Covid19 has totally transformed the way we go about life. Making this statement after half a year of this virus dominating all global news is truly knocking down an open door, and yet, I wondered what our trusted numbers could tell about the size of the impact on my own work.

In particular I wondered how much of my time would go to meetings, being everything from a one on one talk in the hallway with supervisor or student to a full blown international conference. So I took another deep dive in my Timeular time tracking data:

Meeting time

Number of hours (left) and percentage of my working time (right) spent on meetings since the start of my postdoc in October 2018. Plotted line from a generalized additive model, vertical line marks the day we started our semi-lockdown and working from home here in Belgium.

So what do the numbers say? Intriguingly much, actually. First of all, there is a clear drop in amount of time spent in meetings after the lockdown, going from on average 8.7 hours to only 5.8 per week. There is also a clear drop in the summer months (around month 7), which seems to turn into something even more explicit this year. When correcting for the slightly lower workload during the lockdown, the difference is a bit smaller (right), yet we still drop from 22% to 15% on average.

So what about the amount of meetings? With 22% we have a big chunk of time dedicated to meetings pre-corona. I do think this is fair, though. As an international ecologist embedded in several global networks and with a team of students at work, a main part of my time goes to talking to other people, to keep ideas flowing, spark new projects and decide on ways to move forward.

The drop to 15% is thus a double-edged sword. I have a few hypotheses of what is actually going on:

  • Meetings are becoming more efficient. As they got less ‘cosy’, we seem better at focussing on what the meeting is truly about. And as everyone seems swamped in Zooms and Skypes, there seems to be more of an urge to stay within a one-hour limit. Good thing!
  • We lost the international conferences. Notice all the spikes in the graph pre-corona? Weeks with over 50% of time spent on meetings? That’s those large gatherings (with two conferences in Iceland and Sweden largely driving the uptick just before the lockdown in March). Important for networking and boosting new projects, especially when starting up a global database like SoilTemp. However, usually not so time-efficient for what comes out of them, so dropping those is a mixed-bag.
  • We lost the spontaneous chats in the hallway. Those I was very fond of, and especially with my supervisor those are where the best ideas came from. Again, however, there could be a lack of efficiency there as these can often wander off in less urgent matters. The result? Less sparks for unexpected cool new projects and analyses, more time gained to finish what’s already ongoing…
  • People are busier, leaving less time for them to meet with me. As the virus has hit everybody in a different way, this is a bit harder to judge from my side, yet I see it very likely that many people have put many projects on hold, making meetings with me less of an urgent matter.
  • Students are more isolated. This is a real concern, that there is a big drop in time I spent supervising the students in the team. However, I have kept the students as my main priority. We did regular meetings with The 3D Lab throughout the spring, and I have been checking in on all of them as much as I could. Nevertheless, there is undeniably less one on one-time with them, with many of the interactions moving to email or chat, leaving them more vulnerable. Not such a good thing…

There is probably many more explanatory variables at work, so checking in with the reader: did you see a change in meeting times pre- and post-corona lockdown? What would you say is driving these changes?


View from the home office when lunchtime is approaching

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