It’s becoming increasing clear that any remote work policy is doomed to fail. Restrict people’s ability to work remotely in almost any way and they’ll go work for someone who won’t do that. Let everyone work remotely all the time and you’ll lose any benefit of people being in the same physical space. So, stop trying to find the right remote work policy. Instead, adopt principle-based remote work guidelines that reinforce your purpose and culture.

  • POLICY: A mandatory, definite course or method of action that all must follow like, “Respond to all customer inquiries within 24 hours.”
  • GUIDELINE: A preferred course or method of action that all should generally follow like, “Try to get back to all customers within 24 hours.”
  • PRINCIPLE: A way of thinking about actions like “Think customers first and pull in the people you need to answer customer inquiries right the first time as fast you can.”

The literally hundreds of comments on my initial article on remote work and the tragedy of the commons were all blisteringly negative. People are taking their right to work remotely extremely personally and emotionally lashing out at anyone suggesting or trying to take any part of that right away.

One person explained that she worked in a small regional office of a national company. When she and all her colleagues in that office showed up at the office, they spent all day on video calls with people in the company’s main office. There was no benefit at all to anyone or to the company to her commuting to this office to do exactly what she could do at home. But the corporate policy was that she had to be in the office three days a week.

Thankfully, that company is in the process of deliberately evolving its culture to be more community focused. Some of their community-focused principles include:

  • Working collaboratively as a community marked by loyalty, mutual support, and team spirit
  • Building 2-way trust and respect
  • Giving all the opportunity to learn and grow in the way that is most appropriate for them
  • Delivering individual and organizational results together
  • Having fun.

They then thought through how to deal with the remote versus in-office work issue and decided not to have any mandatory policies. Instead, they put in place recommended guidelines in line with their new principles. Those guidelines include:

  • Be fully able to work with others at work wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the office, at home, or somewhere else. You need to have all the technology required to be fully engaged. That means you can’t say, “Sorry, I’m in an area with weak coverage,” or “Sorry, I’m in the car and five minutes away from home.” If you can’t work from where you are, you should be in the office.
  • Be fully present in all meetings (live or remote.) This means no multi-tasking, no pausing to let the refrigerator repair person in or the like.
  • Be physically present together when it’s important for any of the principles for community. This means you may need to be physically present to:
    • Work collaboratively as a community marked by loyalty, mutual support, and team spirit
    • Build 2-way trust and respect
    • Give others or take the opportunity to learn and grow together.
    • Deliver individual and organizational results together
    • Have fun

The CEO of another organization couldn’t have any blanket remote work policies because some of her team did work that could be done only with them physically present. Thus, any sort of hybrid remote policy would apply only to the “fat cats” in the corporate HQ, making everyone else feel like second class citizens.

Implications for you

Remote work is here to stay. Some were doing it way before COVID. Most white-collar workers had to do it after COVID and were forced to make it work. The savings in commuting time and improvements in work-life balance are compelling.

Fighting the shift to remote is like fighting the tide. The tide and remote work are going to win.

Stop fighting the shift. Policies won’t work.

Instead, get your people aligned around the organization’s mission, vision, and values.

Co-create a set of principles to make those values actionable.

Then co-create a set of guidelines for in-office and remote work in line with those principles and embed them in your culture.

In either case, you’re not done when the checklist is done. Keep learning. Keep adjusting. Click here for a categorized list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #839) I focus on executive onboarding and transition acceleration. Click on these links for free executive summaries of my books: “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan” and “The Merger & Acquisition Leader’s Playbook Follow me on Twitter.