We’re working longer hours during the pandemic, but spending less time in meetings

  • Harvard researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted the first large-scale data analysis of how workers’ digital communication changed in the early days of the pandemic.
  • The working paper aggregates data on meetings and emails from more than 3,143,270 workers at 21,478 firms in 16 metropolitan areas across North America, Europe, and the Middle East.
  • Researchers compared workers’ activities in the eight weeks immediately before and after the cities went into lockdown to see how digital work activities changed from the pandemic.
  • Overall, people are communicating more frequently. The average number of meetings in a day went up by 13%, as did the average number of people in meetings. But meetings were 20% shorter on average in the weeks following lockdown, which meant people spent 12% less time in meetings per day overall.
  • Workers sent 5% more emails to coworkers in the early weeks of lockdown, and emails had 3% more recipients than in the weeks prior to the pandemic. But overall, the total number of emails sent before and after the lockdown stayed fairly steady.
  • Shorter meetings and more communication are good things, right? Well, researchers also looked at the length of a work day, measured by the time between the first and last email or meeting of the day.
  • On average, the workday was nearly 49 minutes longer, and the number of emails sent outside working hours was up by 8% – and this increase stayed steady throughout the first weeks of the pandemic, signalling that a longer work day is part of the new normal.
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