No-fly zones are the non-negotiable boundaries that employees now consider dealbreakers in their work and home lives, says Bonnie Low-Kramen

If the pandemic showed us anything, it is that time is our most precious commodity. The new hybrid and remote workplace has changed all the rules regarding the time and work schedules of staff. People have their no-fly zones.

No-fly zones are the non-negotiable time constraints that employees now have as part of their lives – deal-breakers of a sort. Suddenly no longer forced to travel into an office, many staff had the chance to have dinner with their families for the first time in a long time. Children were able to have regular access to their parents. Staff experienced a flexibility and a freedom that many had never known. This improved quality of life has brought us to no-fly zones, and there is no going back.

Is There an Existential Crisis Brewing?

The workplace of 2023 is one where managers want staff back in the office and staff are struggling to comply while holding on to their flexible schedules. There is a growing conflict brewing in many companies. Staff want to understand why they need to go back to the commute. Some are simply refusing to come back, which can be a crisis for leadership. Managers are being tested as never before.

What is emerging is a variety of work schedules that are being decided upon by managers and their teams in a collaborative way. One company is mandating that staff come into the office 11 days out of every month and it is up to the team to decide what that looks like.

Another company has instituted a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in-office schedule, which was designed after polling the team. Even in these arrangements, compromise is needed.

What is clear is that there is a benefit to having staff work with one another in person, at least part of the time. What is also turning out to be true is that the most successful teams are led by managers who respect their employees’ no-fly zones.

Leaders who take the time to ask about each team member’s no-fly zone are seen as caring humans. In exchange for flexibility, staffers go above and beyond and ensure their work is getting done, even if it means hitting deadlines outside of regular work hours. And when life situations change, it is the leader who responds with compassion who has a line-up of candidates wanting to work with them.

Set-Up for Success

For no-fly zones to be successful, leaders and staff need to be committed to getting the work completed on deadline and with excellent results, communicating clearly along the way.

Don’t be the bottleneck and the reason that a project is stalled since everyone’s work is often dependent on others. Every member on a team needs to care about avoiding burnout and maintaining a no-drama environment as they navigate their workload. If the tasks become overwhelming, it is imperative for managers to stay on top of the project timelines and who is doing what.

The biggest difference in the workplace of 2023 compared to 2019 is that hybrid work is here to stay. It is increasingly rare for staff to be required to go into the office 5 days a week. It has become normalized and supported to reveal family commitments and have them integrated into the workday.

The Future

Some managers are concerned about an ‘us versus them’ two-class society among the team – the people who go into the office and those who don’t. The impact of no-fly zones on productivity and team connections remains to be seen as we head into 2024.

Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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