U.S. economic productivity during the pandemic was driven entirely by firms with remote work capacity, according to a new study.

Productivity in work-from-home services businesses, which includes information and finance, grew 3.3% between the beginning of 2020 and early 2022. In the meantime, growth in the goods sector, in jobs like construction and mining, was unchanged and services industries that required in-person contact contracted by 2.6%, according to a working paper by Northwestern University’s Robert Gordon and Princeton University’s Hassan Sayed.

“WFH respondents assess their own productivity as substantially higher than their expectations, which may provide a comparison between productivity of WFH activity compared to the productivity of the same individuals in their previous office environments,” the authors wrote in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, citing a recent survey.


Gordon — a productivity expert and author of the 2017 book “The Rise and Fall of American Growth” — wagered that in-person services likely lost productivity growth because of pandemic shifts, like airline pilots transporting fewer passengers and restaurant staff tending tables with few if any patrons.

At the same time, “pandemic-era GDP growth may be understated by neglecting the shift of residential capital from non-work to work activities and the large personal investment in technology hardware and communications software needed to make WFH effective,” the authors wrote.