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Pandemic Programming Survey Results Show Negative Impact of COVID-19 Changes

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The Pandemic Programming survey looked at the ways that developers' lives have been impacted by the lockdowns and changes caused by COVID-19.   Over 2200 people from 52 countries answered the questionnaire to assess their wellbeing and productivity before and while working at home.   The results show that well-being and productivity are suffering with some groups, particularly women, parents, and people with disabilities, are much more negatively impacted than others.  The researchers provide advice to software companies to help mitigate the negative impact. 

Dr Rashina Hoda of the HumaniSE lab in the Faculty of IT at Monash University is one of a group of 17 researchers who conducted the Pandemic Programming survey into the impacts of the sudden shift to remote working on computer programmers around the world. The survey looked at the ways that developers' lives, particularly around well-being and productivity, have been impacted by the lockdowns and changes as a result of COVID-19. 

The conclusions from the research are:

  • Developers' well-being and productivity are suffering
  • Productivity and well-being are closely related
  • Better home office ergonomics help well-being and productivity
  • Women, parents, and people with disabilities may be disproportionately affected
  • Different people need significantly different kinds of support

From the results the researchers came up with some advice for software companies on how they can support their developers:

  • DO support developers' emotional wellbeing; it will help their productivity
  • DO ask employees what they need (e.g., equipment, professional training)
  • DO help employees improve the ergonomics of their home work spaces
  • DON’T expect normal productivity during the pandemic; it’s unrealistic
  • DON’T pressure employees to be productive; it will make matters worse
  • DON’T make any decisions (e.g., layoffs, promotions) based on productivity during the pandemic

The full data set and complete paper including analysis approach and statistical approach is available here and a one-page summary here.

InfoQ spoke to Dr Hoda about the results.

InfoQ: What was the background to the research - why was it conducted?

Rashina Hoda: We wanted to study how the pandemic is affecting software practitioners, in particular developers, as they moved to working from home. We also wanted to gain insights into steps organisations are taking to support their staff and what is seen to be helping.

InfoQ: The results seem to be fairly obvious - many of our readers will look at them and say, "Isn't this just common sense?" What should they take from the results and can you add any additional information to the results?

Hoda: The study shows much needed empirical evidence to support some of what appears to be common sense conclusions. Another aspect here is that many of our findings and recommendations such as don't pressurise developers on productivity under the covid19 scenario are only 'common sense' to the managers and companies who are reasonable and doing the right things. There may be companies out there focusing on productivity at this time when they should be focusing on well-being instead. I.e. common sense isn't universally common and needs to be shared out loud with research evidence.

InfoQ: Please tell us more about the overlap with emergency and disaster management and the implications for software development.

Hoda: With this study, we have explored the interface between emergency and disaster management and the field of software engineering. Both from a research and practice perspective, the study sets precedence for approaching developers' well-being and productivity issues in the face of emergencies/disasters with guidance on what employers can do to help. More generally, we open avenues for further work into human-centric issues in software development in the face of uncertainty and defining the 'new normal', e.g. Twitter accepts remote working as a norm.

InfoQ: What are some practical steps that managers of software developers can take to support their people?

Hoda: Understanding the relationship between well-being and productivity is key. Managers can help focus on their developers' well-being through regular team catch-ups, one-on-ones, virtual lunches, virtual social gatherings, and so on to tackle issues arising from physical and social isolation related to remote working. Managers can also cater to the very practical needs of helping set up the home environment for working conditions, including sponsoring ergonomic furniture, keyboards, mice, headsets, and additional internet packages to supplement increased demands on the home network. Managers can also help by taking the circumstances of women, those with disabilities, those with carer responsibilities, and other vulnerable groups into special consideration as they are more likely to be disproportionately disadvantaged during such a crisis.

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Community comments

  • Data collection timeline

    by Ferit Topcu /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Checking in on my personal timeline and seeing the data collection timeline, I think there needs to be a follow-up as we are now months into remote work.

    The paper says data collection was from March 27 to April 14th. Depending on the country, the emotional impact of a possible lockdown or "forced" remote work will have a huge influence on answering such questionnaire.

    E.g. in Germany End of March, Beginning of April was when a lot of chaos existed regarding lockdown or not. In Europe many countries were still in the process of limiting people's life, e.g. Germany, France and others. Some countries were already in emergency mode (Spain and Italy).

    Any questionnaire during that time period will show negative impact as people were checking news hourly. Now, months into remote work, setups and acceptance, it would be important to measure the impact now 3-4 months into covid-19 remote work.

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