Programmers are suffering more and producing less work due to the coronavirus pandemic, new research has found.

A recent survey of more than 2,200 software developers from 53 countries found that programmers reported being less productive and were fearful of COVID-19 while working from home full-time during the global lockdowns.

Rashina Hoda, Associate Professor in Monash University’s Department of Software Systems and Cybersecurity, contributed to this global research.

“We definitely found a correlation between well-being and productivity,” Hoda said.

“If you had more emotional and mental wellbeing you were more productive, but both factors have been suffering during COVID-19.

“People who were better set-up for home office ergonomics through office chairs, monitors – even just having a proper space to work – that all seemed to have an effect on how people have been feeling.”

As well as reporting on their own well-being, survey respondents were asked about how their organisations were supporting them through the unusual circumstances.

A majority reported having good work-from-home infrastructure like VPNs, remote desktop environments, and file sharing, as well as the continuation of meetings and social events online.

However, only a third of all respondents found these actions ‘helpful’.

Behaviours that were perceived as more ‘helpful’ – like paying for internet charges and providing food – were followed by less than 10 per cent of respondents’ organisations.

And less than a quarter of the software developers said they were being encouraged to use work-from-home as an opportunity to seek more training.

Associate Professor Hoda said it is important for employers and managers of IT teams to be mindful of their expectations during unusual circumstances.

“Companies should definitely support their developers’ emotional well-being in first instance and know that it will help productivity – not the other way around,” Hoda said.

“We also recommend that normal productivity should not be expected – it’s unrealistic. These are not normal times.

“An employer that is keenly aware of this, and on top of their game, will have happier employees.”

Hoda also said the study found that women were disproportionately affected by the difficulties of working from home full-time.

“We think that’s mainly to do with the disproportionate workload at home,” she said.

“Suddenly everybody else is at home. There’s home-based schooling going on and childcare – often these jobs fall to the women of a household.”

Not everyone is unhappy

Even though the study was translated to 12 languages and sent around the world, its findings were not universal.

Lindsey Duncan, a principal consultant with Western Australian IT firm Interfuze, said rather than a drop in productivity, her team has experienced a boost during COVID-19.

“We had clear productivity metrics going into lockdown and the expectation from management was that productivity would probably drop but it’s actually gone up,” Duncan said.

“For the job we do – writing code – you can be most productive when you have a clear run and are working on it without interruptions.

“Being away from an open plan office, you don’t have someone asking for something or dropping by your desk for lunch.

“I find it takes time to get back into the zone after those little interruptions.”

But Duncan’s team has still had their struggles – especially when it comes to communicating with less tech-savvy clients.

“Our bigger challenge has been more around getting requirements and final design for pieces of software you’re developing,” she said.

“Usually you would have a whiteboard and can sit there with the technical and not-technical people in a business working out what they need.

“We’ve had some success using Balsamiq to mock-up UIs and will probably keep using that after lockdown.

“But we’ve found communicating everything seems to take a bit more time overall.”

The higher level of productivity has also come despite most of Duncan’s software development team working from home with their children.

“From the outset we said ‘Look there’s going to be kids wandering into meetings’ and no one felt uncomfortable about that,” she said.

“It’s life; you can’t expect people to work in a bubble.”