COVID-19 has undoubtedly upended millions, if not billions of worker’s and student’s routines worldwide. Workers who have never in their entire careers worked from home have had to pivot and adapt to a frighteningly new global reality. Students used to in-person discussion or practice have started learning in a virtual classroom. Many people are experiencing the “work from home” (WFH) or “study from home” aspect of the coronavirus pandemic in different ways.
It seems that every day, a new corporate company announces its plan to move to entirely remote work for the safety of all employees. But what happens when you can’t do your job from home? Medical workers, service, food, and retail industry workers, and countless others cannot perform their roles from the comfort of their homes in sweatpants. This problem leaves people depending on that income to either be without a steady paycheck or forced to put themselves at risk for contracting Coronavirus.
According to a weekly Ipsos report, mentions about working from home grew 96% over the last week as more offices temporarily closed down.
It is our goal in this article to understand the dynamics of social conversations happening online and get some information about how employees, students, and companies are handling such a quick transition to a different type of environment. We analyzed both positive and negative mentions of WFH.
Working from home across the globe
As citizens start to feel the impacts of the pandemic, they have taken to social media to express their concerns over the increasing number of confirmed cases and share their divided opinions of the government’s policies to help stop the spread of the virus. They started to embrace distancing, sharing uplifting stories on social media and highlighted brands that help keep them connected to loved ones.
Social users in the United States have been the most vocal by far when discussing how working from home has affected their lives. However, we can see that these conversations are undoubtedly global and spread across all continents with the UK, Canada, Australia, India, the Netherlands, France, and Germany as countries dominant in conversation.
Relative to the country labor force, the UK is the topical hot spot for the working from home context. Beyond the pure conversation volume, we also see the highest topic content engagement in Britain. Interestingly, countries like Germany and France that are usually not known for strong positive tonality stand out as key sources of positive discussions around working from home. The UK and Canada stir the lead on the strongest negative net sentiment when it comes to working from home.
A more-in-depth look reveals the critical triggers of negativity in the United Kingdom.
The Coronavirus became real with direct impact for parents who had to adapt to working from home principles on a large scale with the announcement of school closures on the 12th of March. The remaining part of the UK labor force had to adjust to the work from home after Boris Johnson urged the UK to stay home and work from home on the 17th of March. The last spike in negativity was triggered by the COVID-19 lockdown from the 23rd of March everybody must stay at home and only leave if they have a “reasonable excuse”.
Working from home, a balancing act
Some forecasters predict that working from home is here to stay, even after the COVID-19 pandemic leaves. Will the national work-from-home policies lead us towards a lasting change in the way we work and manage our social life? And what can we learn about the positive drivers of remote working on a massive scale formed by the Coronavirus pandemic?
Our topic network analysis on WFH reveals four distinctive positive topic dimensions related to the COVID-19 conversation landscape.
The experiences related to our working life dominate the positive social landscape. People widely appreciate flexible time management and the ability to be more productive. Additionally, people have discussed the phenomena of bonding from a distance using video calls and instant messaging with teammates and a supportive spirit overall.
The blurring boundaries between our professional life and family life these days are drivers of the positive impact on our social dimension. Being together with our loved ones for the full day is sometimes challenging but mainly a lovely experience that fosters happiness, hope, and other positive emotions for most.
The challenge of working from home and parenting at the same time
Many people have an increased difficulty of needing to pivot their regular working habits for employers, but also care for their children at the same time. With schools, daycare centers, and other childcare facilities effectively shuttered until the coast is clear on the coronavirus front, parents have been struggling with what to do with their children while needing to maintain a semi-normal 9 to 5 work schedule. Unsurprisingly, many have taken to social media to express their grievances and ask for support and advice. Many have also taken quite a humorous tone when posting about their situations with kids.
We can see from advanced sentiment analysis of millions of mentions of working from home that over triple the posts about working from home are coded negatively. After the initial excitement of getting to work all day in sweatpants with no commute, the real reality of the situation settled.
Working from home is hard, with people navigating how to delineate work time from relaxation at home time when all of the above happens in the same space. While our world is more prepared than ever to work remotely with video conferencing platforms, phones, and computer messaging platforms available to communicate with co-workers, it is still a far cry away from face to face collaboration.
Studying from a virtual classroom
Governments have mandated millions of students, from kindergarten to college-age worldwide, to stay home for indefinite periods, switching to virtual and remote classrooms. Education professionals are struggling to adapt their curriculum into a completely online classroom environment, and many schools have additionally put the responsibility on the parents of younger children to make sure their kids are on track and keeping up with the assigned work. This information goes to show that people of all ages are having to adapt to a new way of living their life and executing their routine.
There are hiccups with virtual schooling, however. International students who need to attend class remotely from their homes may have an issue with time zones. Some students have reported on social media that their physics class is now from 2 to 4 am because of an 8 hour time change between their university and hometown. Homeless students without regular access to wifi or devices must perform at the same level as those with unfettered access to those resources.
Many have taken to social media to express their concern for students who may fall behind in the process. Additionally, students who may have learning disabilities and require a little extra help in the classroom won’t be able to get the same level of support they need from home. While it is necessary to close schools to stop the spread of infection, it is also essential to make sure that students with specific needs are getting the help that they need.
Extensive and comprehensive remote learning is an incredibly tricky thing to pull off with so little notice for preparation. With little training and fewer resources, many educators are using social media to crowdsource tips and advice from other teachers in the same position. Thankfully, the Senate coronavirus relief package passed on March 26th includes $13.5 billion earmarked for schools, which they can use to keep paying staff as well as to buy new technology.
Some businesses have positioned themselves as the go-to resource for those looking for solutions for the online learning dilemma. Zoom Video Conferencing, in particular, has offered its services for free to all K-12 schools.
As the COVID-19 virus sweeps across the planet, leading to quarantined cities and shut-down schools, Zoom has emerged as one of the leading tools to keep businesses up and running and students learning. On the 25th of March, the most recent day for which data is available, 343,000 people globally downloaded the Zoom app, 60,000 in the U.S. alone, according to mobile intelligence firm Apptopia.
Struggling with unemployment or being laid off
According to the New York Times, more than three million people in the United States filed for unemployment benefits last week. This shocking development comes on the heels of one of the lowest statistics in years for unemployment numbers. Individuals from nearly every sector have been laid off en-masse due to reduced demand for countless industries. From entertainment and travel to food and service, there hasn’t been a single industry that hasn’t felt the shock of COVID-19.
Another problematic consequence of the coronavirus-related recession is for those young graduates of the Class of 2020 who will be searching for jobs after their (virtual) graduation. Disappointed seniors counting on job offers from hard-earned internships or networking opportunities have been mostly dropped flat, given the large number of companies who have instated hiring freezes until the virus crisis eventually passes. This somber graduation is reminiscent of graduates of the Class of 2009, who went out into a workforce at the peak of the Great Recession.
Many of these individuals have taken to Twitter to voice their disappointment, frustration, and anxiety. As a platform, Twitter dominates mentions about working from home at 39% of the conversation.
Service industry workers who can’t work from home putting themselves at risk
It is important to remember those people who must still go to work in person because their positions are considered essential. Grocery store workers, pharmacists, and police officers all have to keep showing up, despite the risks to their health and the health of their families. In addition to medical workers who have risked their lives for the well being of others, ordinary people are becoming heroes.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama shed light on the unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic and thanked them for showing up for their jobs.
In an undoubtedly uncertain time, it is fascinating to look at the ways that social conversations are playing out online. Due to the changing nature of our world and how we work and live, it makes sense that people are taking to social media to find solidarity, cope, or vent about the newness of it all. If you want to know how to find the right conversations that help you stay in tune with an ever-changing audience, check out Synthesio’s social listening services to find out what people are saying.