Parents’ Home Office Challenges During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The joy of being a researcher is closely related to our discussions and collaborations with others [1]. Most of us do, nonetheless, enjoy working from home every now and then. Having uninterrupted time to concentrate on writing, the freedom to go for a run or to take a nap so that we can return to some unfinished piece of writing with fresh eyes, the taste of an espresso instead of some mediocre filter coffee – all of these are what typically make working from home enjoyable. Many of us were therefore secretly thrilled when we were asked to stay away from our research institutions in order to “flatten the curve” [2] – at least as long as schools and childcare facilities were still open.

Having children at home makes working from home challenging, if not impossible. Toddlers require undivided attention and have no tolerance for parents sitting in front of a laptop; school children need homeschooling and have many questions about the tasks they are asked to do (and parents have these very same questions but no one to ask). We hence work late at night and in the early morning hours when the kids are asleep, which is tiring and frustrating. We jealously think of our childless colleagues, who, we imagine, are enjoying ideal working conditions at home with no meetings and no one to disturb them. We envisage how these additional, unrestricted hours will allow them to further increase their competitive advantage by finalising another paper and writing another grant application and hence further aggravate our misery.

However, we should not complain too much – that’s what we tell others during phone calls and virtual meetings marred by poor internet connections, malfunctioning equipment, and countless interruptions by hungry and bored children. As academics, we do not face pay cuts when “working” from home. Our employers do not run out of work. Many of us do not (yet) have to worry about tenure clocks, about contracts that expire or will not be renewed (at least not more than usual).  And, in fact, spending more time with our children is also enjoyable – and would be even more enjoyable if we weren’t feeling so pressured by work.

How generalisable is this ambivalence? Are others having similar experiences when working from home? Are they going through the same a plethora of feelings as we are?

To see how others are coping with work-family challenges when working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, we launched a short online survey one week after schools and childcare facilities in Germany had closed and many organisations had begun offering home office options and started to reduce their staff’s working hours (“Kurzarbeitergeld”) [3]. The survey was advertised via newspaper announcements, various social media channels, and personal networks, attracting a disproportionately large number of university-educated Berliners [4, 5]. While, due to this, our data cannot be used to describe how the German population in general feels about their work, their family, and their lives overall, we can use the data to compare different groups to each other.

Overall, the results of the survey [6, 7] point to a decrease in satisfaction with work, family, and life in general among the study participants who were working from home within the first couple of weeks of the Coronavirus crisis. However, digging deeper into the results reveals some interesting differences in how the pandemic affected different groups of people at that time (see Figure 1). To begin with, women experienced greater declines in all three satisfaction dimensions compared to men by around minus three percentage points. Predictably, working from home seemed to be more challenging for parents, who experienced a greater decline in satisfaction with work and life in general than their childless counterparts by six and 1.5 percentage points, respectively. At the same time, parents also reported lower declines in their satisfaction with family life compared to non-parents by around five percentage points. The level of education seemed to have no bearing on any of the three satisfaction dimensions. Our personal experiences of how the crisis has affected our well-being hence do not seem to be uncommon, but are widely shared among other people.

Not surprisingly, our analyses also show that those who may experience the worst economic effects of the Coronavirus crisis suffer the most severe reductions in satisfaction. This applies, in particular, to the self-employed and those with low incomes, who reported the largest declines in satisfaction with work, by 10 and 5.6 percentage points, respectively. Moreover, those whose working hours declined considerably since the beginning of the pandemic also reported higher reductions in work satisfaction than those who were working regular or longer hours, by around 10 percentage points. Meanwhile, the difference in the decline in family satisfaction and in satisfaction with life in general between those who were working considerably fewer hours and those who tended to work the same hours was less severe, at four percentage points. Those who increased their hours also reported higher decreases in overall life satisfaction by around three percentage points compared to those whose working hours did not change. To add a bit of nuance to our findings, more fine-grained analysis also revealed that parents reported slightly higher satisfaction with work (by about three percentage points) when they were sharing childcare with their partners or when their partners were taking care of their children compared to when the burden of responsibility fell solely on them [8]. Taken together, this suggests that working from home is particularly challenging when either work or time for work is scarce.

Figure 1: Average changes in satisfaction with work, family and life in general (point estimates and 95% confidence intervals based on OLS regressions) between the start of the coronavirus pandemic and before among those who have been working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic

Note: The dependent variable is the change in satisfaction with work, family life, and life in general in percentage points at time of interview compared to before the pandemic. All satisfaction items were originally measured on a seven-point scale. Respondents were first asked how satisfied they currently were with the following area of their lives: work, family, and, life in general. Afterwards, respondents were asked how satisfied they were with each of these areas before the Coronavirus crisis. Respondents’ age, a dummy variable for those who also work from home in “normal days”, the current living situation (number of rooms per person in household), and the day of the survey are included as additional covariates in the analyses. Stata’s coefplot command was used to generate the figure [9].

Should we thus feel lucky – despite the sleep deprivation, pale, sun-starved skin, and increasing relationship tensions? These data help us to put our struggles in context, while simultaneously providing some consolation. Working from home is a challenge for many of us. Given that many of us (still) enjoy job security and financial security, we seem to be less severely affected by the crisis than those who were already in precarious situations before the lockdowns took place. We all should bear in mind, however, that the unequal experiences that we have in our working lives due to the pandemic may exacerbate inequalities – both within and outside academia.


[1] The proportion of social sciences articles published in the last 30 years has increasingly been produced by teams; see


[3] In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the German government facilitated access to the “Kurzarbeitergeld”, the short-term work allowance, which partially compensates employees for earning losses; see Kurzarbeitergeld

[4] Out of the 8,613 participants who filled out the survey between March 23, 2020 and April 5, 2020 and who provided information about their current employment situation, around 29 percent learned about the survey through instant messages, around 24 percent through emails from colleagues and friends, around 22 percent through email lists, around 16 percent through microblogs and social networking cites, and a little less than 7 percent through newspaper announcements.               

[5] Additional information about the data, the sample composition and its deviations from Germany’s general population, as well as the replication materials with some sensitivity analyses can be found at

[6] Based on the responses of approximately 4,000 working-age individuals in Germany who were working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and participated in the first two weeks after the survey was launched.

[7] Most of the federal states in Germany closed schools around March 24, 2020; see
Our survey went online on March 23, 2020

[8] It needs to be noted that the confidence intervals for these variables include zero.

[9] Jann, Ben (2014). Plotting regression coefficients and other estimates. The Stata Journal 14(4): 708‐737.

Tagged: #Affect #Child care #Class #Domesticity #Economy #Emotional labour #Gender #Geopolitics of care #Housing #Quarantine

28 mai 2020 — Lena Hipp, Stefan Munnes and Mareike Bünning

Lena Hipp, Stefan Munnes and Mareike Bünning

Berlin, Germany

Lena Hipp is head of the research group “Work and Care” at the WZB Berlin
Social Science Center and Professor of Social Structure at the
University of Potsdam, . Twitter: @llhipp

Stefan Munnes is a data analyst in research group “Work and Care” at the WZB
Berlin Social Science Center,

Mareike Bünning is a post-doctoral researcher in the research group “Work
and Care” at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center,