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GitHub data reveals what the shift to work from home really did to the workforce

How about some actual data on what working from home means?   A recently published working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) uses hard data to explore the impact of remote work on people’s daily working schedule.   I’ll be quoting liberally from ZDNet.  

The research explores GitHub data covering the entirety of activity on public repositories in 2020, from a number of geographies.

The analysis highlights a sharp reallocation towards weekend activity following the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 compared to 2019. This proportional increase, from a baseline of 20 percent to over 24 percent, represents a sizable shift in individuals’ time use. 

If we assume a constant 40-hour work week, then it translates to an additional 2 hours of work every weekend. That trend is somewhat reversed toward the end of 2020, but the shift is long-lasting, and overall characterizes 2020.

Overall, working hours have also increased following the onset of the pandemic. Most countries in NBER’s sample recorded a large (15-20 percent) increase in overall activity relative to the forecast baseline. Assuming that these changes are reflected proportionally against a regular 40-hour workweek, this translates to approximately eight hours of additional activity each week.

However, elevated activity levels had generally returned to normal by the start of July 2020, coinciding with the reopening of the global economy. As economies around the world have reopened and leisure opportunities have returned, so too have workers returned to a regular 40- or 50-hour week. But they have not necessarily returned to the same 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday schedule, NBER’s analysis finds.

The GitHub data is skewed by tech professionals and in particular males.     The researchers are adamant in emphasizing that their study population is not necessarily representative of the modal worker in the economy.   They go on to add, this population is ideally suited for measuring the effect of work from home on labor timing and intensity. While we do not observe remote work directly, previous research finds that workers in digital knowledge spaces like computers are ex-ante easily able to do their job remotely and that ex-post the vast majority of these workers were working remotely in the pandemic.

Why do we care?

Solid, researched data, and why we care.   The work-from-home surge initially caused workers to work more… and likely as there was little else to do and panic about keeping a job.   With options returning, the numbers fell… but not to the same work pattern.

The very definition of dispersed work, and controlled by the worker’s schedule, not by the employer’s.

The longer work from home goes on, the less likely it will be for employers to unwind this back to the “old ways”.