Working (From Home) During a Crisis: Online Social Contributions by Workers During the Coronavirus Shock

22 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2020 Last revised: 2 Apr 2020

See all articles by Prithwiraj Choudhury

Prithwiraj Choudhury

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Wesley W Koo


Xina LI


Date Written: April 1, 2020


Prior research has documented that during mortality-related crises workers face psychic costs and are motivated to make social contributions. In addition, management practices that encourage workers to make social contributions during a crisis create value for firms. However, the coronavirus crisis of 2020 is unprecedented given conditions of social distancing. It raises the question of whether workers who continued to work (albeit from home) during this crisis were constrained in their ability to make social contributions and exhibited disproportionately greater psychic costs compared to workers who could not work from home. We exploit this shock to estimate differences in content contributions to an online community by workers who work from home (WFH) relative to workers who cannot work from home (CWFH). Online content contributions are especially pertinent in our context because social distancing constrained traditional forms of social contributions such as physical volunteering. Using data from a popular question-and-answer platform, we estimate a difference-in-differences specification and report nuanced results: while WFH workers made 19% fewer online contributions on average and contribute less to topics such as ‘family’, they make 148% more contributions on topics related to ‘WFH best practices.’ Using natural language processing tools, we also find that WFH workers exhibited greater psychic costs than CWFH workers. We provide evidence for a plausible mechanism, i.e. time allocation, and show that WFH workers attempted to catch up on social contributions at the end of their workday, suggesting time constraints. Our research contributes to literatures on managing workers during a crisis, WFH and online communities, and have several immediate implications for managing WFH and CWFH workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Keywords: crisis, social contributions, work from home (WFH), cannot work from home (CWFH), social distancing, online communities, coronavirus, COVID-19

Suggested Citation

Choudhury, Prithwiraj and Koo, Wesley W and LI, Xina, Working (From Home) During a Crisis: Online Social Contributions by Workers During the Coronavirus Shock (April 1, 2020). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 20-096, Available at SSRN: or

Prithwiraj Choudhury (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Wesley W Koo

INSEAD ( email )

1 Ayer Rajah Ave
Singapore, Singapore 138676

HOME PAGE: http://

Xina LI

INSEAD ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
77305 Fontainebleau Cedex

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