Haya Ajjan examines gender differences of working from home during COVID-19 pandemic

Haya Ajjan, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems and Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship, recently co-authored and presented a study about gender differences in work-from-home challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With dining rooms turned into offices and kitchens transformed into conference rooms for around-the-clock Zoom meetings, people around the world have changed the way they think about work.

As millions continue to work from home as a precaution against COVID-19, the once novel working structure has become a way of life – but is it working for everyone? Associate Professor of Management Information Systems Haya Ajjan has set out to find the answer.

Ajjan, Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship, director of the Center for Organizational Analytics and Faculty Administrative Fellow, recently co-authored research on how working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting workers, based on their gender. The study was recently published by the Association for Information Systems and presented by Ajjan and her co-authors at the AIS Women’s Network Workshop on Women, IS and Grand Challenges, on Dec. 13, 2020.

The research stemmed from the personal experiences of the four authors – Ajjan, Safa’a AbuJarour of Universitat Potsdam, Jane Fedorowicz of Bentley University, and Dawn Owens of the University of Texas at Dallas. The authors wanted to specifically focus on the challenges of other women working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were all kind of thrown off ourselves, trying to do work and homeschooling at the same time,” Ajjan said. “My children would walk in wearing their PJs while I was teaching. It was definitely a struggle for all of us, so we were interested in what other people were struggling with as well.”

The group sent surveys to workers from around the world in April 2020, asking about their work-from-home experiences and how they could improve. Both men and women respondents answered a series of questions about coping with working from home, their challenges and policy changes they would like to see related to working from home. In just under two weeks of surveying, the authors received more than 800 responses from 38 countries, showing the widespread interest in the topic.

After analyzing more than 500 useable responses, researchers found one thing to be true: all workers struggled with feeling a lack of control and work-from-home conflict during the COVID-19 crisis. However, women suffered from these issues at a significantly higher rate than men. Additionally, the research showed women with children under the age of 18 experienced higher work-from-home conflict as compared to their male counterparts.

The article published by the AIS features several quotes from survey respondents who shared their work-from-home experiences with the authors. When asked about work-from-home challenges, one woman responded:

“The full-time care for a 17-month-old, a husband who believes his job takes priority over mine, hence, there is no sharing of household or childcare tasks.”

In contrast, when asked about work-from-home challenges, a male counterpart responded:

“Space limitation to work comfortably at home because I have 3 kids which have home schooling at the same time during my work time”

Ajjan explained that she and her fellow researchers expected to see a difference in responses between men and women but were surprised to see such a broad disconnect between their work-from-home experiences. What was most eye-opening, however, was the fact that people across the globe felt the same way.

“It was not just U.S. respondents with this sentiment,” Ajjan said. “All over the world, people were having the same sentiment, the same struggles. I think that kind of unity that we as a humanity are facing all over was really revealing to us.”

The overall goal of the study was to prepare employers for a future when working from home could become more of a norm. With the results of the study, Ajjan and the co-authors offered recommendations for how this research should be applied in the future to better support workers as they work from home. The group recommends employers provide adequate technical support and equipment, as well as an acknowledgement of the personal differences of their employees and how those could impact their ability to work from home. The authors also recommend several policy changes that could better support employees, including flexible work hours and weeks to improve work-life balance and improved benefits such as organized childcare for employees working from home.

Ajjan says the chance to analyze such a timely, global issue and have hundreds of international respondents open up about their struggles was inspiring.

“Receiving responses from people around the world gave us energy to get this work out despite the fact that we have no control over our time, and we ourselves have a high work-from-home conflict,” Ajjan said.

To read the entire published study, “Working from Home During the COVID-19 Crisis: A Closer Look at Gender Differences,” click here.

Ajjan and the team of co-authors also published a study in Communications of the Association for Information Systems, titled “How Working From Home During COVID-19 Affects Academic Productivity,” in September 2020. The study examined academic productivity during the pandemic and found both personal (family-work conflict) and technology (perceived usefulness) factors affecting work-from-home attitude, which in turn had a significant impact on productivity. To read that report, click here.