Jon-Michial Carter was the biggest skeptic of remote work when one of his managers suggested they test the idea in 2019.

“We had a 100,000 square-foot facility full of clinicians delivering remote virtual care,” said the founder and chief executive of ChartSpan, a chronic-care provider based in Greenville, South Carolina. “It seemed inconceivable that we could send them home.”

 When Covid-19 arrived in 2020, that’s what the firm did. As a direct result, it’s making more money. Employees say they’re happier, and the numbers say they’re more productive. 

Similar, potentially seismic shifts could be under way across the business world.

The pandemic has killed more than 750,000 Americans and left millions more out of work. But something else has been happening too. The shock forced managers everywhere to try doing things differently, accelerating innovation.

It “opens the door to this radical newness in the way businesses are configured,” said Jason Thomas, head of global research at Carlyle Group. 

Like other economic indicators, U.S. productivity—a measure of output per hour that’s central to long-run prosperity for companies and workers—has been volatile in the pandemic. Millions of Americans have moved into new jobs that they’ll need time to master. 

Productivity sank in the third quarter, as the delta variant of Covid-19 held back growth right after a summer wave of hiring. Earlier in the year it had been growing at a pace well above the past decade’s average. It’s too early to call the long-run trend. 

‘The Entire U.S.’
Still, plenty of data and anecdotes point to a deepening use of technology across a range of businesses, allowing them to scale up without much added cost.

That’s reflected in corporate profits, which rose 10.5% in the second quarter to a record $2.8 trillion. Strikingly, that was achieved with fewer people working: Non-farm payrolls in June were still down by some 6.6 million from pre-pandemic levels.

How productivity happens, and how to measure it, are big questions to which economists don’t have good answers. It’s an elusive gauge of how labor and capital combine to produce more. When they manage that, it means economies can grow at a decent clip even when populations are steady—and employment and pay can rise without triggering inflation.

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