How Work From Home Affects Collaboration: A Large-Scale Study of Information Workers in a Natural Experiment During COVID-19

07/30/2020 ∙ by Longqi Yang, et al. ∙ 0

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a wide-ranging impact on information workers such as higher stress levels, increased workloads, new workstreams, and more caregiving responsibilities during lockdown. COVID-19 also caused the overwhelming majority of information workers to rapidly shift to working from home (WFH). The central question this work addresses is: can we isolate the effects of WFH on information workers' collaboration activities from all other factors, especially the other effects of COVID-19? This is important because in the future, WFH will likely to be more common than it was prior to the pandemic. We use difference-in-differences (DiD), a causal identification strategy commonly used in the social sciences, to control for unobserved confounding factors and estimate the causal effect of WFH. Our analysis relies on measuring the difference in changes between those who WFH prior to COVID-19 and those who did not. Our preliminary results suggest that on average, people spent more time on collaboration in April (Post WFH mandate) than in February (Pre WFH mandate), but this is primarily due to factors other than WFH, such as lockdowns during the pandemic. The change attributable to WFH specifically is in the opposite direction: less time on collaboration and more focus time. This reversal shows the importance of using causal inference: a simple analysis would have resulted in the wrong conclusion. We further find that the effect of WFH is moderated by individual remote collaboration experience prior to WFH. Meanwhile, the medium for collaboration has also shifted due to WFH: instant messages were used more, whereas scheduled meetings were used less. We discuss design implications – how future WFH may affect focused work, collaborative work, and creative work.

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