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New study: Majority of software engineers adapted to the COVID-19 lockdown - but challenges remain

New study: Majority of software engineers adapted to the COVID-19 lockdown - but challenges remain

Researchers from Aalborg University have studied the impact of mobility restrictions on software engineers working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. While the well-being of the majority of the respondents gradually increased over time, challenges related to work-life balance and collaboration with colleagues remain.

Last modified: 11.09.2020

The restrictions imposed on billions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic successfully decreased the reproduction rate of the virus, however, quarantine and isolation also come with tremendous costs on people's well-being and productivity. Researchers from the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University have studied the impact of these restrictions on an individual level among approximately 200 software engineers worldwide, focusing on self-reported well-being and productivity measures while working from home.

Assistant Professor at the Department of Computer Science, Daniel Russo, argues that it is essential to better understand the impact of working remotely on people's health and productivity:

- A pandemic such as this one forces many people to work remotely from home. Our results are relevant to the software community because the number of knowledge workers who work remotely is increasing. Although they are accustomed to working with digital tools, the abrupt and enforced work-from-home context has resulted in an unprecedented scenario for the community.

The majority adapted over time

To explore the impact of the lockdown on well-being and productivity, the researchers employed a longitudinal design, with two surveys set two-weeks apart towards the end of the lockdown. 

- Our study confirms that during the pandemic, on average, software engineers' well-being increased, and perceived quality of social contacts improved, suggesting that the majority adapted to the situation over time. The study also reveals that the most critical challenges were switching off, collaborating with colleagues, and setting up a home office. On a positive note, working from home resulted in participants saving both time and money on daily activities such as their commute and eating out for lunch, while also increasing their overall flexibility in how they spend their day.

One of the surprising findings was that those software professionals, who based on several questions, were categorised as introverts, seemed to be more affected by the lockdown as compared to their extraverted colleagues. According to Daniel Russo, this finding is counter-intuitive since extroverts are typically perceived as very social people who enjoy spending time with others.

- Social interaction is crucial for all – and our interpretation of the results is that during the lockdown, introverts had a much harder time reaching out to colleagues than extraverted ones. For some, calling colleagues via Teams or Zoom requires a lot of effort and energy. We also asked our participants whether they thought introverts or extraverts struggled more with the COVID-19 pandemic. Only two participants correctly predicted the introverts, highlighting that people's intuition can be blatantly wrong. 

Well-being and productivity are positively associated

Based on the results, the researchers have outlined a list of practical recommendations, which might be useful to software organisations dealing with possible future lockdowns: These concern, among other things, the employees' need for autonomy, daily routines, and social contact.

 - In our study, well-being and productivity were positively associated. In other words, neglecting well-being will likely also negatively impact productivity. Organisations should trust their employees, providing them a high degree of freedom to schedule their day. Also, management should support joint informal meetings during working hours. But it is unlikely that any intervention will have the same effect on all people; hence it is essential to have individual differences in mind when exploring the impact of any interventions.

The researchers hope that future work will explore underlying mechanisms between the variables, and in particular, assess how this will impact software development.


More information

The study was conducted by Assistant Professor Daniel Russo and Assistant Professor Niels van Berkel from Human-Centered Computing, Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University in collaboration with Dr. Paul H. P. Hanel from the Department of Psychology, University of Essex and Business Psychologist Seraphina Altnickel from the German company Mia Raeumerei GmbH.


Assistant Professor Daniel Russo
Department of Computer Science
Aalborg University
Email: daniel.russo@cs.aau.dk