Working Remotely

Working remotely, also variously known as home-working, teleworking or telecommuting, describes the situation of undertaking paid work for an employer from your home using IT tools, a phone, etc. The technology required for remote working may have been with us for a number of years, but we have the Coronavirus pandemic to thank for helping employers understand how many roles can be effectively delivered by staff working away from the office base.

As well as working remotely for an employer, many people work from home – or a range of locations anywhere in the world – in a freelance capacity. These people are sometimes known as ‘digital nomads’, and while there are many points of overlap between remote working and work as a freelancer/digital nomad, the key difference is that of your status as an employee of a company and your contractual relationship with your employer. This page focuses primarily on working remotely for an employing organisation; for complementary tips on working in a freelance capacity see our briefing on Freelance and Portfolio Careers and the guidance on Working for Yourself.

Why students might consider working remotely

As the 2020 coronavirus pandemic demonstrated, working remotely may be required by your employer in extreme circumstances to facilitate continued working, but at other times, remote working can be an attractive option if you want to:

  • avoid a daily commute
  • have flexible work hours
  • achieve a good work-life balance
  • stay in your home region or country but secure work with a company based elsewhere

Alongside the factors above, which can have a considerable, positive impact on your (working) life, bear in mind that there are downsides to remote working too. Employees who began remote working in response to the recent pandemic have reported the following drawbacks to their work from home lives:

  • Blurred lines between ‘work’ and ‘personal’ lives
  • Physical disruption/space constraints for people without a dedicated office area
  • Isolation from colleagues impacting mental health as well as team-working tasks
  • Tech-induced stress as a result of long hours in front of a screen, plus the pressure of dealing with IT-related challenges on your own.

Whether remote working is right for you will depend on your home circumstances as much as your personality, and may therefore change over time. See the sections below for tips on minimising the more challenging aspects of remote working, and if you’re unsure if it will work for you, try listening to one of the podcasts listed in the Resources section.

Is remote working here to stay?

As the years of the pandemic have passed it has been demonstrated that many office-based jobs can indeed be performed very effectively by people working from home in multiple locations. It is valid to ask whether we can expect a more permanent shift to remote working for such roles. However, that question remains difficult to answer. During 2022, the ONS Opinions & Lifestyle Survey reports that the proportion of workers working at home and their normal place of work ( hybrid) has been increasing whilst those working exclusively from home has fallen.  In the period between April and May 2022 14% of working adults worked from home exclusively while 24% both worked from home and travelled to work.  

Some companies have already introduced new working policies which provide more flexibility on working from home, if not fully remote working.  Insurance company Aviva committed to closing three office buildings and giving staff the choice of working from home or in one of its remaining offices once restrictions were lifted. Law firms have introduced policies which allow any member of staff to work between 40%-100% from home under new hybrid arrangements. Many companies – and individual workers – are as yet undecided on what the future will or ought to look like: expect changes ahead!

Whatever the balance, graduates are likely to be comparatively well-placed to be eligible for the kind of jobs which have the greatest potential to continue remotely. A November 2020 report by McKinsey identified the sectors with the highest potential for this mode of working to include finance and insurance; management, business services and information technology, all sectors which typically recruit degree holders. Roles which require physical proximity to service users or specialist equipment are likely to remain predominantly site-based, while other jobs which may on the surface appear suitable for home working may have limitations in terms of requirements such as security considerations.

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Students with an international outlook may be wondering whether the global move to remote working will mean the global job market has truly arrived, such that qualified candidates in country A can secure a remotely workable job with a company based in country B without needing to meet the visa requirements of that country. The technology for globally dispersed working is certainly here, and yet …we are not quite at that point.

While freelance workers, who effectively employ themselves, are technically free to work from any location – and the appearance of remote working visas in a few countries keen to attract the footloose crowd of digital nomads certainly appears to encourage this – for those seeking employment with a company, the picture is much more complicated. A slew of tax and employment law regulations oblige companies to comply with national rules with regard to the provision of salaries, pensions, health and safety and other such regulations. In combination these obligations may be most easily adhered to in countries where the company has an established presence, making such conditions most easily found with a multinational organisation.

If you know that the option to work remotely is going to be an important factor for you, but there is no mention of this option in the job application materials, then here are some tips.  

The starting position is to research the company thoroughly to see if there is any indication of remote working practices by any members of staff. Plus, do further research to see whether similar roles are carried out remotely in other companies, which should indicate whether the job is at least theoretically one that can be fulfilled remotely.

If being able to work from home is a deal breaker for you, then a polite directly worded question may be the best policy – and if the answer is no, then at least you have clarity and you will save everyone’s time in the longer run. If, however, securing that job is the greatest priority, a more indirect approach is advisable, to avoid causing friction with an employer who is not open to this mode of work.

There are some equally useful tips on raising the matter of remote working post-offer on the website AskAManager, which suggests an exploratory wording, where possible backed up with evidence of past successful experience in similar conditions.

Successful negotiation of flexibility in your job, including remote working or flexible hours, depends largely on the thoroughness of your preparation for the negotiations, according to the Harvard Business Review. It advises first gaining a thorough understanding of the organisation’s policies on flexible work, if it has these, and the constraints which have shaped those policies. Next it advises ensuring that you have a clear understanding of the role in question and how it relates to other roles in the team. You then need to put together a case demonstrating where you have been successful in previous comparable set-ups. Equally important is to be clear about your own back-up option. Propose a trial period, or be prepared to meet your boss half-way in some aspects of your proposal.

The ‘lockdown restrictions’ and move for staff to work from home have been a boost for many disabled individuals; it has ‘normalized’ remote working, and has shown that the demands of many roles and businesses can be fulfilled without being in a designated workplace. However, remote working does raise issues that need to be considered more closely. This includes ensuring that this method of working does not discriminate against disabled employees.

The Equality Act

A disability is one of nine protected characteristics under the UK’s Equality Act 2010. A person is disabled if they:

  • have a physical or mental impairment, and
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The Act prohibits direct disability discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, indirect disability discrimination, harassment relating to disability and victimisation.

A disabled employee may benefit from home working for several reasons, including a lack of commuting and being able to work in the comfort of their home, which has likely been adapted to suit their needs. This can include adaptations such as a specific style of keyboard or voice activation software.  Workplace adaptations are not exclusively physical adaptations. They can include things such as alterations to policies, procedures and workplace practices.

As a student considering remote working in the UK, be aware of the Equality Act 2010 and what it might mean to you regarding your own circumstances. An employer should take into consideration and consult with you what your ‘needs’ might be ( if you have ‘shared or what is often known as ‘disclosed’ to them that you have a disability) and do what they reasonably can to assist and ensure they are not put at a disadvantage through lack of action. Such consultation is good practice regardless of your circumstances. If not offered, ask for an occupational health assessment and then they will make recommendations on what adjustments could be considered to ensure a safe/healthy working environment for that employee. Such recommendations could include software, work equipment, such as chairs, height adjustable desks to flexible hours, depending on your particular circumstances and needs in order to meet the demands of the job. Employers can seek funding through Access to Work to pay for adjustments.

Risk assessments should be undertaken to ensure employees have a safe home working environment.  Finally, employers should be aware that disabled employees may not be able to use certain types of technology. For example, deaf employees struggle with Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings – a sign language interpreter may be required as well as a completely different approach to meetings.

If you are looking for work outside the UK, remember to check local conditions and regulations covering the needs of disabled employees to understand how these relate to remote working circumstances.

The pandemic forced employers to review and adjust their methods of hiring future employees – both graduates and experienced recruits. Whilst some had already moved parts of their assessment processes online, for example virtual interviews and online tests, many more employers have had to rapidly follow suit and now, in many cases, we are seeing the entire assessment process from initial application through to assessments centres going online. In some organisations these recruitment processes have remained entirely online despite the removal of the pandemic living and travel restrictions.

Over the pandemic years, many Oxford graduates will have started their new jobs entirely from home, perhaps having never physically met their colleagues or visited the office of the company or organisation which has employed them. 

All of this brought new challenges for everyone. Here we aim to provide some tips on key areas to think about if you find yourself faced with an entire recruitment process done through your laptop and if you then start the job of your dreams from your living room!

Top tips for engaging with employers at online events

Be aware of the commitment employers have made to host online events, if you sign up for an event make sure you attend, or if you are unable to, cancel in advance.

If you have committed your time to an event make the most of it, take time to look through the joining instructions, will you be expected to actively engage with the recruiter or is it a more passive information event?

Arguably the most valuable events are those where you have the opportunity to engage personally with recruiters or business people, consider the following to make the best impact;

  • Dress appropriately (if you have the opportunity to have your camera on)
  • Log-in on time
  • Turn on your camera if possible
  • Do some initial research about the firm
  • Prepare any questions you might like to ask (this may be via a chat function)
  • Address representatives politely and professionally

The recruitment process

  1. Remember that even though the process might have moved online, all the advice we have about making for applications, preparing for and attending interviews and assessment centres still applies. Some things just don’t change!  Employers will still want to hire graduates who are well researched, well prepared, enthusiastic about the opportunity on offer and who they think have the potential to succeed in their environments.
  2. Please take a look at our guidance for applications, interviews, psychometric tests, and assessment centres.
  3. Technology – getting prepared.  Now is the time to ensure that you can use your own technology (or the tech that you have access to) as smoothly as possible and that it is set up so that you can be seen and heard as clearly as possible.  Make sure that you can find a space that is quiet and where you will not be disturbed. Let your flatmates know that you will be being interviewed/assessed so they don’t come crashing into your room!  If you are offered the chance to practice questions or to check connections, make sure you take advantage of these.  If you have any difficulties, be sure to call ahead of time to the recruiter to let them know and to see if they can help make alternative arrangements.
  4. Doing your best online.  As well as following our advice for interviews and assessment centres also make sure that:
  • you have your camera on – blur your background if you can or remove anything which might be distracting for the interviewer
  • you are dressed appropriately
  • you speak clearly – taking into account any delayed sound – maybe leaving a slight pause.

For most people, starting a new job can be both exciting and a little daunting and often there is a steep learning curve. Now that so many people are working from home and some choosing to start their first ever job in this way, there are extra things to consider and new ways we may need to do our work to achieve the same results as before.

It is likely that you will need to be proactive more than ever before whilst working from home ; Whilst formal training can relatively easily be replicated online much of the informal learning that happens in a job is harder to replace.  In the short term, the opportunities to learn through say sharing an office with an experienced colleague, through watching how someone completes a task or simply through having lunch with another new starter are harder to replicate from home.  If your employer offers the chance to come in to the office on certain days or for specific events do take advantage of these.

It is likely that you will be joining an established organisation which may have existed for many years and where the existing staff know each other well.  Chance encounters to introduce yourself as the new starter in corridors and offices or at coffee machines or social events will not happen so it will be down to you to make sure you introduce yourself at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. Being proactive in this way will help you to build up your working network – you will become visible to your new colleagues. This will be invaluable both initially when you may need to ask for their help or support but also as your career develops and you may want to build your experiences and take on more responsibility.

As a student you may have become very used to using email, texts, WhatsApp messages and so on as your main means of communication with your friends, tutors and even with your future employer.  Whilst email is still one of the main methods of communication in the professional world, you will find that phone and video calls are prevalent and sometimes these are the very best ways to get things done in the working world. Now that so many employees are working at home, it is also very affirming to actually see and hear your colleagues on a regular basis. Of course, for anyone who isn’t able to use these channels of communication, please do read our advice on working with your employer on the technology that you will need for you to meet your potential in your new role.

Make sure that you have requested any equipment that you may need to work from home effectively.  This could cover technology requirements, but it may also cover things like a suitable chair or desk. Make sure that you complete all necessary assessments, and that you know how to get tech support if you need it!

Starting remotely: tips from graduates

Here are some thoughts from two trainee solicitors at Clyde & Co, both Oxford Alumni who started their first jobs after graduating (training contracts) from home. This was during the height of the pandemic but their thoughts and ideas are useful for anyone thinking of working from home.

“Starting any job can be daunting, especially when starting remotely. Making a good impression, building work relationships and learning from senior members of your department are made that much harder. Initially, the main challenge of remote working was not having someone to turn to when I had a question (and as a new trainee, there are a lot of questions!). The sooner you have the confidence to pick up the phone or send a message, the quicker you will be able to clarify tasks and properly engage with the work. I would say, don’t worry about being seen as pestering. If a team member does not have the time to answer all of your questions, they will tell you. From my experience at Clyde & Co so far though, I have found that people are more than happy to talk and discuss; they take an active interest in your development and training and recognise the difficulties of starting work from home. I would also suggest taking part in the pro bono, social network and graduate recruitment activities the firm has to offer. For example, I have really enjoyed being part of the Climate Change Group at Clyde & Co. The Group has a great team spirit and it’s a way to meet and work with people across the firm for a good cause”.

 Alysha Patel, Matric 2015, BA History – Clyde & Co Trainee


“I found during the beginning of lockdown that working from home broke down some of the boundaries between work and relaxation. This made it incredibly hard to focus in the morning and even harder to unwind in the evening. I often found it hard to get to sleep in the same room that I had been working in all day.

It is really important to detach an area of your home to use specifically for your work/ studying. Even if you do not have a dedicated office space, make sure that you have a desk which is clear of distractions where you can work comfortably. Making sure you keep work time and relaxation time distinct will also help to avoid the two blending together. Take a lunch break away from the desk to avoid bringing distractions back to your work space.”

“Working from home can certainly be isolating, especially as a new start. I found that lockdown has highlighted the importance of a large and sociable trainee intake who help to keep work fun. At Clyde & Co we benefit from having incredibly approachable partners who continue to make all levels of employees feel valued within each team.”

Ewan Fraser, Matric 2016, BA Jurisprudence – Clyde & Co Trainee

Starting remotely: tips from recruiters

Here is some practical advice from a recruiter’s perspective. These were kindly provided by  the law firm Clifford Chance, again based on the pandemic years but they can still be applied to working from home situations.

Getting started: Ahead of your first day think about what working virtually will mean for you. Has your future employer been in touch to request deliver details for your new IT equipment? Do you know what is expected from you on your first day and during your first few weeks? Make sure that you respond to all queries from the onboarding team promptly and completely.  If you are not sure how to answer a request, always ask! Pay close attention to all new starter information so you’re well prepared to hit the ground running (on time!) on your first day.

Settling in: The first few weeks in any new role can be tough but starting your job in the middle of a pandemic can be exceptionally difficult! Firstly, try not to panic. It’s likely your new employer is excellent at welcoming new joiners so take advantage of every opportunity they offer you.  Participate fully in all induction session, including appearing on video where possible.  Ask lots of questions to show how engaged you are. Reach out to any fellow new joiners for support because although you may not be able to socialize in person, there are plenty of ways to get in touch!  Take advantage of all of the technology available to start developing excellent working relationships with your new team and allow people to get to know you.

Health & Well-being: It is always important to have a healthy work life balance but that can be difficult to achieve in a virtual environment.  Try and make sure you have cleared space for your home office and make it as comfortable as you can. Lots of our trainees really recommend building yourself a daily “commute” including a short walk each morning and evening to clear your head and set yourself up for a day at your desk. And take a break away from your desk for lunch – every day.

Ask questions – more than ever before

  • pick up the phone, sometimes email just won’t do
  • always make sure you have a pen and paper handy to make notes
  • ask yourself “what’s next” and suggest ways you can action your ideas to your team
  • when you have finished for the day, stop!

Remote-working jobs boards or jobs boards also feature remote working roles

The jobs boards listed here are just a few examples to demonstrate the kind of roles that are advertised as remote working opportunities- there are many more such sites to be found with any search engine. Inclusion of these boards is not an endorsement.

Not sure whether remote working’s for you?

Listen to other people’s experiences on one of the growing number of remote working podcasts:

Research on the impact of remote working

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