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Are Companies More Productive in a Pandemic?

A growth curve built on home-bound workers.

Many companies say their productivity has remained at pre-pandemic levels, or even gone up, as employees have been largely working from home.

Credit: Yann Bastard

When the online learning company Chegg started working remotely in March, Nathan Schultz, a senior executive, was convinced that productivity would plummet 15 to 20 percent.

Hoping to keep his employees on task, Mr. Schultz tried to recreate the high-touch style of management that had served him well throughout his career. He set up a Slack channel with his two closest deputies, where they began communicating incessantly, even as they spent hours a day in the same Zoom meetings. He began regularly checking in on many of the other members of his team.

"The first reaction was to smother," he said. "I was trying to replicate the many touch points you have in the office environment."

It didn't work. Mr. Schultz himself soon felt burned out, and he could tell that his constant online presence was not very popular with his employees. So he eased off.

Then something surprising started happening. Projects were completed ahead of schedule. Workers volunteered to take on new tasks. Instead of falling into a rut and losing focus in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Chegg employees became more productive.

When office workers around the world went remote four months ago, many managers feared that productivity would collapse. The distractions of home — from child care to television — would wreak havoc on workdays, they thought.

Some individuals have had a harder time than others working from home, but many companies say productivity has remained at pre-pandemic levels, or even gone up. Without long commutes, small talk with colleagues and leisurely coffees in the break room, many workers — especially those who don't have to worry about child care — are getting more done.

Companies, too, are discovering that processes and procedures they previously took for granted — from lengthy meetings to regular status updates — are less essential than once imagined. And though some executives are concerned about burnout as working from home continues, they are enjoying the gains for now.

From The New York Times
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