Are Companies More Productive in a Pandemic?

“There’s a big difference between activity and productivity,” he said. “There’s no doubt that our employee population is not performing at the same level they were.”

Mr. Merritt said that after a rush of intensity during the first couple of months of the coronavirus crisis, Splunk employees were adjusting to their new routines. And many of the intangible aspects of office life were, he believes, central to some of his most meaningful work.

“How do you capture the face-to-face body language that you can’t pick up over a Zoom?” Mr. Merritt said. “I am craving going back and siting in a conference room.”

Affirm, the payments company, also went through early months of intensity.

“There was a period of high energy, high output, where nothing could stand between you and the tasks you want to accomplish,” said Affirm’s chief executive, Max Levchin, who was a founder of PayPal. “All of us went into this hyper-productivity drive. It was like we were back in a start-up.”

Four months into the work-from-home experiment, Mr. Levchin said that employees, on balance, felt they were less productive than they had been in the office, but that managers believed their employees were more productive.

Mr. Levchin said he was concerned the pace was unsustainable. “My primary worry productivity-wise is pacing,” he said. “The mangers are telling me that there’s a real possibility of burnout.”

Hoping to prevent that, Affirm recently gave everyone an extra day off.

At Chegg, 86 percent of employees said their productivity was as good as or better than before, according to an internal survey. They attributed the uptick to not commuting and not having boundaries to the workday.

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