How has COVID-19 affected average working hours?
How has COVID-19 affected average working hours?

How has COVID-19 affected average working hours?

  • COVID-19 and the consequent shutdowns caused rapid and extreme changes in the working week.
  • Researchers analyzed the work patterns of 15 million users on GitHub and compared the patterns in 2020 with the pre-pandemic period 2015-19.
  • The results showed that the pandemic initially caused GitHub users to work between 15 and 20 percent more on average.
  • In some nations like India, the jump was even higher – 30 to 40 percent.

The shift to teleworking initially increased the average GitHub user’s hourly work week by more than 15 percent, shifting work to unconventional hours.

Weekend share of working time among GitHub users.

An increase in working hours began at the onset of the pandemic.

Image: NBER

The pandemic caused a large number of workers to switch from working in the office to working at home. The increase in teleworking may survive the pandemic, but it is not clear whether it affects when and how much employees work.

In work redistribution and teleworking under COVID-19: Real-time evidence from GitHub (NBER Working Paper 29598), researchers Grant R. McDermott and Benjamin Hansen analyzed the work patterns of 15 million users on GitHub, the world’s largest software code development platform. They compared patterns in 2020 and the pre-pandemic period 2015-19.

GitHub allows individuals and businesses to manage versions of software and code by carefully tracking individual code contributions. Because it includes a timestamp for code changes, the researchers were able to track when and for how long code contributors worked. They found a dramatic change in working hours as soon as the pandemic hit.

In the years before the pandemic, weekends accounted for about 20 percent of GitHub users’ working hours. At the beginning of the shift to teleworking, this share rose to more than 24 percent, an increase of about two hours of work each weekend. Later in 2020, weekend work patterns began to slide back to their pre-pandemic levels, although work outside of opening hours (early morning and late evening) remained high in several places.

In addition to changing work schedules, the pandemic initially caused GitHub users to work between 15 and 20 percent more on average, or about eight hours a week, provided a 40-hour initial work week. In some nations like India, the jump was even higher – 30 to 40 percent. However, the overall increase in working hours did not continue. It returned to pre-pandemic levels in most nations by July 2020.

Researchers are also focusing on six urban hubs – London, New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Bengaluru and Seattle. They found that the redistribution of working hours across these cities preceded the local lockdown orders in each jurisdiction by several weeks, suggesting spillover effects across networks and geographies. There was further variation across cities in the return to pre-pandemic work patterns. London returned to the trend this summer, coinciding with the lifting of lockdown restrictions, while Bengaluru remained above the trend throughout 2020.

Men changed their work schedules faster than women, suggesting that men may have benefited more from the shift to teleworking. Women redistributed work more slowly at the onset of the pandemic, a result consistent with other research showing that women carried the bulk of housework and childcare when offices and schools closed.

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