The Target on the Backs of Remote Workers

As layoffs mount, one-third of workers not in the office fret they’ll be let go. How can they best respond?

As companies restructure their workforces and ask remote employees to come back to the office at least some of the time, those out-of-office workers are worried that they could be more likely to get laid off.

According to a recent survey by HR consultancy Humu, remote employees were 32% more likely to feel anxious during this transitional period. In addition, they were far more concerned than their in-office colleagues about getting a new manager during a reorganization. Whether or not these fears about layoffs or restructurings are warranted, experts say remote workers shouldn’t be complacent. “Read the room,” says Sharon Egilinsky, a senior leader in Korn Ferry’s ESG and Sustainability Solutions team.

A little more than one-quarter of the US workforce currently works remotely, up from 6% pre-pandemic. Many corporations were lenient with their employees at the height of COVID-19, encouraging them to work at the office at least part of the time, but not forcing them to do so.

Most experts agree that remote workers were highly productive during the pandemic. But today leaders are increasingly feeling that any productivity boost has run its course. Couple that with worries about inflation and an economic slowdown, and it’s perhaps not surprising that many leaders are asking more forcefully for employees to return to the workplace. These executives might not directly fire people for not returning to the office, but in many cases they’re looking to curb costs, so they might not mind if the remote workers quit, says Douglas Charles, president of Korn Ferry in the Americas.

Remote workers also have to worry about being out of sight and out of mind. About 96% of executives say that they notice and value work accomplished in the office far more than they do work done from home, according to a survey of 1,000 employees and 250 executives last year by workplace software firm Envoy. “Proximity bias is real,” says Miriam Nelson, a Korn Ferry senior client partner in the firm’s Assessment and Succession business.

This might not have been an issue when the economy was growing, but it’s of growing concern to remote workers now, with more and more companies signaling their intent to trim their workforces. Anxiety about working from home might even be undermining employees’ contributions: when Humu surveyed remote workers, two-thirds of them said their anxiety was impacting their productivity.

Instead of just being anxious, remote workers should look at their situation realistically. “If your team is mostly remote, you’re OK. But if everyone else is in there, you should be concerned,” Egilinsky says. To combat proximity bias, remote workers should make a point of regularly connecting with their managers to remind them of the work they’re contributing. “You need to be heard and seen,” says Brad Frank, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Technology practice


For more information, contact Korn Ferry’s Change Management business.