NBER Working Paper No. 27612
Issued in July 2020
We explore the impact of COVID-19 on employee's digital communication patterns through an event study of lockdowns in 16 large metropolitan areas in North America, Europe and the Middle East. Using de- identified, aggregated meeting and email meta-data from 3,143,270 users, we find, compared to pre- pandemic levels, increases in the number of meetings per person (+12.9 percent) and the number of attendees per meeting (+13.5 percent), but decreases in the average length of meetings (-20.1 percent). Collectively, the net effect is that people spent less time in meetings per day (-11.5 percent) in the post- lockdown period. We also find significant and durable increases in length of the average workday (+8.2 percent, or +48.5 minutes), along with short-term increases in email activity. These findings provide insight from a novel dataset into how the nature of work has changed for a large sample of knowledge workers. We discuss these changes in light of the ongoing challenges faced by organizations and workers struggling to adapt and perform in the face of a global pandemic.