Remote Work’s Impact on Work Duties 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 describe the most significant negative and positive changes to their work duties, brought on by working remotely during COVID-19 has affected their work duties.

Negative Effects on Work Duties

Of the 253 participants in the study, (72.7%, N=184) responded to the open-ended question about the most significant negative change in their work duties when they have to be performed remotely. In the responses, participants brought up three main themes. More than a third of all respondents (44.5%, N=82) focused on interactions at work and suggested that working from home hinders these in different ways. The second-largest group of respondents (28.3%, N=52) stated that their work-life balance was negatively affected by remote work. Finally, the group stated that remote work creates distractions which hinders efficiency in working (6.5%, N=20).

Work Interactions

Out of all participants, the largest group (44.5%, N=82) cited the change in work interactions as the reason for the negative change in work duties. This group mainly consisted of participants (80.4%, N=66) who primarily described the challenges of work-related communication. Participants mentioned that having short face-to-face discussions and social interactions fostered productivity in the workplace but were more difficult in remote work environments.

“Reaching out to co-workers for information, it’s just a higher barrier and more difficult to get in touch compared to sitting in the same office”

About a quarter of the group (20.7%, N=17) mentioned having difficulty in continuing collaborations or collaborative efforts. This included team coordination, structuring efforts, and even hands-on work such as pair programming.

“Cooperative work (assisting or being assisted by a colleague, pair programming) is more difficult “

Some other participants in the group (17,1%, N=14) suggested that it is hard to generate ideas together, compared to normal ways of discussion at work such as ”white-board talks” or chatting in the hallway about a particular topic.

Work-life balance

The second largest group (28.3%, N=52) of participants described a decrease in work-life balance as the most significant negative change in their work duties. In this group, most people (51.9%, N=27) said that remote work led to more work due to more demands and more meetings.

“More expectation, more work, more number of meetings.”

More than a third of the group (32.7%, N=17) said that working from home led to being “always available” as people are “always connected”. These participants noted that the lack of work-life balance caused their productivity to decrease.

“No work-life balance. I’m always available, always connected, even without much overt pressure I can’t turn this off.”

Some of these respondents (17.3%, N=9) stated that having to take care of the home (e.g., child care, pet care, garden care) negatively impacted their work duties. For instance, child care at home causes an inability to concentrate on work.

“Inability to concentrate due to child care issues.”

A portion of this group (15.4%, N=8) stated health problems caused negative changes in their work duties. The health issues described included physical problems due to prolonged sitting, eye strain, or catching COVID.

“I have got some health issues due to prolonged sitting.”

Distractions from work

The third group (6.5%, N=12) stated that distractions are the main reason why their work duties were negatively affected. Some people (58.3%, N=7) said that they were not able to perform their highest priority work, due to increased effort or time in lower priority work. For instance, researchers were not able to be involved in research as their teaching or IT-support-related tasks increased.

“The most important negative change is the reduction in working time for research. I used to involve in research for 12–14 hours per day in college before Covid-19. However, at present, i.e., now it’s reduced to 5–8 hours/day.”

Lastly, a few of the respondents (33.3%, N=4) say that being at home caused various distractions that were not related to work. For the participants, having many distractions at home is the most significant reason behind reduced productivity for work duties.

“Removing distractions is extremely easy at the office and extremely tough at home due to excessive interruptions in the environment.”

Positive Effects on Work Duties

Along with the negative change in the work duties, our survey also asked respondents about the most significant positive change in work duties when the work has to be performed remotely. Of the 253 participants in the study, (63.6%, N=161) responded to this question.

There were several themes associated with positive changes with remote work. The most common response from participants on positive changes due to remote work was focused on better use of work time (31%, N=51), suggesting that remote work allowed for more time focused on work. The second most common response (28%, N=45) indicated that remote work allowed for better productivity during the time allocated to work. Finally, the third most common response (19%, N=30) indicated that a positive impact of remote work was the ability to tailor their workday to suit their personal needs (19%, N=30).

Better use of time

For all responses that highlighted a better use of time during the day for work (32%, N=51), the majority of respondents (69%, N=35) noted that removing the time required for commuting to the office or workspace allowed for more time during the day to focus on work.

“Working remotely saved me a lot of time because I did not have to commute every day. It saved me 14–15 hours a week, which I used to get more work done.”

“Have more free time, because I do not need to spend more than one hour on the road to the company.”

Nearly a quarter of responses (24%, N=12) highlighting a better use of time also noted that remote work led to no travel to conferences, etc., as well as fewer meetings overall, allowing for more time to focus on work.

“More focus time, fewer distractions. Most of the discussions are done via email in an asynchronous way which requires people to think more about what they write. The number of meetings got significantly lower and are held only for things that are hard to discuss via email (i.e. there would be a lot of back and forth due to people not knowing a lot about the topic, e.g. during a new project kick-off).”

Better productivity

The second most common response (28%, N=45) indicated that remote work allowed for better productivity during their allocated work hours. Within this group, the primary reason (76%, N=34) cited in these responses for better productivity had to do with fewer distractions.

“Fewer distractions from other people and the ability to focus on getting my work done.”

“Able to work at my own pace rather than having to work and hope I don’t get interrupted by someone’s conversation or questions.”

“I’ve been able to figure out better ways for me to focus and how to limit my distractions, especially because I am not working in an office full of other students now.”

Tailoring workday to better suit personal needs

The third most common response (19%, N=30) indicated that remote work allowed more flexibility in their work to allow for the participants to incorporate activities that were needed to improve physical and mental health, spend time with their family, and tailor their work environment to better suit their needs. Within this group, nearly half of the responses (47%, N=14) had to do with incorporating activities in their workday that contributed to better physical and mental health, including the time to cook a healthy lunch, exercise, or even take naps.

“I am usually less tired because I can use lunch breaks to take naps”

“exercise, fresh air, sunlight, better nutrition, contact with family”

Over a quarter of responses (27%, N=8) had to do with more flexibility in spending time with family.

“Don’t have to travel to in-person conferences anymore, which allows me to stay home with my toddler rather than being away from her for a week out of every month.”

“No commute. Lunch with the family”

Another just over a quarter of responses (27%, N=8) indicated that being able to tailor the environment in which they worked to suit their needs also improved their performance for work duties.

“access to better equipment (the home office has better hardware and peripherals), less background noise”

“My work area is much quieter at home.”

“Relaxed mood, freedom to be more myself and listen to music, etc. while working”

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

As we have also seen in our previous blog posts, early-career computing professionals may have various challenges while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the insights from the survey study, here we list some of these challenges which we consider unique to the early-career computing professionals.

Although some outside the field of computing might view computing as writing code individually without having many social interactions, collaborative work actually lies at the core of almost all work conducted by computing professionals. The collaboration can be at the level of a software project where scrum meetings often take place between the team members, discussion over a whiteboard for idea generation, or even in the level of pair programming. Difficulty in communication can easily lead to delays and problems in the success of a computing project, and negative impacts directly or indirectly in the careers of early-career computing professionals.

As the computing professions usually require mental activities, mental health and wellness directly impact the work duties of the early-career computing professionals. Thus, preserving work-life balance is of utmost importance. Moreover, as most remote computing work is conducted through prolonged sitting on home-office chairs, physical health and comfort can also affect the work duties and career of early-computing computing professionals.

Due to the nature of the computing profession, most early-career positions require completing intensive technical tasks such as developing critical software systems, making innovations, or learning new technical skills to adapt to new technologies and computing paradigms. Such tasks usually require intense concentration and distractions that occur in the home environments (i.e., taking care of children) can certainly lead to negative impacts on the work duties of early-career computing professionals.

Lastly, it is important to note that there is an uneven distribution in how remote work affects early-career computing professionals. The results of the survey have shown that some experience many positive benefits from remote work, such as being more productive and having the flexibility to arrange their schedule efficiently, resulting in more free time. However, many others experienced negative impacts. As working from home became the norm during the pandemic, mothers often found themselves taking on a larger share of childcare, often leading to negative impacts on their careers. For example, it has been observed that in academia, women have been publishing fewer academic papers while juggling increased teaching loads with childcare responsibilities. As organizations consider making remote work a long-term option, they must consider how these differences in outcomes might exacerbate equity gaps and work to mitigate these.

Have a dedicated work area, provide collaborative tools, support mental health and encourage work life balance.
Survey respondents suggested ways to support remote workers in their work duties.

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: Working From Home Vectors by Vecteezy


Remote Work’s Impact on Work Duties during COVID-19 was originally published in ACM Future of Computing Academy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.