Early Career Computing Professionals Face Usability and Accessibility Challenges in Remote Work…

Early Career Computing Professionals Face Usability and Accessibility Challenges in Remote Work during COVID-19

In this post, we continue sharing the results from a recent survey on the Impact of COVID-19 and Remote Work on Early-Career Computing Professionals. We asked respondents to give their feedback on the most significant ways their usability and accessibility have been affected during COVID-19 due to working remotely.

Usability and Accessibility of Remote Work during COVID-19

Of the 253 participants in the study, (42.7%, N=108) responded to the open-ended question about the most significant way that working during COVID-19 impacted the usability and accessibility of their work environment. Out of all responses, about two-thirds of them include a negative impact as the most significant (67.6%, N=73). Some responses state no significant impact (14.8%, N=16), whereas others state a positive effect as the most significant (13.9%, N=15).

Let us start with the responses that occurred most frequently for the usability and accessibility aspects.

Negative Effects on Usability and Accessibility

Lack of Access to Resources

Out of all responses that highlight negative impacts, about half of them (56.2%, N=41) considered they have limited or no access to the resources they need to do their work. Lack of access to resources may include things such as not being able to access the office or lab environments, hardware equipment, or online tools.

More than 40% of the responses in this category (41.4%, N=17) mentioned that they do not have good internet access or easy online access to the resources, tools, or platforms they need. Some of these mentioned that great effort is required to access online software resources.

“Internet connection is not as stable as in my work environment.”

“I don’t believe that everyone has the same access to the internet. One of my instructors had an internet outage that affected his ability to teach remotely.”

“Some environments were accessed by vendor-provided laptops. Now accessing this resource requires coordination with the specific person.”

“Installing every software on the office system requires permission from the other team. Always!”

About a third of the responses highlighting a lack of access to resources (31.7%, N=13) do not specify a particular or single resource, however, the respondents mention resource access as a general problem.

“The downside is I don’t have access to as many resources as I did on campus.”

“My institution didn’t provide any resources for remote work.”

A quarter of the responses highlighting a lack of resources (24.4%, N=10) mentioned that they could not access devices such as computers or other equipment (e.g., printer) from the office environment.

“Personal laptop is much slower than office desktop.”

“I can only print at the university which is not optimal if I need to print and sign some papers.”

Some responses (17,1%, N=7) highlighted the lack of access to rooms such as offices or labs as the main impact of remote work on usability and accessibility.

“Not having access to the labs partially slowed down our research activity.”

“I am not allowed to go into my lab where all of the equipment is located.”

Missing Equipment and Poor Work Environments

The remaining responses discussing negative impacts (43.8%, N=32) highlighted missing equipment in their work environment as the most significant impact on usability and accessibility. Most responses in this category (75%, N=24) mentioned the lack of comfortable office setups, such as ergonomic monitors or work desks, as well as other conditions such as well-regulated heating or cooling systems.

“I no longer have access to my ergonomic office equipment and large monitors.“

“My workplace setup is probably not well-designed for ergonomics.”

“I miss having an office. I work from my bed and my partner works from our couch. We live in an old house so it’s physically hard to concentrate when we don’t have the wiring system and outlets or space to support monitors and our computers and a mouse and things. We also don’t have air conditioning. My company provided all these things in an office and I don’t know how to explain well it was 93 today so I didn’t get much done until it cooled off at night.”

“My home work area is not as suited for my work as my space at the office.”

Other responses considered the problems of setting up home offices since many people did not already have these set up prior to the pandemic.

“Required me to set up a home office environment that did not previously exist”

“Had to purchase a second monitor and have had to replace the mouse at least partially due to additional wear

“I needed to buy a second monitor for my home office to match the multi-monitor setup I had at work.”

Some respondents discussed missing social interactions and poor communication as the most significant way that their usability and accessibility were affected. Lack of interactions may intensify the existing communication problem between juniors and seniors, but may also create additional obstacles for people with disabilities.

“When everyone is working in the same office, some problems get solved faster because a co-worker pipes up with relevant information that I did not know they had. This no longer happens as often when working remotely as it is harder to “passively” stay informed of what particular problems your co-workers are solving at any moment.”

“The authorities had no idea about remote work and therefore were hindrances. Much better work would have been done in their absence or if they were willing to learn from their “juniors”.”

“For me, there hasn’t been much impact. But I worry about students with slower internet connections, hard of hearing or deaf students, students with ADHD, and other learning disabilities. We’re definitely not working with anything near a level playing field in the remote learning scenario.”

No Effect on Usability & Accessibility

A relatively small percentage (14.8%, N=16) of respondents stated that there has been no significant impact on their usability and accessibility after COVID-19 due to remote work. For these respondents, easy access to digital resources, as well as current tools and software helped to mitigate the negative effects on the usability and accessibility of remote work.

“No changes, have all the tools I need at home and in the office.”

“ My work laptop is still here and I can access everything from it.”

Positive Effects on Usability & Accessibility

Working remotely provided positive impacts to usability and accessibility for some. 13,9% (N=15) of respondents highlighted a positive impact relating to the usability and accessibility of remote work. These responses included having a better environment at the home office and easy online access.

About half of these responses (60%, N=9) stated that they have a better working environment for themselves at their home compared to their office environments. Some of these responses mentioned that they had more freedom to design their work environment at home and others simply enjoyed working from home.

“I’m able to curate my space exactly the way I want and works best for me, which is a huge positive.“

“I love joining meetings and talks from my couch.”

More specifically, some respondents said that they have better work desks at home than in their offices.

“Started using a sit-stand desk at home; more comfortable work environment.”

“I have better monitors, keyboards, etc. at home than at work so I have a much better experience at home than at work.”

Lastly, some respondents (40%, N=6) said that they can more easily access resources through the Internet. They do not need to physically go to the office anymore to have work meetings or lectures in universities.

“All my class material is now online (including lecture recordings) and is probably more accessible than before.”

“A lot more things are doable without having to go to the office and having a face-to-face meeting.”

How is COVID-19 Affecting Early-Career Computing Professionals Specifically?

Some of the survey responses highlight the impacts of COVID-19 and remote work on the usability and accessibility of early-career computing professionals specifically. Here, we list some of the aspects that are particularly important and unique for early-career computing professionals.

Computing includes not only software but also hardware equipment. Particularly, most institutions have servers to run their online operations. These are often administered and maintained by early-career computing professionals. Similarly, various jobs at academic and industrial institutions require conducting lab experiments using servers (e.g., clusters for high-performance computing) or cyber-physical systems (e.g., conducting experiments with robots). Such experiments are often conducted by early-career computing professionals. Therefore, lack of access to the offices, server rooms, or lab setups hinders their work and performance. Similarly, not having direct access to high-performance machines can drastically slow down running tasks such as simulations or big data analytics. Such technical difficulties might hold back their long-term careers and promotion opportunities as well as endangering their current positions if their technical expertise goes unused in the remote work environment.

Unlike some jobs that are highly physical, computing jobs mostly require employees to sit at their desks using computers for extended periods of time. For example, the daily life of a software developer includes many programming tasks on computers. Therefore, not having ergonomic work desks or multiple large monitors may cause an additional burden to early-career computing professionals. Setting up a home office from scratch might be easy for people who have been in their career for quite a long time and who have saved enough money to buy equipment (e.g., an ergonomic work desk) or design a home office workspace. However, this might not be possible for early-career computing professionals who are newly employed or who are still building trust with their employers.

Survey respondents suggested ways that remote work during COVID-19 affected early-career computing professionals, in terms of usability and accessibility.

Stay tuned to learn more about the results of our survey and how working from home has affected young computing professionals!

Wellness Team, ACM Future of Computing Academy

Jessica Hair, Software Engineer, SmartFile, jessica@hairsquaredsoftware.com

Jaelle Scheuerman, ACM Future of Computing Academy, jaelle@gmail.com

Gürkan Solmaz, Senior Researcher, NEC Laboratories Europe gurkan.solmaz@neclab.eu

Pamela Wisniewski, Associate Professor, University of Central Florida, pamwis@ucf.edu

Image Credit: People Work Vectors by Vecteezy

Early Career Computing Professionals Face Usability and Accessibility Challenges in Remote Work… was originally published in ACM Future of Computing Academy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.