were still able to bring their unique qualities to the business as interns, even remotely.

The world is currently reflecting on the COVID impact: what it will look like afterwards, what will have changed, and how we will emerge as workers and people. Our constant aim with the Libra internship is for it to be an unforgettable experience. That has certainly been the case here. This cohort got to see not just the world through the eyes of an international business, but how it copes with a global crisis. And that’s something none of us could have planned for!

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