Virtual Summer Internship. A promise kept
The pandemic seemed to play spoilsport. Amidst news of many companies revoking internships for logistical reasons, HCCB decided to keep its promise. It chose to go online. Fully digital!
Their concerns were genuine. It was an unprecedented situation and it arrived in the middle of most internship calendars. Would the dreams of 30 odd bright B-school graduates materialise? What if they wouldn’t get a chance to learn the ropes at one of India’s top FMCG companies? The lockdown had begun.
One thing was certain - the interns wouldn’t be able to carry out primary research. Markets were closed. Factories were shut. Most depots and distributors were also not operational. But the decision for the leadership team at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB) was simple. HCCB would keep its promise but tweak the modules. “It was about living up to our values. It was also about their careers,” says Dhanpat Jain, National Manager, Leadership Development, who co-ordinated the entire internship program. “The discussion was not about staging the program, it was always about providing the students a fulsome internship experience under the prevailing circumstances,” he adds.
Kamlesh Kumar Sharma & Interns
The new module, all online and fully digital, meant that HCCB needed more time to prepare. Arrangements were to be made for online classes and interactions, access to company’s data and database; temporary employee ID and most important, security of the systems, data and devices. Understandably, the company deferred the program by two weeks.
“We were thrilled when we first heard about HCCB’s decision to hold a virtual internship program,” exults Akshita Ramteke from IIM, Bangalore. So happy were the interns that most of them shared their excitement on social media. Prajakta Joshi, a student of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) Mumbai, wrote on LinkedIn, “As an intern I am extremely happy to be part of the organization that stood by its promise and made our onboarding experience as smooth as possible.”
Another intern from MDI Gurgaon, Nagender Somalanka opened his heart in his post, “A sense of belonging was imbibed within, right on the first day, thanks to interactions with the C-suite leadership team. I couldn’t be happier to start my summer internship at HCCB.” The outpouring of emotions was genuine and heartfelt. No wonder, most of these posts were trending on social media.
The initial excitement soon turned into anxiety. There were mental barriers. “It was difficult for us to imagine undergoing the entire program without visiting the workplace or meeting anyone in person,” says Akshita. She then adds, “But to our pleasant surprise, the program was so well designed and executed that the transition from the college to the corporate seemed seamless.”
Christina Ruggiero & Interns
The newbies couldn’t believe their eyes when Christina Ruggiero, the CEO of HCCB appeared on their screens to greet them. “It was an experience that will remain etched in our memory,” shares Shinjini Mukherjee from MDI Gurgaon. Tanu Khare, an intern from the same college endorses, “It was so heartening to hear the CEO referring to the safety and wellbeing of the employees as the primary concern of the organization. It is thoughts like these that overwhelmed. What a value driven organization!”
The pride of association was evident. For instance, Shinjini brims with excitement when she says, “The virtual internship helped me fulfil my childhood dream. We all have grown drinking Maaza, Fanta and Sprite and here I was working on a project for the company that makes them in India. I felt a great deal of pride.”
Shinjini Mukherjee & Tanu Khare
Reflecting on his overall experience, Ronak Bose, a student of IIM, Bangalore; who is doing his internship in sales says, “I am not sure if we would have had the chance to meet every single leader at HCCB if the program was not digital. These leaders are constantly traveling, it is difficult to match dates and they have so many prior commitments. The virtual induction made us feel like they were speaking with us on a one-on-one basis. We were free to seek any clarification any time and they were all ears.”
Making the interns comfortable and connected with the organization in a virtual environment was a challenge. To be sure, each one of them was provided with a mentor and a guide. Describing his experience of the initial days Kirandev P. from IIM, Bangalore; recalls, “our bonding with each other was amazing. In fact, I feel our computer screens became a ‘home inside our home’. We had our fun moments and we had our anxieties. I still remember the day of our introductions. I introduced myself as a Malayali from Kochi and soon my mentor and my guide started speaking to me in Malayalam. It was so special. It also made me relax, which is so important to thrive in a new place.”
Keerthana Narayanan & Priya Choudhary
There was, however, no let-up in the rigor required for the assignments. “We were made to do detailed groundwork for analyzing the market using secondary research data,” reveals Priya Choudhary from IIM, Lucknow. This may have been just a small part of the entire project work if it was not a digital internship.” Regular reviews by project guides helped us fine tune the outcomes, reports and recommendations,” she concludes. Keerthana Narayanan, from NMIMS, Mumbai confirms, “My guide and my mentor were both kind enough to explain the issues and help with solutions, whenever I approached them.”
This bunch is nearing the end of their tenure at HCCB. The first batch of fully digitally interned students! The experience would be over. What would last are the lessons – adapting to adversity, being flexible, trying to control only what is under one’s control. What would also last is the camaraderie, that was cultivated purely online.