This section presents the questionnaire respondent demographics, the analysis of the questionnaire, and then the results organized according to the research questions in Section 3.
Questionnaire Respondent Demographics
Of the respondents who answered the questionnaire, 70% were male, 27% female, and 3% were either non-binary or did not want to specify. Most of the respondents (94%) were located in Europe while the remaining 6% were located in North America (3%) and Asia (3%). Looking into the different domains of the respondents, 43% worked in IT (e.g. software technology), 28% in embedded systems (e.g. automotive), and 29% in other domains (e.g. entertainment/media). The majority of the respondents (54%) had a technical role (e.g. developer), 26% had a management role (e.g. development manager), and 20% had an agile role (e.g. scrum master). The reported team sizes ranged from zero to 41 (as shown in Fig. 6), with an average team size of eight. The respondents experience of ASD ranged from zero to 30 years (as shown in Fig. 7) with an average of seven years.
Five percent of the respondents reported that they did not belong to a team, that is, a team size of zero. Most of the respondents were either part of exactly the same team (36%) or mostly the same team (27%) as before the pandemic, while 15% had changed team during the pandemic but still employed at the same company, and 21% had changed employment.
Before the pandemic, about half (48%) of the respondents never worked remotely, 45% worked mainly in office but sometimes remotely, 2% split the time evenly between working in office and remote, 3% mainly worked remotely but sometimes in the office, and only 2% worked remotely. At the time of the questionnaire, i.e. one year into the pandemic, a vast majority (78%) only worked remotely, 17% mainly worked remotely, 4% only worked in the office, and 1% worked as much in the office as remotely.
Among the respondents who worked remotely at the time of answering the questionnaire, 63% stated that the primary reason for working remotely was due to a recommendation from the company and/or government, 23% stated it was due to an enforcement from the company and/or government, while 14% stated it was their own choice, as shown in Fig. 8. The majority (52%) of the respondents do not feel forced to work remotely, 39% felt forced, while the remaining 8% were neutral, as illustrated in Fig. 9.
Analysis of Questionnaire
The Bayesian analysis resulted in a total of four significant predictors (i.e., predictors having a significant effectFootnote 8), and 31 significant effects for 29 different outcomes. Significant effects are identified by either comparing the lower and upper credible interval (CI)Footnote 9 values of population level effects, or by plotting probability densities, as seen in Fig. 13. An effect is significant if the CI values do not include zero, that is, both the lower and upper CI are either negative or positive (Furia et al. 2019). In other words, an effect is significant negative if both values are negative, and significant positive if both values are positive.
The most common significant predictor was whether a practitioner (i.e., respondents of the questionnaire) feels forced to work remotely, which was significant for 23 outcomes. The other three significant predictors were team constellation (significant for four outcomes), reason to work remotely (three outcomes) and role (one outcome). The predictors are referred hereafter to the abbreviations described in Table 4.
Below, the significant effects are presented in relation to the sections of the questionnaire, namely: agile practices, productivity and performance, well-being and work environment, meetings, communication, and teamwork
Two predictors (Forced and Team Constellation) affect how challenging six agile practices (outcomes) are experienced now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, as shown in Table 5. The three agile practices stand up meeting/daily scrum, refactoring, and sustainable pace have Forced as a significant positive predictor, while sprint/iteration, sprint/iteration planning and sprint/iteration review/demo have Team Constellation as a significant positive predictor. This means, e.g., that stand up meeting/daily scrum is experienced to be more challenging now than compared to before the pandemic, if the respondent feels forced to work remotely. Similarly, if a practitioner has changed team or employment (Team Constellation) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, an agile practice such as sprint/iteration is experienced to be more challenging now. These effects are visualized in Figs. 10 and 11.
- Productivity and performance.:
The results of the Bayesian analysis show that six outcomes have Forced as a significant negative predictor, and Forced is a significant positive predictor for time spent on administrative work, as shown in Table 6. In addition, time spent on breaks has Reason as a significant positive predictor. This means, e.g., that productivity is experienced to be lower now than compared to before the pandemic, if the respondent feels forced to work remotely; and that the time spent on breaks is higher now than compared to before the pandemic, if the respondent works remotely due to own choice rather than due to recommendation. In addition, a practitioner who does not feel forced to work remotely experiences less distractions now than before the pandemic, compared to a practitioner who does feel forced to work remotely.
- Well-being and work environment.:
Feeling forced to work remotely has a significant negative effect on well-being, satisfaction of work environment, feeling of being appreciated, and motivation, as shown in Table 7. Meaning, a practitioner who feels forced to work remotely experiences a lower well-being, is less satisfied with the work environment, and feels less appreciated and motivated to work, than someone who does not feel forced to work remotely. The feeling of being overwhelmed by work differs from other outcomes as it has two significant predictors instead of one (see Table 7). It has Forced as a significant positive predictor and Reason as a significant negative. This means that a practitioner feels more overwhelmed by work if he/she feels forced to work remotely, and less overwhelmed if the practitioner works remotely due to own choice rather than recommendation.
As seen in Table 8, meeting quality, the extent to which meetings are face-to-face, brainstorming, and whether all people make themselves heard have Forced as a significant negative predictor, while it is a positive significant predictor for meeting frequency. Similar to the feeling of being overwhelmed by work, meeting quality differs from other outcomes as it has two significant predictors; both Forced and Team Constellation as significant negative predictors. This means that the meeting quality is experienced to be lower if a practitioner feels forced to work remotely and/or has changed team or employment.
Table 9 shows the outcomes related to communication and their respective significant effects. Communication quality and how often practitioners use written communication have Forced as a significant negative and positive predictor respectively. In addition, how often practitioners communicate in person has Role as a significant positive predictor whereas the extent to which respondents spend time on communication has Reason as a significant negative predictor. This means that, written communication is used more often and that the communication quality is lower now than compared to before than pandemic, if the practitioner feels forced to work remotely. As seen to the right in Fig. 12, all types of roles have experienced a decrease in how often they communicate in person, but a practitioner with a non-technical role experienced a smaller decrease than a practitioner with a technical role. Use of written communication has clearly increased for most practitioners, but practitioners who feel forced to work remotely has experienced a larger increase than those who do not feel forced. Furthermore, a practitioner spends less time on communication now, compared to before the pandemic, if working remotely due to own choice rather than due to recommendation, as seen to the left in Fig. 12.
For teamwork, there was only one outcome with a significant predictor, namely team morale which has Forced as a significant negative predictor. Meaning, the experienced team morale in a team has decreased compared to before the pandemic, if the practitioner feels forced to work remotely.
- Investigating forced as an outcome.:
As mentioned in Section 3.1.4, besides analyzing the Forced aspect as a predictor, it was also analyzed as an outcome dependent on the other predictors. Looking at Fig. 13, it is evident that to what extent a practitioner worked remotely or in office before the pandemic (Q9) and especially their Team Constellation (Q3) show strong tendencies to whether a practitioner feels forced or not, but they are not significant. For example, a practitioner who does not feel forced may be part of exactly the same team as before the pandemic whereas someone who does feel forced may have changed team or employment.
Employment of Agile Development and Ways of Working (RQ1)
Looking at how industry practitionersFootnote 10 employ ASD, and how their ways of working have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (RQ1), 12 sub-areas (e.g., specially important) were identified and divided into five areas (e.g., agile practices), as illustrated in Fig. 14. The identified areas are discussed below.
Overall, in 14 out of 19 agile practices, a majority of the respondents experienced the practices to be as challenging now as before the pandemic, as illustrated in Fig. 15. In four practices (mob programming, pair programming, retrospective and planning game), a majority of the respondents reported a change in how challenging the practices were experienced, while for the agile practice sprint/iteration planning, 50% of the respondents reported a change and 50% reported reported no change in how challenging the practice was perceived. Looking at Fig. 15, we can see that agile practices of more social nature, such as as mob programming and retrospective, indicated a higher percentage of changes than practices of more technical nature, such as continuous integration and test-driven development.
Changes & Challenges in Agile Practices
Three agile practices in particular were mentioned both in the questionnaire and during interviews regarding changes and challenges, namely retrospectives, pair programming, and stand up meetings.
Regarding retrospectives, the results from the questionnaire show that retrospectives have become more challenging for many practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several interviewees mentioned that the lack of body language and signals, and that people talk over each other and do not open up during retrospectives are reasons that have contributed to why retrospectives are perceived as more challenging now than before the pandemic. The importance of using video cameras during retrospectives to convey body language was mentioned by several respondents. One respondent explained, “always use video for body language, social interaction and human connection”. The content in retrospectives have changed, they do not only discuss ways of working, but also how people are doing and COVID-19 related topics. One respondent explained, “retro has always been important, but now it is a place to vent, talk about how we are doing, and do some mental health support”.
Pair programming is one of the agile practices that differs the most from other practices as there is a relatively even distribution of respondents across the three different alternatives: less challenging, same as before, and more challenging. Based on the interviews, it is evident that several practitioners have started to use, or extended their use of pair programming. One interviewee described that teams have started to use pair programming more seriously during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two reasons for using pair programming, for knowledge sharing and to socialize. Regarding knowledge sharing, one interviewee mentioned that pair programming has been the rescue for new team members during the pandemic. Regarding social aspects, one respondent described that “we are pair-programming a lot more now than before the pandemic. I guess this is because we do not see each other as much as before, so pair programming enables us to see and hear each other, and collaborate together on tasks, which are all aspects of team interactions that have taken a hit because of the pandemic.”.
Although stand up meeting/daily scrum was not the most challenging practice (as shown in Fig. 15), changes have been made to stand up meeting/daily scrum during the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents reported that the frequency of stand ups is almost the same as before, but with a little change towards an increase. Several interviewees reported on adding more daily stand ups, e.g one more after lunch, because there has been a lack of natural syncing during the day. One respondent described that “since spontaneous communication is a lot more difficult when working remotely we now have two stand ups per day”. Some practitioners described that they are fine with longer stand ups since there are less interactions and spontaneous conversations when working remotely. One respondent explained, “daily Scrum meetings have become slightly longer but the team agrees this is OK because we do not see each other during the day like we did at the office”. Another respondent described that they have longer daily scrums since “you perceive less what the others are doing”.
A common theme that emerged is how some agile practices have been more important than others during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the daily contact and interaction with colleagues have been strongly reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, practitioners have especially used daily stand ups, retrospectives, and pair programming to address the lack of interaction.
Daily stand up has been an important agile practice to keep the interaction alive during the COVID-19 pandemic, and not only as a function to update each other on work progress, but also as a way to maintain the feeling of working in a team and to check in on how people are doing. Before the pandemic, practitioners would see each other outside of the daily stand ups, but when working remotely, the daily stand up is one of the few moments where practitioners actually see and talk to each other. One respondent explained, “daily standup is the most important. [...] And since attendance is mandatory people _actually_ communicate in a different way than they would without the standup. Moreover, the standup increases the feeling of being part of a team since there is always a little chit chat and joking around in those meetings”.
Several practitioners stated that retrospectives are particularly important now, compared to before the pandemic, as it has become more difficult to communicate and pick up on how people are doing when not sitting next to each other. One respondents explained that in the office, “it was easier to pick up issues that people had but when everyone is remote, it is much harder to see if someone is not happy with something or not feeling well etc.”. Another respondent mentioned that it is particularly important as they do not “sit together physically any more, which makes the retrospectives to be so much more important for the team to work as good as possible”.
Pair programming was reported to be a specially important agile practice during the COVID-19 pandemic by several practitioners. Reasons were, social interaction, teamwork, knowledge sharing, and quality. For knowledge sharing and socially wise, pair programming has been a rescue for new team members. One respondent described how pair programming is more important now “since the normal social interactions have been strongly reduced (i.e. not working in the same room anymore)”. Another respondent explained that distributed pair programming has been important for quality and “without this practice, quality suffers and it takes longer to deliver stories.”.
It is not surprising that practitioners communicate less often in person and have less face-to-face communication. Instead, there is an increase in written and digital communication. However, there are challenges with digital communication, e.g., a decrease of body language and signals. One respondent mentioned, when communicating digitally, it is difficult “to transmit the same amount of information via the different digital solutions, such as Skype, Teams, etc.”. In addition to challenges with digital communication, the practitioners experienced challenges with hybrid communication, where some work in office and some at home, as it creates an uneven balance. Several interviewees stated that hybrid communication does not work as well as when everyone is onsite or remote. One respondent experienced that a mix of people working in the office and at home has not worked well, and that he/she ‘personally think that remote teams works if all is working remotely”.
In general, informal conversations have decreased, while work related conversations have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, communication with people outside of the practitioners’ own teams has decreased, and practitioners only talk to people from other teams if they really need to work with them.
Regarding the transition to digital communication, communication quality have decreased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas appreciation for communication has increased, as seen in Fig. 16. However, one respondent mentioned that communication “has improved, being more concise, to the point and in overall warmer, but more of a human touch.”.
There have been changes to meetings due to the transition to remote work, e.g., a significant decrease of meetings that are face to face, and a significant increase of to what extent meetings are digital and use video cameras, as illustrated in Fig. 17. A majority of the practitioners have experienced a change in meeting quality, where some believe it has increased and others that it has decreased. One respondent mentioned that the “meeting discipline (clear agenda, note taking, formal decisions) have improved tremendously.”. On the other hand, several interviewees mentioned that people often talk over each other or that they are too silent in digital meetings, which contributes to a decreased quality. In addition, there is a significant decrease in people who make themselves heard during meetings. Two interviewees confirmed this by explaining that some of their colleagues are very silent during meetings, which was not the case before the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the interviewees further explained that digital meetings “probably brings out the worst in people, allowing them to be more introverted”.
A majority of the respondents experienced an increase of meetings, which is both confirmed and contradicted by the interviewees. Two interviewees expressed that their and other colleagues’ schedules are packed, and that they experienced “back to back” meetings because of the digital meeting structure. Moreover, several respondents mentioned that they have meetings almost every day to ensure that people are up to speed and feeling less lonely. In contrast, one interviewee believed that he/she attends fewer meetings now, compared to before the pandemic, which may be because he/she actively tries not to attend meetings now and that it is easier to leave meetings when they are digital.
Casual conversations that used to be carried out spontaneously in hallways and before meetings have been reduced. One reason is that it is not possible, in a remote setting, to glance or overhear what other people say or do. Thus, enabling casual conversations is more difficult now. The lack of casual conversations does not only affect work, but also people’s social life and well-being. One interviewee (P4), who works as an agile coach, mentioned a consequence of the lack of casual conversations. This have affected the work of agile coaches who are more focused on organization and leadership, as much of their work is to talk to managers by the coffee machines to make changes. P4 mentioned that it is not as flexible to book a meeting for these casual conversations. Since there has been a loss of casual conversations, measures to reinforce similar types of conversations have taken place, e.g., digital tea or coffee breaks, lunches, catch-ups and text channels, with the aim to “ensure staying close as a team”, as explained by one respondent.
Body Language & Signals
Practitioners have experienced a significant decrease in how often they communicate in person and to what extent they communicate face-to-face. Thus, the value of body language, signals, and facial expressions has become evident. Several interviewees mentioned that, in face-to-face communication, you can read each other’s body language, voice and facial expressions, which makes resolving design issues and other types of problems a lot easier.
Approaching & Contacting Colleagues
There have been changes to how practitioners’ approach and contact their colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personal preference and lack of unwritten rules influence how practitioners approach their colleagues. Instead of approaching colleagues in the office, written communication or phone calls are used. However, practitioners are more reluctant to contact a colleague directly without thinking it through first, which was not the case before the COVID-19 pandemic. One respondent explained that “there is a lot less rubber ducking and you don’t ask people for help or about stuff before you have thought it through thoroughly. Both positives and negatives with that.”, while another respondent said that “people think once more before disturbing and this helps with focusing on the given task and not being disturbed.”.
A general theme is the lack of, and importance of having social interactions with colleagues. Most interactions have been replaced by digital social engagement activities such as digital coffee breaks, which have been experienced mostly as good alternatives, but not necessarily substitutes for having them in person.
Interaction with colleagues, both within and outside of the own team, either physically or digitally, is important to build relationships, solve problems, well-being, and to avoid misunderstandings. Practitioners miss the social nature of being around other people and the spontaneous conversations it may induce. As one interviewee explained, he/she “really miss the water cooler moments at work in particular, because you often bump in to each other in the kitchen and be like, I am working on this, how would you do it? You get some really cool interactions with that”. Misunderstandings in digital meetings and chats are examples of bad effects of digital communication since it is not possible to send a feeling in the same way as in real life, as explained by one interviewee. The interviewee has experienced misunderstandings while chatting and learned that it is better to talk than to write. To avoid misunderstandings in chats and written communication, one respondent explained that “clear communication is very important, and keeping things organized in text form. I feel that extra care has to be taken when explaining things in text since you can’t immediately catch misunderstandings”. In addition, as explained by several practitioners, it is important that people know each other personally to avoid misunderstandings, but also for opening up to colleagues and sharing things with each other.
Relationships & Trust
About half of the respondents reported a decrease in team morale, and for team inclusion and trust, there were almost as many reporting an increase as a decrease, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. One reason why some respondents reported an increase in team morale was that everyone has been exposed to the same situation. The results reveal that it has become more difficult to create personal relationships when working remotely. However, it is not impossible, it may just take longer time to establish, and with fewer people. In order to maintain relationships and trust, it is important to have social interactions and non-work-related casual conversations.
When working remotely, practitioners are not necessarily expected to behave in the same way as they did in the office. It may be easier to deviate from the unwritten rules that existed in a physical setting, e.g., it is easier to drop out of irrelevant meetings when working remotely, compared to when working in the office. One interviewee elaborated by comparing remote meetings to physical ones, “so, before if you were stuck into a physical meeting, you cannot just drop in ‘oh, I am not actually interested in this’ and then walk out, it would be more awkward you know.”. On the other hand, there are new unwritten rules to follow in a remote setting, e.g., related to breaks. In general, practitioners felt expected to attend a coffee break in the office, but do not feel expected to do so when working remotely. One interviewee described that all people do not join coffee breaks anymore. In the office it was more of an expectation to join, but now when they are working remotely, it is an optional activity that is not necessary to join.
Compared to before the pandemic, several respondents experienced a decrease in team morale, knowledge sharing, and to what extent they know what their team members are working on, as shown in Fig. 18. About half of the respondents (49%) have experienced an increase of misunderstandings, but regarding conflicts and disagreements, a majority did not report any increase or decrease.
Several practitioners described that pair programming has been an effective approach for knowledge sharing, and thus reduce the need for syncing. Moreover, practitioners started to use pair programming during the COVID-19 pandemic to create knowledge sharing and this has been a rescue for new team members. One reason for a decreased team morale was related to work that still needs to be done in the office, e.g., working with hardware. One interviewee explained, in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a bit unclear who was responsible for what. The team members who still worked in office ended up with higher workload than those who worked remotely and became irritated on those who did not come to the office.
Joining New Team
Many practitioners joined a new team during the pandemic; 35% of the respondents, and 71% of the interviewees. There are challenges when joining a new team during a pandemic; company feeling, getting to know colleagues, and avoiding misunderstandings. Getting support from the company and colleagues is important, in particular in the beginning when, e.g., processes are unknown. In addition, when joining a new team while working remotely, getting support from colleagues, e.g., by being able to ask questions, is important for adapting to the situation. Another type of support, which was explained by one interviewee, is that the company encouraged employees to take a day off when feeling stressed, which was taken more seriously now compared to before the pandemic. Almost a majority of the respondents reported that they have as much support from their company now as they had before the pandemic, but for 21% it had decreased compared to 34% for which it had increased.
Interviewee P6, who joined a new company during the pandemic, experienced it to be challenging to work from home in the beginning of the pandemic and that he prefers face-to-face communication since it is easier to interpret signals that way, compared to when working remotely. Similarly, a respondent raised how it is necessary to reduce the gap between new and old team members, the respondent explained, “people that is new at the company doesn’t have the same team feeling that old members have. We have to work on that!”. From a manager perspective, P2 explained that it is a challenge for managers to build teams remotely, and that managers who are responsible for building teams have to think about “how do I do that remotely?”.
Tools & Technologies
Despite being a necessary and somewhat forced decision to experiment with new tools, the usage has provided practitioners with insights on how tools can both facilitate and hinder their work, and how it is possible to work remotely with agile development. Some tools were already in use prior the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g., issue tracking tools, but the usage has become more serious during the pandemic. In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many practitioners experienced technical issues as the infrastructure was not in place to deal with everyone working remotely at once. However, most issues seem to have been resolved.
New Tools & Technical Issues
As a result of the transition to digital communication, many practitioners have tried new tools, and increased the extent to which they use video cameras and video conferencing tools. The experiences of the new tools vary, some are positive while others are negative. For example, physical whiteboards and other materials have been replaced by digital ones. One respondent explained, “digital whiteboards like Miro and Mural is really awesome and it would have been hard to cooperate and do what we do without them. They are really a life saver in our work”. One interviewee described that they replaced all physical materials with digital boards like Miro and Mural, which worked well, even for keeping up the interaction. Similarly, some interviewees described that they have converted from physical post-it notes to digital tools. This was a positive experience since everyone can actually see all the notes, as explained by one interviewee. However, digital tools do not always provide an equally positive experience. For example, people talking over each other, microphone problems, and people who tends to look at the presentation instead of the people despite using video cameras are all examples of issues with digital communication. One interviewee also described that it is more difficult to screen share something quickly compared to drawing something on a physical whiteboard.
Impact of Recommended or Enforced Remote Work (RQ2)
In analyzing RQ2, how practitioners have been affected by recommended and/or enforced remote work due to social restrictions, certain areas have had more prominent impacts than others: Workplace, Productivity & Performance, and Personal Experience & Opinions, as illustrated in Fig. 19.
Five areas related to workplace were identified: remote work; own choice, recommendation or enforcement to work remotely; work in office during pandemic; future work; and simulating physical workplace.
Most practitioners had limited experience of working remotely prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus needed to adjust to the new situation. However, after one year of remote work, the practitioners have become more positive towards remote work and are now used to the situation. One interviewee explained how remote work was a new experience, and that the biggest challenge was to adapt to the changes of not working in office anymore; however, by taking it step by step it went well. Overall, practitioners have learned a lot by the fact that almost everyone is working remotely and that everyone has faced the same situation. One respondent explained, “we’ve learned a lot and especially if everyone is put up for the same challenges. Then it works a lot better since everyone needs to adapt, not just a few. [...] If some individuals are not keen on adapting and don’t want to learn. Then it is really hard.”. From the questionnaire, the results reveal that there is a mix of opinions regarding the work environment, 38% of the respondents were less satisfied with their work environment whereas 31% were more satisfied. This was also reflected by the interviewees, some prefers to continue to work remotely, whereas others do not.
Among the most positive consequences of remote work that were communicated during the interviews were, the benefits of not having to commute, and the perceived flexibility and freedom of working remotely. Several interviewees perceived having more flexibility and freedom since they can work from any place they want and manage their time more easily when working remotely. For example, the ability to work on tasks at any time they want. This flexibility is also reflected by the questionnaire results, which show that about half (45%) of the respondents reported an increase of work-life balance, whereas 28% reported a decrease. However, some practitioners were worried that not meeting each other in person will have negative consequences in the long run. The lack of interaction may affect peoples’ feelings and personalities, as well as the ability to gain advantages of working as a team.
Own Choice, Recommendation or Enforcement to Work Remotely
A majority of the respondents stated that they work remotely due to a recommendation from company and/or government, about 25% due to enforcement and the rest work remotely due to their own choice. Among the interviewees, six out of seven stated that they have been recommended to work from home. A majority of the practitioners do not feel forced to work remotely; however, 39% of the respondents do.
Several interviewees explained the feeling of being forced to work remotely. P6 mentioned that he felt forced to work from home as there were no capabilities to work from home in the beginning, while P2 felt that the transition to remote work was in a forced direction. However, P1 looked at it from a different perspective, stating that “if we were forced to do something, that would be to work from the office, and not the other way around”, but if you did not feel comfortable doing so, it was not an issue, he added.
Several interviewees expressed that they did not feel forced to work remotely because they were allowed to go into office if they needed. Although P7 did not felt forced, he stated that in practice they were forced because of the lockdown. Another perspective was mentioned by P3 who explained that it is important not to force people to work in office, especially the ones who either belong to a risk group themselves or live with someone who does. In some situations, the decision to work from home or in the office was not the individuals’ own choice “per se”, they just followed the protocol. For example, several interviewees mentioned that they were told to follow their clients’ recommendations regarding working from home or not, or that their companies had communicated that the ones who could work from home should do that to allow others—who could not work from home—to work in the office. This aspect of putting others first was a recurring theme throughout the interviews.
Work in Office During Pandemic
The questionnaire results show a significant increase in the number of people who now work from home the majority of the time. However, some still work as much remotely as in office, and some work the majority of the time in office. Most of the interviewees mentioned that some work still needs to be done in office. For example, working in a department with certain services that need to be handled in office, troubleshooting hardware, or picking up work-related things such as canvases and whiteboards, are all reasons to still be and work in the office. One respondent explained why they still need to work in the office, “recently we’ve frequently had to have a local team member go physically to the office to re-start machines that failed on applying Windows updates”. For some, one impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is that hardware testing is done less frequent due to working from home. However, in some cases, as for P1, the responsibility for working with the hardware can be taken care of by the ones who still go to the office.
All interviewees reflected about future work situations, especially for when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The majority want to work in a hybrid model, if possible. A hybrid model, according to the interviewees, includes working in the office some days and at home the other days of the week. Reasons for working in a hybrid model were, being able to leave the home a couple of days a week, and due to missing the office and social interactions. One interviewee explained that he/she preferred a hybrid model and preferred that the whole team went to the office the same days. Although the majority of the interviewees prefers work in a hybrid model, there are a few exceptions, and some have colleagues or team members that feel differently. Some people think it is boring to work from home and others prefer to work in office as they have family members who would disturb them at home.
Several interviewees discussed the future use of office space. One view was that offices may serve a more specific value rather than being occupied by empty desks. One interviewee mentioned the possibility for changing certain rooms to workshop rooms where teams can meet the days they all are in the office. Similarly, another view concerned, in particular, having some days a week dedicated to certain teams.
Simulating Physical Workplace
Based on the interviews, the results show that several processes and tools, such as having core work hours or using open video and audio channels, are used to simulate a physical workplace. One way to simulate the feeling of a physical workplace, which several interviewees have either heard of or tried themselves, is to have an open video call or voice chat that anyone can connect to during the day. This was also mentioned by a respondent who described it as a “team radio”, “an always on call that makes it feel somewhat like being at the office”. An informal channel where “people can come and go as they please”, and where other teams can join in case they need help or if there is an urgent issue going on. Besides an open video call or voice chat, one interviewee mentioned that they have tried Wonder.me to simulate a physical workplace.
Personal Experience & Opinions
The interviews show that personal experiences and opinions regarding both work-related and social aspects have changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of psychological safety and spontaneous meetings have resulted in practitioners not opening up to, or sharing as much with their colleagues as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interviewees explained how feelings regarding psychological safety in remote settings have become more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though a majority of the respondents have experienced the same amount of surveillance from their companies and colleagues now, as before the pandemic. Based on the interviews, it became clear that some people feel less safe in online meetings, and that without psychological safety, some discussions will not be raised.
When critical things need to be discussed, some people find it dangerous to do this in writing or in a chat. Instead, it should be discussed in online/physical meetings. The fear of leaving a digital trace in writing may lead to that several things are put on hold. This is especially true regarding certain meetings and discussions that are seen as safer to have in a physical location, that is, discussions where conflicts are expected to arise and people to have more feelings. One interviewee explained how some people are reluctant to write down certain things due to a fear of leaving digital traces in text, and that some people do not want to voice opinions about other colleagues and their behaviour in written and/or oral digital communication. The interviewee explained that such a discussion is a type of conversation that you would have during informal face-to-face communication, and that it is important to have it since “you might also understand if you have done something wrong yourself.”.
The questionnaire results show that practitioners do not make themselves heard as often now as compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. The interviewees confirm that they have experienced that some colleagues are very silent during meetings now, and that there is a lack of people opening up to other colleagues. Several reasons for this behaviour were mentioned by the interviewees, e.g., fear of leaving digital traces, lack of spontaneous meetings, and lack of knowing each other personally. Another reason, which was mentioned by P7, is due to the way meetings are conducted now, and that it “probably brings out the worst in people, allowing them to be more introverted”.
A majority of the respondents reported that they feel as appreciated as before the COVID-19 pandemic and that their work is as meaningful as before. However, P6 mentioned that depression and emotional problems have increased during the pandemic, “there is no doubt that the Corona has affected peoples’ personalities and feelings”. Another interviewee explained that it is harder to keep up the motivation when working from home, compared to when working in the office, and one reason is the lack of variation.
The interviewees described how the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of uncertainties regarding how to work remotely, an uncertainty that creates a reluctance to make decisions, and an uncertainty of when the COVID-19 pandemic is over. One interviewee mentioned that “nobody expected that this pandemic to take this so long time” while another one wondered “in a month or so, are people vaccinated by then, or will this go on for 5 years?”. This has led to that certain types of decisions and discussions were postponed insinuating that they would be resurrected when the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. One interviewee explained, “it is very hard to make any bigger decisions when there is so much uncertainty”, and since the beginning of the pandemic, the whole situation has been marked by it.
Reflections of Personal Life
Some of the interviewees reflected on their personal life and needs, and how they believe that more people are aware of their social needs now, and in general, that people take better care of themselves mentally now.
Remote Work Mindset
Several interviewees expressed a mindset that the remote work is only temporary, and that they soon will be back in the office. Some of the interviewees held on to this belief for a long time and have even put things on hold because of it. For example, in P7’s case, everyone has known that remote work is only temporary, since it has been the plan all along to go back to the office when allowed.
Personality & Behaviour
The interviews show that there has been a change in practitioners’ behaviour and personalities. One interviewee explained how he has become less strict regarding daily stand ups and its content. Now, the interviewee is more lenient with people not being on point when they explain what they have done and will do. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the interviewee would ask people to have sync discussions after the stand up, but now people can be more verbose and have more discussions.
Another change in behaviour is regarding coffee breaks. In some cases, people who used to turn up for physical coffee breaks do not join the digital ones. One reason is that people do not think it is important since they have been in digital meetings with same people all day long. In contrast, one respondent described how they have forced digital coffee breaks “to ensure staying close as a team”.
The interviews show that people have reflected on how they prefer to communicate, some prefer to text while others prefer to talk. However, it is important that people are able to express themselves correctly to avoid misunderstandings. How to communicate, in writing or talking, depends on the individual preferences and the content. One interviewee explained that he/she prefers to communicate in text as long as the text is not too long. In contrast, another interviewee mentioned, “100% better in expressing myself via talking”. One reason for preferring talking is the experience of misunderstandings when chatting with colleagues. The type of communication may differ depending on the content. As one interviewee described, if it is of more technical character, writing is preferred, while if it is about a bug, talking is preferred.
One interviewee expressed how online meetings bring out the worst in people, allowing them to be more introverted. However, the interviewee also brought up that colleagues who—before the pandemic—used to be quiet and not hang around people, now try to join discussions more often. Changes in personality were explicitly mentioned by two interviewees, where both stated that their personality has changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. P6 described himself to be a very extroverted person before the pandemic, but now due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of communication with colleagues, his personality has changed towards being more introverted. P6 explained, you get more and more introverted, step by step, not within one week or one month, but over time. The interaction between people and society has been cut, and thus may damage peoples’ personalities. Contrary to P6, P7 described himself to be introverted one year ago, but now he has become more extroverted.
Productivity & Performance
The results show that there have been changes regarding productivity and performance. While the questionnaire results suggest a clear increase in productivity, the interviews reveal how productivity may fluctuate and that it depends on the situation. In addition, there has been a considerable decrease of interruptions and distractions.
Experienced Productivity & Performance
A majority (52%) of the respondents believe that their productivity, on an average work day, has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, while about a third believe that their productivity has decreased, as shown in Fig. 20. The results for team productivity are similar, as shown in Fig. 21.
Several interviewees described how their productivity and performance have remained the same or increased, but for two of them, the productivity has been fluctuating. One interviewee believed that the productivity and performance were the same as before the pandemic, but there is no evidence for this. However, the interviewee mentioned that initially—in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—the productivity went up, but later on into the pandemic it went downhill. One reason was distractions of non-work-related activities. Another interviewee explained that there are several things that affect the productivity, e.g., emotions and personal life. When the interviewee was happy and had a good work-life balance, the productivity went up. However, lack of interactions and social activities, not only with colleagues but also with friends and family had a negative impact on productivity.
Regarding whether the respondents’ reported quality of work is higher now, the results are relatively evenly distributed across disagreement, agreement and same as before, as seen in Fig. 22. One of the respondents described that there are several factors that contribute to general improvement: “no time is wasted for commuting; number, length and frequency of meetings decreased, while their impact increased; [...] team members and the team as a whole increased its productivity and efficiency; sense of creativity, sense of independence, and thus our motivation also increased. All this results in improving our performance, work related satisfaction and quality of life.” Another respondent was not as equally positive and stated that a “remote team can work, even though I personally believe that working as team at an office is better for productivity”.
Distractions, Interruptions & Focus
Figure 22 shows that a vast majority of the respondents have experienced less distractions and interruptions now, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, among the interviewees there were different opinions. As one interviewee explained, there are fewer interruptions and organic discussions now, as you cannot simply turn around and ask someone about something. Another interviewee agreed that the old distractions and interruptions have disappeared, but they have been replaced by new ones. The interviewee explained, there are more distractions regarding, .e.g., Slack notifications, so “it comes out even”. Other new distractions are types of distractions at home, such as partners and children.
About half (48%) of the respondents believe that they focus better on their job now, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas 33% disagree. A majority of the respondents believe that they are expected to be as responsive and available, or more now, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. From the interviews it became clear that some have experienced a better focus. One interviewee explained, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the interviewee would not always stay and fix an issue at the end of the day, but now, the interviewee can as he/she does not have to leave work to go home. However, there may be negative consequences of the individuals increased job focus. One interviewee mentioned that a possible consequence of having a better focus when working from home may be that people work more individually now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, one respondent mentioned that the team is“much more personal focused now. It really takes hard steering to get the team to work as a team and not as individuals”.