Remote work takes a toll on development professionals' well-being

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Development professionals say they are feeling more stressed and isolated and are working longer hours. Photo by:

BARCELONA — Development professionals are feeling more stressed and isolated and are working longer hours, as the shuttering of offices during the coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on workers’ well-being, according to a Devex survey.

Our most recent COVID-19 Trends Tracker survey highlights how the new realities of work are creating challenges for staff members.

Nearly 60% of professionals said they have seen negative changes in their work, with respondents citing “heightened emotional stress,” “decreased productivity,” “difficulties working from home,” and “increased work hours/workload” as the leading causes.

“There are limitations to how much you can do through online and remote modalities.”

— A respondent to the Devex COVID-19 Trends Tracker survey

Devex surveyed 570 professionals in 100 countries from Sept. 2-21.

Several respondents pointed to the lack of personal interaction that usually comes from working in the office or in the field. One said they were experiencing an “increased feeling of isolation and reduced sense of belonging … [and] less camaraderie,” while another noted the “loss of team interaction” as having had a negative impact. Working from home also means there is “No distinction between personal and work time,” wrote one NGO worker.

Other difficulties cited in working from home ranged from poor internet connections to feelings of hopelessness and frustration at being unable to support clients and carry out impactful work.

“I don't feel that my work is as effective,” wrote one respondent who works on the inclusion of people from marginalized groups in humanitarian responses. “There are limitations to how much you can do through online and remote modalities,” they said. Others noted the difficulty in monitoring programs or making important decisions while so far from the field operations.

The results suggest that organizations will need to find ways of resolving these issues if remote working becomes a long-term reality. Thirty percent of respondents said the organization they work for was making plans to increase remote working in the long term. A small percentage said they had already seen some or all of their organization’s offices close permanently.

However, around half said they expect all staff members to return to the office when it is safe to do.

While many professionals are struggling to adapt to the new arrangements, for some it has brought positive changes. Around 40% said they had seen benefits, including more flexibility and employers paying more attention to staff safety and well-being.

COVID-19 job losses accelerate in development sector, survey results say

A majority of development workers report that they or someone they know has lost their job due to the pandemic, according to Devex’s COVID-19 Trends Tracker survey.

One NGO worker wrote that the “new challenges spurred creative solutions and new opportunities,” while a consultant noted that there was more “willingness to adopt new working practices.”

Some professionals were also happy to skip the daily commute and use this time more productively. One NGO staffer said they used to spend four hours per day traveling to the office. Now that they are able to put this time to better use, they feel “highly productive and effective.”

For one consultant, no longer having a hectic travel schedule was also a plus, alongside a reduction in “unnecessary meetings.”

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.