From On-Site to Virtual: How I Adapted to a Remote Internship During COVID-19

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By Adam Piraino

Switching to Remote Work

Back in March, on what seemed like the last day before the world changed, everyone in the office had their eyes glued to the TV. We were watching the market react to COVID-19. Despite the worst recession since 1987, the S&P 500 surged more than 9%. Phones were ringing off the hook with clients worried about their portfolios, or wanting to take advantage of the situation and put their money to work.

I stood there with the team, on the 37th floor of 150 North Riverside in downtown Chicago, absorbing news of the virus. Unlike my colleagues in the room, I was an MBA student at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business—and an intern. I had been interning at William Blair since January, working on investment, market and economic research for client meetings and pitches, and helping make investment calls and manage business operations.

Over the weekend of March 14, the director of administration informed us that our office would be working remotely. The only problem for me, as an intern, was that company policy allowed only full-time employees to use remote access on secure client information/accounts and financial platforms. So how was I to continue my work?

As rumors spread across the nation that companies were laying off or furloughing their employees, I figured I would soon be joining the newly declared “unemployed” and searching the web for another internship. However, the firm showed me what it means to take care of their employees. They understood it would take time to go through seven levels of corporate hoops, including approval from the CEO and president to grant remote access to interns, but they were determined to make it happen.

I soon found out that not only was the firm getting approval for us to have access but that they would continue paying us and would allow us to assist advisors with market/investment research. This showed me that William Blair did not view me as just a number or an intern and that they cared about my future growth.

My biggest takeaway from this situation was although we all want to work for the largest, most successful companies, it is important to understand how a company treats its employees not only in good times but also in terrible times (war, recessions, nationwide pandemics, etc.).

Staying Engaged

During my five years in the military prior to starting my DePaul MBA, we had this saying, “Flexibility is the key to air power.” We prided ourselves on being flexible, adapting to changes in a situation and making do with what we have to get the mission done. Without flexibility, we don’t bend—we break when faced with change.

Today, I’m still interning at William Blair and the experience continues to be remote.

While working remotely, there are moments when I don’t want to work, watch that lecture on economic stagnation or read that book. It is easy to find excuses to do other things and it can be tough to focus on a task until it is completed. Through this challenge I have had a revelation: there is nothing but myself standing in my way from accomplishing something. I’ve had to learn to reorganize my day and plan differently. Adapt or fail – that’s how I see it. That’s what we were taught in the military.

With years of experience in a disciplined military office setting that included everyone from a three-star general to government civilian right out of undergrad, I understand what “normal” business etiquette is. However, considering that we are in new territory when it comes to workplace etiquette in a remote setting, I feel like there is some leniency.

For instance, calling an experienced advisor might be viewed as taboo in a “normal” work environment. But since everyone has started working from home, it has often become necessary to call advisors/associates and speak directly with them about certain projects or for guidance. It is just as important in these situations to be respectful, professional and considerate when deciding between a phone call or an email.

At first, I was surprised at how much I was able to learn from a 10-minute phone or video call with someone. The best part of working from home has been the one-on-one time with advisors, peers and leadership via phone, Microsoft Teams and even text. With these conversations, I have been able to continue building personal relationships that will ultimately help me grow my network and build a book of clients for my future practice.

Looking Ahead

If I were to give advice to someone seeking or preparing for remote employment, I would say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The things you didn’t like about working in an office could become the very things you miss when working remotely. Don’t take anything for granted. And realize that personal responsibility and self-motivation are key to being able to successfully work in a remote setting.

Overall, I’ve been thankful for this experience of working remotely. It has opened doors to possibilities that I had not considered before, to the fact that I could potentially work for a company in Chicago but live anywhere in the world. Though a part of me prefers to work in an office, remote work has helped me understand where I can take my career and what the world can offer.

Life throws challenges at us every day – some bigger than others – but one thing we can all do is understand what we have control over. Focusing on that aspect, in this case our own attitude, mindset and actions toward others, will help us navigate not only the world of working remotely, but also life.

Adam Piraino graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management. Prior to pursuing an MBA with a finance concentration from Kellstadt, he served 4.5 years in the U.S. Air Force as a project manager for the Global Positioning Systems Directorate. Today, he is a private wealth management intern at William Blair & Co.


Posted on

July 15, 2020