When the large financial services company he worked for began to struggle, a loan officer who spoke with The Ken realised that 2020 would be a bad year. Business had dipped sharply during the pandemic and the officer found himself working twice as hard to build a rapport with potential clients online. “We knew 2020 was a washout. There would be no promotions or hikes. But we were expecting to make up for it the following year,” he said.

Unfortunately for him, those hopes were snuffed out by Covid’s continued stranglehold on India. The pandemic still clouds the company’s business outlook. Promotions have been restricted to the few managers who could “showcase” their work to higher-ups over Zoom calls. “Sales is flashier than compliance or collection. Those teams have gotten the hikes,” the loan officer said despondently. They’re planning to quit their job—and the sector—for something that’s “pandemic-proof”.

The pandemic has caused an unprecedented shift in the world of work, speeding up gradual transitions and bringing about a new working culture that has already begun to fray. With the whole white-collar workforce shuttered at home, it has never been harder for managers to track what their employers are doing.

“There are companies that want employees to log into Zoom first thing in the morning, and stay logged in,” said Prithvi Shergill, co-founder of Entomo, an employee performance platform based out of Singapore. Others, from retail companies to unicorn startups, are using online tools to track the number of hours their employees are putting in.

This type of remote surveillance strikes at the heart of a crucial issue that all types of companies are grappling with—productivity. In a world where remote or hybrid work are quickly becoming mainstays, companies are struggling to define, measure, and reward productivity.

A survey conducted by The Ken, which had over 2,000 respondents showed that, 40.6% of them saw that their productivity had fallen in the last eighteen months of working during the pandemic. Around 39% said their productivity had improved.

Working from home (WFH) was a novel, if restricted, perk. Most companies would never offer the option to junior staff because they believed that learning could happen only in the office, said Anish Philip, chief human resources officer at Marlabs, a mid-sized IT firm.

In the early stages of the pandemic, managers believed that WFH had a “productivity dividend”. “All the time saved from long commutes and water cooler breaks could be put into productive work,” said Shergill.
This plays out, at least partially, in the US-based National Bureau of Economic Research’s April 2021 working paper paper National Bureau of Economic Research Why Working from Home Will Stick Read more . According to the study, which surveyed over 30,000 American workers, nearly six in 10 respondents said their productivity was higher than expected when working from home.