CHICAGO (CBS) — COVID-19 has turned students’ plans upside down; from abrupt ends to the spring semester to uncertainty about campus life in the fall, and when the economy collapsed, internship offers began to vanish.

Fortunately, some companies pivoted to an online experience. CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas gets an inside look at how virtual internships work.

“I didn’t know what to expect online,” said Preston Chan, an intern at Securian Financial.

It’s a sentiment many employees shared when they converted their sofas and dining room tables into makeshift offices. For interns like Chan, there was even more uncertainty.

“I didn’t think that there could be really any genuine connections made, because you know things are obviously different over Zoom,” he said.

His internship at Securian quickly changed his mind.

“It’s surpassed my expectations,” he said.

Not only has he had opportunities to network with colleagues, but he’s also learned skills textbooks can’t teach.

“You’re doing real world projects that have real applications, and you’re making an impact on the organization,” Chan said.

Glassdoor career expert Sarah Stoddard said there are challenges about going online, from learning new skills remotely to networking over a screen.

“The small conversations that you have in the hallway or in the kitchenette now just don’t happen anymore, because conversations are mostly had on Slack or on Zoom,” Stoddard said.

That’s why Securian’s internship coordinator, Katie Stedman, wanted to create a positive onboarding  experience for Chan and his peers.

“How do we arm our leaders and make sure that they also feel prepared to take on these interns and really to support them well?” she said.

Securian ensured interns knew who their resources were and that they felt connected to their colleagues.

“It’s especially important when they can’t just walk around the corner and tap someone on the shoulder to ask them a question,” Stedman said. “We’ve also created spaces to make sure that they’re having smaller group connections as well, because it can be hard to make connections with a large group of people.”

The company also made sure interns are constantly challenged while working from home.

“It’s not busy work,” Stedman said.

“The coolest thing I learned was Excel Visual Basic, which is the coding language that Excel uses,” Chan said.

For many interns, they’re not only discovering how a company works, but how it functions during a crisis.

“This is such a unique lens for an intern to step into an organization that is shifting and pivoting,” Stedman said.

Stoddard suggested interns ask their coordinator for a list of employees to connect with over the course of their internship. Whether you have coffee over zoom, or a simple phone call, it’s important to network over the next few weeks.

Tim McNicholas