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    Will the Pandemic Productivity Boom Last?

    Fewer workers are making more stuff. If it lasts, that’s big news for the economy of the 2020s.For most of the last 15 years, the United States economy was mired in a period of low productivity growth. Who would have guessed that the pathway out of it might include a pandemic?Yet that is what the numbers show. Since the second quarter of 2020, labor productivity — the amount of output per hour of work — has risen at a 3.8 percent annual rate, compared with 1.4 percent from 2005 to 2019. New data published Tuesday showed the trend persisted this spring, with a 2.3 annual rate of productivity growth in the second quarter.A different way to look at it: Since the pandemic recession bottomed out in the spring of 2020, the nation’s gross domestic product has more than fully recovered, with second-quarter output 0.8 percent higher than before coronavirus. The number of jobs decreased 4.4 percent in the same span. Productivity growth accounts for most of the wedge between those.What is less clear, though, is how much this growth represents real progress toward deploying the work force in ways that will make Americans richer over time. It’s a murky story — like any attempt to connect big-picture productivity numbers to what’s happening in the guts of the economy — but crucial for understanding the economic outlook for the 2020s.There are several parts to the story, and each has different implications for the future.The jobs lost were low-productivityIn terms of economic output, not all jobs are created equal. A worker in a well-managed factory with state-of-the-art equipment produces more economic output for each hour of work than a counterpart in a poorly run place with worse equipment.The differences are even starker when you compare productivity across sectors, and that’s where there is a clear pandemic story. Many more job losses were in low-productivity sectors than in higher ones.Restaurant employment, by contrast, was down 8 percent in the same period.Emily Elconin for The New York TimesFor example, on the eve of the pandemic, manufacturing jobs — highly productive, with lots of automation — paid on average $28.23 an hour, while restaurant jobs paid $15.23 on average. Employment in manufacturing in July was down 3.4 percent from its February 2020 level, while restaurant employment was down 8 percent.As people currently out of work return to the labor force, how many will take higher-productivity jobs vs. lower-productivity ones? That’s vital in determining the economy’s future growth potential.Doing more with lessThe labor shortage facing many types of businesses, especially in the service sector, is forcing some hard decisions. And in many cases, companies unable to return to normal staffing levels are getting creative.Restaurants are experimenting with people ordering on their phones rather than through a waiter. Retailers are offering more self-checkout options. And there is evidence that the difficulty recruiting workers is making companies invest more in training employees — potentially shifting people from low-productivity jobs to higher-productivity ones.Sometimes there are tricky measurement questions. For example, if a hotel charges the same prices but, with fewer housekeepers on the payroll, no longer provides a daily cleaning service, that arguably is a worsening in the quality of the product and therefore a form of inflation, rather than higher labor productivity.But to the degree that something fundamental is shifting in terms of businesses’ willingness to make labor-saving investments, rethink processes to be less labor-intensive, and move individual workers higher up the skill ladder, there’s opportunity for a productivity surge that outlasts the pandemic.Running themselves raggedThe flip side of this could be that the apparent productivity boom, especially in the first half of this year, simply reflects people working harder than usual.If a restaurant normally has 10 waiters for its dinner shift and cuts back to seven, each of whom has to work that much harder, it could look like a productivity gain. Fewer person-hours of work would be generating the same economic output. It also may or may not be sustainable.Having customers order with their phones, as at this bar in San Francisco, is one way restaurants are dealing with their labor shortage.Ulysses Ortega for The New York TimesBut perhaps people will be willing to work harder at certain jobs if compensation is higher. There is a theory of “efficiency wages” that suggests, in effect, that employers get what they pay for — that paying more means a higher-performing work force.“If you want extra effort, you pay people extra,” said Steven J. Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “You would expect to see some positive productivity benefits of compensating people to put forth more effort per hour than they normally would. Will it be sustained? Maybe if wages stay high.”The work-from-home effectIn the space of just a few weeks in 2020, millions of American workers who once commuted to an office most of the time learned how to work from home. It could have lasting economic ripple effects if even a modest portion of them continue to work from home some or all of the time.“Employers are embracing this as a long-term solution and taking the steps to invest in the appropriate technology to make it really effective,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. “There is a lot of soul-searching going on and companies sharing best practices on how to create corporate cultural virtually.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}At the height of the pandemic, the vast majority of office workers worked from home. In the post-pandemic world, those jobs that most require in-person collaboration may return to offices, but those that can be easily done remotely may stay remote.“The important thing to understand is that it’s not that working from home is better for everybody, but that once the pandemic is over, the kinds of people for whom it doesn’t work very well won’t continue it,” Professor Davis said. “It’s a selection of people who have figured out how to make remote work work, and that’s where the productivity gains are coming from.”Empty office buildings in Midtown Manhattan earlier this year. How many office workers will return to their offices, and how quickly, remains a question, and one with big implications for productivity.George Etheredge for The New York TimesThere are several implications for the years ahead. For one, companies would be likely to need less office space, desks and cubicles relative to the size of their work force than in the past. That could mean higher “total factor productivity,” which takes into account not just the efforts of workers, but the capital investments that they use to do their jobs.For another, workers themselves say in surveys that they are more productive working at home — though not necessarily in ways that show up big in the official productivity numbers.A working paper by Jose Maria Barrero, Professor Davis and Nicholas Bloom that is based on a survey of 30,000 workers finds that widespread working from home could generate a 4.8 percent boost to productivity relative to the pre-pandemic economy, but that only 1 percent of that should be expected to show up in the official statistics.The reason? Much of the gain comes from time saved commuting, and official labor productivity statistics do not include commute time in the “hours worked” denominator.In effect, the pandemic forced a lot of innovation around office work practices to happen far more rapidly than would otherwise be the case.“The adoption of technology has accelerated, new firms are being created at an historic pace, and the shift to remote work is likely to outlast the crisis,” said Lydia Boussour, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, in a note analyzing the new productivity data. “While some of the pandemic-driven efficiencies could take years to be fully realized, we think these four forces will lead to a sustained productivity revival in the medium run.”The future is always uncertain, and economists’ understanding of what truly drives productivity gains is poor. But for now, the evidence suggests that many of the key drivers of this particular pandemic bump aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. More

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    Return to Office Hits a Snag: Young Resisters

    A generation gap has emerged between them and colleagues who value the workplace over the advantages of remote work. Bridging it may require flexibility.David Gross, an executive at a New York-based advertising agency, convened the troops over Zoom this month to deliver a message he and his fellow partners were eager to share: It was time to think about coming back to the office.Mr. Gross, 40, wasn’t sure how employees, many in their 20s and early 30s, would take it. The initial response — dead silence — wasn’t encouraging. Then one young man signaled he had a question. “Is the policy mandatory?” he wanted to know.Yes, it is mandatory, for three days a week, he was told.Thus began a tricky conversation at Anchor Worldwide, Mr. Gross’s firm, that is being replicated this summer at businesses big and small across the country. While workers of all ages have become accustomed to dialing in and skipping the wearying commute, younger ones have grown especially attached to the new way of doing business.And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.“Frankly, they don’t know what they’re missing, because we have a strong culture,” Mr. Gross said. “Creative development and production requires face-to-face collaboration. It’s hard to have a brainstorm on a Zoom call.”Some industries, like banking and finance, are taking a harder line and insisting workers young and old return. The chief executives of Wall Street giants like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have signaled they expect employees to go back to their cubicles and offices in the months ahead.Other companies, most notably those in technology and media, are being more flexible. As much as Mr. Gross wants people back at his ad agency, he is worried about retaining young talent at a time when churn is increasing, so he has been making clear there is room for accommodation.“We’re in a really progressive industry, and some companies have gone fully remote,” he explained. “You have to frame it in terms of flexibility.”In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 55 percent of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, questioned the wisdom of returning to the office. Among members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45 percent had doubts about going back, while only 36 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, felt that way.And if anything, the rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in recent days may fuel resistance among reluctant officegoers of all ages.“Among the generations, millennials are the most concerned about their health and psychological well-being,” said Rebecca L. Ray, executive vice president for human capital at the Conference Board. “Companies would be well served to be as flexible as possible.”Matthew Yeager, 33, quit his job as a web developer at an insurance company in May after it told him he needed to return to the office as vaccination rates in his city, Columbus, Ohio, were rising. He limited his job hunting to opportunities that offered fully remote work and, in June, started at a hiring and human resources company based in New York.“It was tough because I really liked my job and the people I worked with, but I didn’t want to lose that flexibility of being able to work remotely,” Mr. Yeager said. “The office has all these distractions that are removed when you’re working from home.”Mr. Yeager said he would also like the option to work remotely in any positions he considered in the future. “More companies should give the opportunity for people to work and be productive in the best way that they can,” he said.Even as the age split has managers looking for ways to persuade younger hires to venture back, there are other divides. Many parents and other caregivers are concerned about leaving home when school plans are still up in the air, a consideration that has disproportionately affected women during the pandemic.At the same time, more than a few older workers welcome the flexibility of working from home after years in a cubicle, even as some in their 20s yearn for the camaraderie of the office or the dynamism of an urban setting.Still, that so many young people are working from home is a reversal of longstanding habits, said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, the online employment marketplace.“The norm for so long is that remote work in office jobs has been reserved for the oldest and most senior and most trusted,” she said. “It’s interesting how quickly young workers have embraced this.”When they work apart, younger employees lose chances to network, develop mentors and gain valuable experience by watching colleagues close-up, veteran managers say.In some cases, older millennials like Jonathan Singer, 37, a real estate lawyer in Portland, Ore., find themselves making the case for returning to the office to skeptical younger colleagues who have grown accustomed to working from home.“As a manager, it’s really hard to get cohesion and collegiality without being together on a regular basis, and it’s difficult to mentor without being in the same place,” Mr. Singer said. But persuading younger workers to see things his way has not been easy..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}“With the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.Fearful of losing one more junior employee in what has become a tight job market, Mr. Singer has allowed a young colleague to work from home one day a week with an understanding that they would revisit the issue in the future.“It’s just not possible to say no to some remote work,” Mr. Singer explained. “It’s simply not worth risking losing a good employee because of a doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.”Amanda Diaz, 28, feels relieved she doesn’t have to go back to the office, at least for now. She works for the health insurance company Humana in San Juan, P.R., but has been getting the job done in her home in Trujillo Alto, which is about a 40-minute drive from the office.Humana offers its employees the option to work from the office or their home, and Ms. Diaz said she would continue to work remotely as long as she had the option.“Think about all the time you spend getting ready and commuting to work,” she said. “Instead I’m using those two or so hours to prepare a healthy lunch, exercising or rest.”Alexander Fleiss, 38, chief executive of the investment management firm Rebellion Research, said some employees had resisted going back into the office. He hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back.“Those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” Mr. Fleiss said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if workers began suing companies because they felt they had been laid off for refusing to go back to the office.Mr. Fleiss also tries to persuade his staff members who are working on projects to come back by focusing on the benefits of face-to-face collaborations, but many employees would still rather stick to Zoom calls.“If that’s what they want, that’s what they want,” he said. “You can’t force anyone to do anything these days. You can only urge.” More

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    Delays, More Masks and Mandatory Shots: Virus Surge Disrupts Office-Return Plans

    A wave of the contagious Delta variant is causing companies to reconsider when they will require employees to return, and what health requirements should be in place when they do.Several hospital systems that previously held off making vaccines mandatory for health care workers are now willing to do so. Google employees in California who have voluntarily returned to the office are again wearing masks indoors. Goldman Sachs is considering whether to reinstitute testing for fully vaccinated employees in the company’s New York City offices, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because nothing had been decided. And on Monday, Apple told its work force that it would push back its return-to-office date from September to October.When companies began announcing tentative return-to-office plans this spring, there was a sense of optimism behind the messages. Covid cases were dwindling in the United States as the vaccine rollout picked up pace. Employers largely hoped their workers would get shots on their own, motivated by raffle tickets, paid time off and other perks, if not by the consensus of the medical community.In recent days, that tone has suddenly shifted. The Delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus, is sweeping through the country. Fewer than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, exacerbating the situation. Nationally, the daily average of new coronavirus infections surged 180 percent in 14 days to 45,343 by Thursday, and deaths — a lagging number — are up 30 percent from two weeks ago, to nearly 252, according to New York Times case counts. Vaccines are still unavailable for children under 12, many of whom are preparing for an in-person return to school this fall.America’s business leaders are being forced to decide whether to reverse reopening plans or to mandate vaccinations.George Etheredge for The New York TimesIt all adds up to a difficult calculation for America’s business leaders, who hoped the country would already be fully on a path to normalcy, with employees getting back to offices. Instead, individual companies are now being forced to make tough decisions that they had hoped could be avoided, such as whether to reverse reopening plans or institute vaccine mandates for employees. All the while, they continue to grapple with the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.“It’s emotionally draining on all of us, and it drives the top management teams crazy,” said Bob Sutton, a psychology professor at Stanford University who studies leadership and organizations. He said some executives he had advised were “pulling their hair out” over what to do.For employers wary of the legal ramifications and political backlash of mandating a vaccine, the tide has begun to turn, if ever so slightly.“At the beginning, there were a lot of employers that were concerned about jumping in too soon and being the one out front — it is a divisive issue,” said David Barron, a labor and employment lawyer at the law firm Cozen O’Connor. “The calculus starts to shift a little bit when you see another spike.”Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York on Friday encouraged private employers to require workers to get vaccinated. He also said the city might broaden the number of city workers required to get vaccinated or to be tested weekly.Recent court decisions have upheld employers’ rights to require vaccinations, including a ruling that said Houston Methodist Hospital could require health care workers to get shots. On Monday, a federal judge ruled that Indiana University could require students to be vaccinated as well.At a vaccination center in New York. Vaccine mandates are still far from the dominant approach that executives are taking.Kevin Hagen for The New York Times“The legal authority continues to line up on the side of employers being allowed to mandate vaccines if they choose to,” said Douglas Brayley, an employment lawyer at the global law firm Ropes & Gray.When Twitter reopened its San Francisco office this month at 50 percent capacity for those who wanted to go back, only vaccinated workers were allowed inside. In June, a civilian group that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department was examining the possibility of requiring police officers to get shots. And numerous colleges have required students and staff to be fully inoculated before they step foot on campus in the fall.“The recent news of Delta surging in some places is just adding to that determination to be as safe as we possibly can,” said Tim Killeen, the president of the University of Illinois System, which instituted a vaccine requirement Wednesday.Novant Health, a North Carolina-based health care company with more than 35,000 employees, said Thursday that it would make vaccinations mandatory for its workers by Sept. 15. Its efforts to overcome vaccine hesitancy through education and making shots easily accessible had stagnated.“Now that almost four billion doses of vaccine have been given around the world, and we see that it’s safe and effective, we see that the Delta variant is obviously here, and we have it in our communities, and that almost all the patients being added to our hospitals are unvaccinated, the time was right to say, ‘We’ve got to move forward with requiring vaccines of our team members,’” Dr. David Priest, the company’s chief safety officer, said.For others, high voluntary vaccination rates among employees have made requiring the shot simpler. Morgan Stanley, the investment banking firm, is requiring employees and guests at its New York offices to be fully vaccinated, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss company protocols. By the time it imposed the mandate in June, 90 percent of its employees were vaccinated.Vaccine mandates are still not the approach that most companies are taking. And the risk that the coronavirus poses to much of the population is far from what it was at the worst of the pandemic. New cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain at a small fraction of their previous peaks, largely localized to areas with low vaccination rates. Vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including from the Delta variant.“The big question is not so much ‘Can we keep workers safe in our buildings?’ but ‘Will workers feel comfortable enough coming back, even if good controls are in place?’” said Joseph Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who advises companies on Covid-19 strategies. “There’s a renewed anxiety that maybe started to dissipate in the spring — but it’s back.”When Twitter reopened its San Francisco office at half capacity for those who wanted to return, only vaccinated workers were allowed inside.Cayce Clifford for The New York TimesThat tension may make it more difficult to persuade workers to return to the office. In California’s Silicon Valley, tech companies largely embraced the new era of remote work during the pandemic. But not all have been eager to let their employees stay home for good..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}In June, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, told employees that they would be required to return to the office at least three days a week, starting in September. About 1,800 employees sent Mr. Cook a letter calling for a more flexible approach.He did not respond, but days later Apple posted an internal video in which company executives doubled down on bringing workers back to the office. In the video, Dr. Sumbul Desai, who helps run Apple’s digital health division, encouraged workers to get vaccinated but stopped short of saying they would be required to, according to a transcript viewed by The Times.The video didn’t sit well with some employees.“OK, you want me to put my life on the line to come back to the office, which will also decrease my productivity, and you’re not giving me any logic on why I actually need to do that?” said Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager.When the company delayed its return-to-office date on Monday, a group of employees drafted a new letter, proposing a one-year pilot program in which people could work from home full time if they chose to. The letter said an informal survey of more than 1,000 Apple employees found that roughly two-thirds would question their future at the company if they were required to return to the office. In Los Angeles, Endeavor, the parent company of the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, reopened its Beverly Hills headquarters this month. But it decided to shut down again last week when the county reimposed its indoor mask mandate in the face of surging case counts. An Endeavor spokesman said the company had decided that enforcement would be too difficult and would hinder group meetings.The employment website Indeed had been targeting Sept. 7 as the date when it would start bringing workers back on a hybrid basis. Now it has begun to reconsider those plans, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, Paul Wolfe, said, “because of the Delta variant.”Some companies said the recent spike in cases had not yet affected their return-to-office planning. Facebook still intends to reopen at 50 percent capacity by early September. IBM plans to open its U.S. offices in early September, with fully vaccinated employees free to go without a mask, and Royal Dutch Shell, the gas company, has been gradually lifting restrictions in its Houston offices, prompting more of its workers to return.Hewlett Packard Enterprise began allowing employees to return to its offices Monday, bolstered by a survey of its California employees that found 94 percent were fully vaccinated.“That gives us an added layer of comfort,” a company spokesman, Adam Bauer, said.Wells Fargo told its employees on July 16 that it would begin to bring employees currently working remotely back to the office on Sept. 7. But unlike banks that earlier called workers back with declarative language ringing in a new stage of the pandemic, the memo, sent by the bank’s chief operating officer, Scott Powell, had a notable degree of caution.“The timing communicated in this message is dependent on our assumption that the pandemic continues to remain stable or further improves,” Mr. Powell wrote. “We continue to actively monitor the situation and any developments, including new variants.”Reporting was contributed by More

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    Silicon Valley’s Best Pandemic Ever

    As the world reeled, tech titans supplied the tools that made life and work possible. Now the companies are awash in money — and questions about what it means to win amid so much loss.SAN FRANCISCO — In April 2020, with 2,000 Americans dying every day of Covid-19, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the world’s richest man, announced he was focusing on people rather than profits. Amazon would spend about $4 billion in the next few months “providing for customers and protecting employees,” he said, wiping out the profit the retailer would have made without the virus.It was a typically bold Amazon announcement, a shrewd public relations move to sacrifice financial gain at a moment of misery and fear. Mr. Bezos said this was “the hardest time we’ve ever faced” and suggested the new approach would extend indefinitely. “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon,” he advised, “you may want to take a seat.”At the end of July 2020, Amazon announced quarterly results. Rather than earning zero, as Mr. Bezos had predicted, it notched an operating profit of $5.8 billion — a record for the company.The months since have established new records. Amazon’s margins, which measure the profit on every dollar of sales, are the highest in the history of the company, which is based in Seattle.After stepping aside as chief executive early this month, Mr. Bezos flew to suborbital space for 10 minutes this week. Upon returning, he expressed gratitude to those who had fulfilled this lifelong dream. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, ’cause you guys paid for all this,” he said.Mr. Bezos, who was not available for comment for this article, was the only chief executive of a tech company to enter zero gravity in his own spaceship in the past year. But Amazon’s pandemic triumph was echoed all over the world of technology companies.Even as 609,000 Americans have died and the Delta variant surges, as corporate bankruptcies hit a peak for the decade, as restaurants, airlines, gyms, conferences, museums, department stores, hotels, movie theaters and amusement parks shut down and as millions of workers found themselves unemployed, the tech industry flourished.The combined stock market valuation of Apple, Alphabet, Nvidia, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook increased by about 70 percent to more than $10 trillion. That is roughly the size of the entire U.S. stock market in 2002. Apple alone has enough cash in its coffers to give $600 to every person in the United States. And in the next week, the big tech companies are expected to report earnings that will eclipse all previous windfalls.Silicon Valley, still the world headquarters for tech start-ups, has never seen so much loot. More Valley companies went public in 2020 than in 2019, and they raised twice as much money when they did. Forbes calculates there are now 365 billionaires whose fortunes derive from tech, up from 241 before the virus.Silicon Valley made the tools that allowed Americans, and the American economy, to survive the pandemic. People got their jigsaw puzzles, air purifiers and digital thermometers delivered by Amazon instead of picking them up two blocks or two miles away. The consumer economy swerved from local to national.Tech is triumphant in a way that even its most evangelical leaders couldn’t have predicted. No single industry has ever had such power over American life, dominating how we communicate, shop, learn about the world and seek distraction and joy.What will Silicon Valley do with this power? Who if anyone might restrain tech, and how much support will they have? Wealth and the ability to command and control tend to produce hubris more than modesty. As algorithms and artificial intelligence rearrange people into marketing groups, it’s uncertain — to put it politely — how aware the tech industry is of the potential for abuse, especially when it generates profits.With the House Judiciary Committee’s recent vote to advance a series of bills that aim to reduce the power of the most dominant tech companies, and with President Biden appointing regulators who have sharp views of Big Tech, these issues are finally set for a wider debate.It has been a tumultuous 18 months, and even the tech companies are having trouble absorbing what happened.PayPal, the digital payments company, had 325 million active accounts before the pandemic. It reported 392 million in the first quarter. “The winds were blowing in our direction, but we had to set the sails,” said Dan Schulman, the chief executive.The wind was so strong it blew tech into another universe of wealth and influence.The Pandemic’s TailwindIn March 2020, Redfin shut down its 78 offices around the country. Its stock lost two-thirds of its value. Shortly after, demand for real estate started rising again. Jordan Strauss/Associated PressOn March 13, 2020, Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of the online real estate broker Redfin, was biking to work when he got a call from Henry Ellenbogen, a longtime investor in Redfin who had started his own fund.At Harvard, Mr. Ellenbogen majored in the history of technology. One big thing he learned, he has said, was that technology is developed well in advance of people’s ability and willingness to use it.“Tell me something,” Mr. Ellenbogen asked Mr. Kelman, according to an account the chief executive posted on Redfin’s website. “When people start touring homes via an iPhone, won’t a lot of them decide, even after this whole pandemic ends, that this is just a better way to see houses? And if this whole process of buying and selling homes mostly goes virtual, how will other brokerages compete with you?”Mr. Kelman, a little preoccupied by how Seattle’s normally bustling streets were eerily empty, said he didn’t know.“I do,” Mr. Ellenbogen said. “The world is changing in your favor.”This was not a general view then, and it certainly was not what Mr. Kelman was experiencing. The first confirmed coronavirus death in the United States was a nursing home resident in a Seattle suburb on Feb. 29. Within hours, home sellers decided that maybe they did not want strangers breathing in their living room and bedrooms. Buyers began to pull out as well.For Redfin, that was the beginning of a crisis. Within a few days, it shut down its 78 offices around the country. Its stock plunged, losing two-thirds of its value.“The magnitude of the decline was increasing every day,” Mr. Kelman said. He agreed to sell Mr. Ellenbogen more stock for $110 million, thinking Redfin might need cash to make it through a long drought. In early April, Mr. Kelman furloughed 41 percent of the company’s agents, who were salaried employees. More than 1,000 people were affected.By that point, real estate was already turning around. Instead of killing demand for housing, the pandemic fueled it.“The economy split in two on about April 7, 2020,” Mr. Kelman said. “One part of the economy suffered greatly, but another did just fine — the people who said, ‘If the world is going to end in the virus-filled streets of New York, I’m going to Connecticut or Vermont or Maine and I need a house there.’ What we thought was a headwind was a tailwind.”The pandemic as a whole, it became clear, was a tailwind for tech in very basic ways.When tens of millions of people were urged and sometimes ordered to stay put in their homes, naturally companies whose very existence involves facilitating virtual lives benefited. The rise of the teleconferencing company Zoom as both a verb and stock market winner was perhaps the easiest call of the year.“Call it half luck — being in the right place at the right time — and half strategic tactics by companies recognizing this was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Dan Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. “What for most industries were hurricane-like headwinds was a pot of gold for tech.”Even companies that might have seemed vulnerable to stay-at-home mandates did well. Airbnb is a company whose whole existence was about going to stay in strangers’ homes. The pandemic should have killed the buzz for its long-awaited public offering in December. But its stock price doubled on the first day of trading, giving the company a value of $100 billion.Tech companies like Redfin that reacted defensively in March risked being left out of the recovery in April. The 2020 housing market, pushed by pandemic demand and negligible interest rates, turned out to be the best since 2006.Those furloughed at Redfin were soon hired back. Mr. Ellenbogen’s deal proved extremely lucrative. But an estimated 10 million people are behind on the rent even as eviction moratoriums start to expire.Mr. Kelman, more introspective than most tech executives, feels a little queasy.“Tech used to be delivering these wonders to the world, and all of us in the industry felt the human uplift of general progress,” he said. “With the pandemic, fortunes have really diverged and at least some people in tech are really uncomfortable about that.”Pushing Back“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” said Marc Andreessen. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate.”Steve Jennings/Getty ImagesThe biggest, and perhaps the only, threat to tech now is from government.Tech antitrust reformers say the government response to the pandemic, including the national eviction moratorium, repudiated decades of entrenched belief in a hands-off economic approach. Now, the activists say, they will have their moment.“When the government moved in a robust way to keep everybody afloat, free-market ideologies died,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy organization that fights corporate control. “People now appreciate that the government can either make choices that centralize power and wealth or it can structure markets and industries in way that deliver benefits more broadly.”There are signs of pushback against tech that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, beyond the House bills. Ohio sued Google, saying it should be regulated like a public utility. The Teamsters, one of the biggest labor unions, passed a resolution to supply “all resources necessary” to help organize workers at Amazon. Lina Khan, who made her reputation as a critic of Amazon, was appointed Federal Trade Commission chair. On Tuesday, the White House said it would nominate Jonathan Kanter, a tech critic, to be the Justice Department’s top antitrust official.But there are signs of movement in the other direction, too. The F.T.C. and a coalition of state attorneys general saw their antitrust lawsuits against Facebook dismissed by a Washington judge last month. The F.T.C. can refile an improved suit by the end of this month.Any measures restricting tech will ultimately need public sentiment behind them to succeed. Even some of tech’s biggest supporters see the potential for worry here.“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” Marc Andreessen, a central figure in Silicon Valley for a quarter-century, told the Substack writer Noah Smith in a recent interview. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate. And today’s technology industry can come across a lot like a Navy that acts like a pirate.”Beyond the threat of misuse of tech lurks an even darker possibility: a misplaced confidence in the ability of one loosely regulated sector to run so much of the world.Weeks before the pandemic, the RAND Corporation published a study on systemic risk and how a problem with one company can imperil others in its network. Systemic risk was a big issue in the 2008 financial collapse, when the government propped up some companies because their downfall might imperil the whole system. They were too big to fail.The research group investigated whether tech companies had supplanted financial firms as a key node in the economy, and if the economy was growing too dependent on them. Amazon, whose AWS cloud division has millions of customers, was highlighted.In December, RAND’s point was made when SolarWinds, which makes software that allows other companies to manage their networks, was revealed to have been infiltrated by Russian hackers. Since SolarWinds had so many clients, including Fortune 500 companies and federal agencies, the breach became one of the worst on record.Tech’s dominance means the risks are more concentrated than ever. There were problems at the security firm Cloudflare in July 2020, at Amazon in November, at the cloud provider Fastly last month and at the content distribution network Akamai on Thursday, all of which took down other sites at least briefly.These outages caused little concern.That’s typical of systemic issues, said Jonathan Welburn, a lead author on the RAND study. “Before 2008, when house prices kept rising and rising, no one wanted to hear how they were being artificially propped up and why that could be a problem,” he said.Pushing Forward“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be,” IBM’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, recently told the BBC.Brian Ach/Getty ImagesThe pandemic gave tech companies the power and the cash to make aggressive bets on their individual destinies. Buying another company was one way to do this. Global deal values in tech soared 47.3 percent in 2020 from a year ago.Zillow, a digital real estate company in Seattle, spent $500 million in February to buy ShowingTime, a scheduling platform for home showings. A few weeks later, Zillow said it would hire 2,000 people, increasing its work force by 40 percent.But its biggest bet will take longer to play out. Before the pandemic, Zillow discouraged working from home, like most companies. Then last summer, it said 90 percent of its employees could work remotely forever if they chose.At the time, Zillow was in the vanguard of a movement. Now the idea of the non-virtual office is re-exerting its pull with managers.Amazon says its plan “is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.” Google asserted the same thing, although it backed off after workers rebelled. IBM says 80 percent of its employees will be in the office at least three days a week.“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be,” IBM’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, told the BBC.Zillow is something of an outlier. Even after a year of working from home, 59 percent of its employees told the company they planned to go into the office once a month or less.This may be the pandemic’s ultimate tailwind: not just the future coming much faster to your company, but actively pushing your company faster into the future. It is a risk that might be easier to undertake if your market value has suddenly tripled the way Zillow’s did.If Zillow is wrong about the future and employees are less bound to an office they visit only virtually, the company will stumble. If it is right, it will increase its workers’ loyalty and outdistance earthbound competitors.“The pandemic forced change on all of us,” said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief operating officer. “We didn’t wish for it but now we’re learning from it.”More than a third of Zillow employees moved in the year that began in March 2020. Many moves were from one part of Seattle’s metro area to another, indicating a general reluctance not to get so far away from the office you could not drive there. But other employees dispersed to New Mexico, Mississippi and Alabama. Nine moved to Hawaii.“They liked their job but wanted to go somewhere else. That used to be a problem. Now it’s not,” said Viet Shelton, a Zillow spokesman who, as it happens, just moved to Manhattan from Seattle because he always wanted to live in New York.Now that employees no longer have to live where Zillow has an office, interest has swelled. More than 55,000 applied to work at Zillow in the first quarter, up 51 percent from the prepandemic level and about 10 applicants for every person employed there. Zillow has hired more recruiters to deal with the onslaught.Over at Redfin, the stock is up 400 percent from its pandemic bottom. Redfin paid $608 million in February to acquire a publisher of rental listings, its biggest deal ever. But while the company seems so rich, so successful, so lucky from the outside, it feels different within. Managing growth is almost as hard as managing a downturn.“Customers are clamoring for service and we can’t hire fast enough,” said Mr. Kelman. “Redfin never had a moment when it was absolutely and totally killing it, but I always imagined when we did that it would be more fun than this.” More

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    Work at Home or the Office? Either Way, There’s a Start-Up for That.

    As more Americans return to an office a few days a week, start-ups providing tools for hybrid work are trying to cash in.SAN FRANCISCO — Before the pandemic, Envoy, a start-up in San Francisco, sold visitor registration software for the office. Its system signed in guests and tracked who was coming into the building.When Covid-19 hit and forced people to work from home, Envoy adapted. It began tracking employees instead of just visitors, with a screening system that asked workers about potential Covid symptoms and exposures.Now as companies begin reopening offices and promoting more flexibility for employees, Envoy is changing its strategy again. Its newest product, Envoy Desks, lets employees book desks for when they go into their company’s workplace, in a bet that assigned cubicles and five days a week in the office are a thing of the past.Envoy is part of a wave of start-ups trying to capitalize on America’s shift toward hybrid work. Companies are selling more flexible office layouts, new video-calling software and tools for digital connectivity within teams — and trying to make the case that their offerings will bridge the gaps between an in-person and remote work force.The start-ups are jockeying for position as more companies announce plans for hybrid work, where employees are required to come in for only part of the week and can work at home the rest of the time. In May, a survey of 100 companies conducted by McKinsey found that nine out of 10 organizations planned to combine remote and on-site working even after it was safe to return to the office.Providing tools for remote work is potentially lucrative. Companies spent $317 billion last year on information technology for remote work, according to the research company Gartner. Gartner estimated that spending would increase to $333 billion this year.An Envoy employee demonstrating how to use the software to book a desk.Lauren Segal for The New York TimesHybrid and remote work have the potential to benefit workers for whom office environments were never a good fit, said Kate Lister, president of the consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. This includes women, racial minorities, people with caregiving responsibilities and those with disabilities, along with introverts and people who simply prefer to work at odd hours or in solitude.But she and others also warned that the move to hybrid work could make remote workers “second-class citizens.” Workers who miss out on the camaraderie of in-person meetings or the spontaneity of hallway chats may end up being passed over for raises and promotions, they said.That, start-up founders argue, is where their products come in.Rajiv Ayyangar, the chief executive and co-founder of Tandem, leads one of several software start-ups that have created desktop apps that help teams better collaborate with one another and that recreate the feeling of being in an office. He said Tandem’s product was trying to help with “presence” — the ability to know what one’s teammates are doing in real time, even if the worker is not with their colleagues in the office.Tandem’s desktop program, which costs $10 a month for each user, shows what teammates are working on so colleagues know if they are available for a spontaneous video call within the app. The list of user statuses automatically updates to let people know if their co-workers are on a call, writing in Google Docs or doing some other task.Pragli and Tribe, two software start-ups that have been around since 2019, also offer similar products. People can use Pragli’s product to create standing audio or video calls that others can join. It is free, though the company plans to introduce a paid product. Tribe’s software uses busy and available statuses to facilitate in-platform video calls; it is currently only accessible with an invitation.Owl Labs, a start-up founded in 2017, is also trying to tackle “presence.” It makes a 360-degree video camera, microphone and speaker that sits in the middle of a conference table and automatically zooms in on the person who is speaking.Owl’s 360-degree camera, microphone and speaker system is intended to remote workers to attend meetings seamlessly.Owl LabsThe company, which said its customers quadrupled to more than 75,000 organizations over the pandemic, said the $999 camera was a way for remote workers to participate in office meetings by being able to see everyone who is speaking, rather than the limited view enabled by a single laptop camera.Other start-ups, such as Kumospace and Mmhmm, said they were working on improving video communications for hybrid work. Kumospace, a video-calling start-up, structures calls so that users enter a virtual room. They then navigate the room using arrow keys and can talk to people when they are close to them.The design is meant to replicate in-person socializing, where people can mill around and have multiple conversations in the same room. That contrasts with a service like Zoom, where everyone is by default in the same conversation as soon as they enter the video call.Mmhmm, which was created by the founder of the note-taking and productivity app Evernote, Phil Libin, offers a variety of interactive video backgrounds, tools for sharing slideshows and other features for live conversations and asynchronous presentations. It has a free version and a premium version, which costs $8.33 per employee a month.Some companies said their products can help businesses understand their space usage as fewer workers come in needing desks. Density, a start-up in San Francisco, makes a product that uses custom depth sensors to measure how many people are entering an area or use an open space. Companies can then analyze that data to understand how much of their office space they are actually using, and downsize as necessary.Density also plans to offer other tools for hybrid work. Last month, it acquired a software start-up that provides a system for desk and space reservation.Envoy said its new Desks product had attracted 400 companies, including the clothing retailer Patagonia and the film company Lionsgate.Larry Gadea, chief executive of Envoy, at the company’s headquarters.Lauren Segal for The New York Times“The companies that use us get much more accurate data that’s standardized across all their offices globally,” said Larry Gadea, Envoy’s chief executive. “And then it’s around using that data to inform space planning things. Do we need more floors? Do we need more meeting rooms? Do we need more desks? Do we need more desks for this one team?”Lionsgate said it had used Envoy’s products since before the pandemic. When the coronavirus arrived, it turned to Envoy’s employee-screening software to provide health checks to those entering the office.Now, as more employees return to in-person work, the company is using Envoy to manage where everyone sits, as well as to track who is coming in. Lionsgate said the information can help determine how often teams will need to be in the office.“We’ll be able to know really how much space we need,” said Heather Somaini, Lionsgate’s chief administrative officer. “So I think it’ll be really useful.” More

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    'I Quit My Job' Is a Signal of Economic Recovery

    With new opportunities and a different perspective as the pandemic eases, workers are choosing to leave their jobs in record numbers.At some point early this year, Justin Hoffman concluded that he was being underpaid.The marketing director at an orthopedic practice in Findlay, Ohio, Mr. Hoffman was making $42,000 a year — about $13,000 less, by his count, than people were making in similar jobs elsewhere.But when he asked for a raise in March, he was given only a small bump in pay. “That was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.So after some careful thinking, Mr. Hoffman, 28, did what he had long ached to do: He quit. His last day was June 4.Mr. Hoffman is among millions of workers who have voluntarily left their jobs recently, one of the most striking elements of the newly blazing-hot job market. According to the Labor Department, nearly four million people quit their jobs in April, the most on record, pushing the rate to 2.7 percent of those employed.The rate was particularly high in the leisure and hospitality industry, where competition for workers has been especially fierce. But the number of those quitting registered across the board.Economists believe that one reason more workers are quitting is simply a backlog: By some estimates, more than five million fewer people quit last year than would otherwise be expected, as some workers, riding out the labor market’s convulsions, stuck with jobs they may have wanted to leave anyway. (And the millions of involuntary job losses during the pandemic surely accounted for some of the reduction in quitting.) Now that the economy is regaining its footing, workers may suddenly be feeling more emboldened to heed their impulses.But another factor may be the speed with which the economy has reawakened. As the pandemic has receded and the great reopening has swept across the country, businesses that had gone into hibernation or curtailed their work force during the pandemic have raced to hire employees to meet the surging demand.At the same time, many people remain reluctant to return to work because of lingering fears of the virus, child care or elder care challenges, still-generous unemployment benefits, low wages or other reasons.The result has been an explosion of job openings, despite a relatively high unemployment rate, as businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees — a dynamic that has placed power more firmly in workers’ hands. With employers offering higher wages to attract candidates, many workers — especially in low-wage positions in restaurants and hotels — are leaving their jobs and jumping to ones that pay even slightly more.“There’s a lot of churn in low-wage jobs where people don’t really have a career progression,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. “If you find a job that offers just marginally more, there’s no cost to you in switching.”More than 740,000 workers quit jobs in leisure and hospitality in April, the Labor Department said, for a rate of 5.3 percent. A vast majority were in accommodation and food service.The pandemic has driven workers to quit for other reasons as well. With fewer opportunities for spending, some people were able to save money and pay down their debts, giving them a cushion to leave jobs with which they were dissatisfied. Other workers, disinclined to give up remote work, are abandoning jobs that are no longer affording them as much flexibility.For Mr. Hoffman, the decision to leave his job was the culmination of months of perceived injustices, which he said he was able to evaluate more clearly because of the pandemic.As coronavirus cases swelled in the fall, he asked to work from home because of the risk he feared he posed to his sister, whose immune system is compromised. His request was denied, he said, crystallizing his sense that he was not respected or valued.Over the last year, with the pandemic limiting his social interactions, he began to network over Twitter with other people in marketing. That was how he determined that he was being significantly underpaid.Mr. Hoffman, who is now looking for work, said he probably would have quit eventually. But the pandemic, he said, hastened his decision.“I think that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, then things wouldn’t have turned out this way,” he said. “It didn’t just change my perspective on my compensation, but I think it’s changed a lot about my understanding of the relationship between employers and employees.”A restaurant in Louisville, Ky., advertised it was hiring. More than 740,000 workers quit jobs in leisure and hospitality in April, the Labor Department said.Amira Karaoud/ReutersOn a more philosophical level, the constant threat of illness, more time with family members, leisure time that gave way to new passions — all may have prompted some workers to reassess how they want to spend their time. Burned out, some people have left their jobs for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like traveling the world. Others have seen an opportunity to shift careers or branch out on their own.Start-ups surged during the pandemic, particularly in Black communities, as stimulus checks and unemployment benefits helped seed entrepreneurs’ dreams and bolster their confidence.“The pandemic, for a lot of people, was really stressful and caused a lot of uncertainty, so I think what a lot of people did was reflect on their lives,” said Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University who studies employee resignations.Dr. Klotz said people were accustomed to work being at the center of their lives and identities — a reality that may have shifted during the pandemic.“In general, we want a life of contentment and a life that has purpose,” he said. “And I think for many people, they’ve discovered that contentment and purpose for them may lie outside of work.”That was the case for Matt Gisin, 24, who gave notice at his job as a graphic designer at a health and wellness company this month. During the pandemic, he was able to work remotely, and without a commute, he had more time for hobbies like CrossFit and video game streaming.“I got very adjusted to all of this time and all of this freedom,” he said.But slowly, his company began requiring employees to come back into the office, first for two days a week, then three, then four. With so many people commuting to work in their cars, his trip from his home in Mamaroneck, N.Y., to the middle of Long Island could stretch to two hours each way, leaving him little time for his pastimes.“I wasn’t happy anymore,” he said. “I was finding happiness in a lot of outside activities so I took this kind of leap to leave.” He now hopes to find a job in the video game industry.Economists expect the elevated level of quitting to continue for some time, as the pandemic eases and the economy rebalances.“I would be surprised if this ended before the summer ended,” said Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist for the hiring site Glassdoor. But he also said there was an “expiration date”: A high number of workers quitting will contribute to a labor shortage, eventually forcing employers to raise wages and provide other incentives, which will help lure workers back and re-establish economic equilibrium.In the meantime, he said, workers — especially those with low wages — will continue to gain leverage over employers.“The longer these shortages persist, the more bargaining power you put into the hands of very low-skilled workers,” he said. “There is some evidence that employers are moving in response, and that’s unusual.” More