An Intern’s Perspective: The Struggles of Working From Home Since Day 1

At Danone, I demystified almost every myth about these things: that working at a multinational company is draining and rigid, that working remotely hinders your learning process, and that being an intern is merely a necessary evil to begin your career.

#Danoner Story #Meet Danoners #Internship #Work From Home #agility
27 August 2020

“Don’t struggle alone.”

Those are the three words my manager repeatedly says since I started joining Danone Indonesia as an intern 2 months ago.

Before I continue with my story, let me introduce myself. My name is Azellia Alma Shafira, but people call me Selly and I am an Inclusive Diversity and Employer Branding (ID&EB) intern at Danone. For those not quite familiar with the role, it mainly deals with activating projects and initiatives towards our stakeholder as an employer in order to improve, enhance, and emphasise the company’s culture and inclusivity. I am doing my internship while finishing my bachelor’s thesis and preparing for my thesis defence, so I am not yet graduated.

You must be aware that two months ago, which is April, the majority of companies have started reinforcing work-from-home policy for some employees. This means that I have been working as an intern remotely since day one, without ever coming to the office and meeting my co-workers in the face. In fact, I have been working from Jogja, my hometown, miles away from the head office in Jakarta.

Thus, the words “don’t struggle alone” holds a deeper meaning than just my manager trying to support me as a newcomer. I understand that she says it to support me in terms of the challenging circumstance surrounding my first internship experience: having to learn everything from afar, from zero, and from strangers.

First, I have no previous professional working experience and with the first one being done remotely, I felt the challenge have doubled as I have to learn everything from afar. Learning about the nature of the job, company’s ways of working, and work culture, which are usually done through induction in the office and meeting the team, are done virtually. I can not compare both as I have only experienced the latter, but I think I don’t feel as emotionally-connected as I would be if I had met my team face-to-face.

Second, although I am a final year business student, which is still in line with my internship role, I have very little knowledge about employer branding as it is quite a new practice in Indonesia. From what my manager and co-workers explained to me, employer branding is an integration of human resource management, marketing, and communication. While I am passionate and experienced in marketing communications and branding, human resource management is not something I know deeply. I only know the concepts and theories through textbooks and my lectures in university, but I am unsure they are 100% applicable in my day-to-day job. So, in a sense, I have to learn about the nature of my role from zero.

Third, as I realize that there is a gap between theoretical and practical methods of HRM, I have to learn pretty quickly in order to meet the expectations of my role and the best way to do it is by asking around. Because I can not do it by visiting my co-worker’s cubicle or discussing it at lunch, I have to chat or hold a virtual meeting with each of them. As a new joiner, I felt a little apprehensive to approach them, moreover ask them to teach me because I have not met them and I am afraid to disturb their busy schedule. Hence the feeling of being a stranger.

Nevertheless, those three challenges are not as bad as it sounded in my head, somehow. Why? Because upon joining Danone, the support I received has been coming non-stop from everyone. The distance, lack of knowledge, and feeling of estrangement is minimized by the supportive culture of my team, which is Talent Acquisition (TA), and the collaborative culture of Danone as a whole. Here’s how they go:

Everyone is very understanding and empathetic about the complications that comes with working from home for months.

My manager has introduced me to the team and guided me through both my work-related and personal questions very well. Everyone is so communicative, welcoming, and quick to respond which are very helpful for me to get to know everything faster and better. For that, I am deeply thankful of the TA team.

Learning something from the basic has never been as fruitful for me before joining the ID&EB team.

Despite being lean, the scope of this team’s work expands to the whole company. This is because our job is to showcase the company and its people towards candidates and the talent market. This is something new for me because usually I deal with marketing products/services, not people and culture. At first, I was a little confused on how to do that, but my manager and teammates have been the best teachers and mentors. They are always there to answer my questions, even on weekends and post-working hours and when they have no obligation to do so. (Some tips: keep in mind to always be respectful by making sure they are available and willing to have a one-on-one with you. You also have to know their communication habits, e. g. I am aware that my manager is a night owl and still welcomes me chatting her at night and when my teammate says she will be on incognito mode on the weekend, I don’t disturb her). They taught me how to do social listening using analytics tools, spent hours to guide me through Danone’s employer value proposition via Webex call, and gave me constructive feedback for every project I did. During the first month of working, they even entrusted me with doing a competitive analysis in which I presented to them virtually. This enabled me to learn employer branding more comprehensively while exploring new utility of my marketing communication skill. Not only that, I even gained new soft skills I never thought I’d be able to do before, such as visual design and video editing which makes me so excited!

The role of mentors and 'buddies'

For your information, I was offered this internship by one of my senior at campus which is now a Danone management trainee. Since the very beginning, she has helped me get a deeper understanding of the job and the work culture. At Danone, we call them Buddies, or someone who helps us navigate through our new job. Well, she is under no obligation to be one, but she is still willing to help me in any way she can. So, at first, I knew literally no one outside of the TA team whereas my project involves me getting to know other department’s stories. So, my manager and teammate helped me connect with them one by one so gradually I became more aware of who is in charge of this, what are their roles, also how Danone’s business process goes. They even introduced me to VPs, plant managers, and project leaders and every single one of them welcomed me warmly. This eliminates any hesitation and trepidation of asking questions, thus making my learning experience and productivity flourish. As an intern, and working remotely at that, this makes me feel accepted by the whole company.

Now, two months of being a Danoner, I already learnt so much and feel so immersed in their continuous attempt to implement their dual project to reach business success and keep the planet healthy. At Danone, I demystified almost every myth about these things: that working at a multinational company is draining and rigid, that working remotely hinders your learning process, and that being an intern is merely a necessary evil to begin your career. In my experience, working at a multinational company like Danone is very much entrepreneurial, gives me limitless opportunity and platform to learn even from home (thanks to its supportive culture and systematic process), and you can make a companywide contribution even as an intern.