We’ve Worked Longer Under Lockdown and I Guess Some of You Liked It

We’ve Worked Longer Under Lockdown and I Guess Some of You Liked It
Image: Ina Fassbender, Getty Images

The workday under lockdown has been defined by the dangerous presence of my enemy the fridge, but also, longer hours, more meetings, and more after-hours emails, researchers from Harvard Business School and NYU have found. They used email and meeting metadata to analyse the habits of over three million people in 16 cities across the world, concluding that the workday increased by 48.5 minutes, partly, they concluded, from increases in after-hours emails. While many cities returned to the pre-pandemic average of nine-hour days, other cities including New York, Rome, and San Jose kept cranking.

Study co-authors aren’t sure whether this is as bad as it sounds.

“I have two young kids, and the ability to work at different times and fit my work activity around my other needs could be positive,” Harvard Business School professor Raffaella Sadun told Gizmodo. “And, if you look at the literature, people who typically elect to work from home have said that’s a major plus.” The span of the workday has increased, but it’s possible that this means we’re spacing out work.

It’s unclear from the study whether we are all, in fact, taking the deserved self-care breaks or being pushed to the limit of sanity because the aggregated, depersonalized meta-data doesn’t show the consistency of work emails sent throughout the day, nor does the study have access to Slack activity. Harvard Business School Ph.D. candidate Evan DeFilippis noted that flexibility could be good for mental health, or the opposite, if it means a lack of work/life balance.

The study also found that, while the number of meetings has increased, the time we spend in meetings overall has declined. “One interpretation of this is that we are trying to mimic the extemporaneous interactions that you would have at the water cooler,” Sadun said.

Since lockdowns started, the monolithic “work from home” concept has been analysed and debated and opined upon, and we still haven’t decided whether we’re going to bask in our newfound freedom or die from productivity or accept that bosses monitor workers’ locations even more. Like it or not, many are predicting that remote work is here to stay for a while or maybe forever.