University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

The Association Between Remote Work During the First Wave of the Pandemic and Faculty Perceptions of Their Productivity and Career Trajectory: A Cross Sectional Survey

Siobhan Byrne, MD; Brad Astor, PhD; Arjang Djamali, MD; Laura Zakowski, MD

WMJ. 2023;122(5):406-410

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Introduction: Early in the pandemic, studies documented that there are gendered differences in many factors related to working during the pandemic, especially for caregivers. This study aimed to focus on the effects of remote work, rather than the pandemic in general, on perceptions of productivity and career trajectory in research and education faculty at an academic health center.

Methods: A questionnaire was developed and distributed to all faculty in the Department of Medicine. We obtained demographic information and asked respondents to report the effect that remote work had on their research or teaching productivity. Those who reported a decrease in productivity were asked to choose a degree of impact. We also asked about the level of concern for the effect remote work would have on their career trajectory in research and teaching and about the impact of remote work on academic wellness.

Results: We received responses from 51.4% of 479 faculty. A little less than half were females, and most were subspecialists. More than half (60.6%) were responsible for providing care to children, parents, or others. Nearly one-quarter of respondents (22.8%) reported a negative effect of remote work on teaching productivity, which was more pronounced in senior faculty versus junior faculty (28.6% vs 16.5%, P = 0.03). Few faculty (7.4%) were concerned about their career trajectory in teaching; however, those who provided care at home were significantly more likely to be concerned (10.7% vs 2.1%, P = 0.01). Over half of respondents (56.6%) reported a negative effect of remote work on research productivity; this was significantly higher for tenure faculty than clinician educators (71.9% vs 50.7%, P = 0.01). Almost half of respondents (39.6%) were concerned about their career trajectory in research, and this concern was significantly higher in specialists than in generalists (42.9% vs 15.8%, P = 0.02) and in clinician educators versus clinicians (39.7% vs 0.0%, P = 0.007). A small number of faculty (11.5%) reported a negative impact of remote work on their academic wellness; this impact was higher in specialists than in generalists (13.2% vs 3.7%, P = 0.05). There were no significant differences in any areas of concern for males versus females or in those with or without leadership roles.

Conclusions: In this single-center study during the first wave of the pandemic, faculty perceived reduced productivity in teaching, research, and academic wellness. Our study found that remote work concerns were overall more evenly distributed across gender and those responsible for caregiving than had been reported previously; however, caregivers were more concerned about their career trajectory in teaching than noncaregivers. The lack of significant differences may have been due to several factors: remote work allowed flexibility when caregiving arrangements were disrupted; remote work was required of all faculty, mitigating concerns that caregivers were singled out; and institutional support offset some of the challenges. Further studies are needed to determine whether social or operational interventions in academic health centers can reduce the negative perception of remote working on academic productivity.

Author Affiliations: Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin (Byrne, Astor, Zakowski); Department of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine (Djamali); Maine Medical Center, MaineHealth (Djamali).
Corresponding Author: Laura Zakowski, MD, Department of Medicine, 5132 MFCB, 1685 Highland Ave, Madison, WI 53705; phone 608.332.2828; email; ORCID ID 0000-0002-6221-0252
Financial Disclosures: None declared.
Funding/Support: None declared.
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