Adapting your staff to a new normal


How can organizations and managers support their people in this turbulent and unpredictable time?

Estelle Curd – Head of People and Culture, Rocket Lab

This is something that no New Zealand Business had ever seen before, there was no preparing; it hit like a tidal wave from nowhere. Many employees were unable to work from home and for those that could, in some cases, it was a completely new and foreign territory.

As we emerge this week from complete isolation, apart from the odd supermarket shop and run around the block, one thing remains certain, uncertainty. This is what we call adapting to the new normal, a life we could not have imagined this time last year and one that has been thrust upon us in a short space of time.

Ask the question, Are you OK?

This is a phrase you should be asking your teams every day.

The fusion of home and work has reached a new level, with some of us wearing multiple hats as a parent, worker and teacher. Expect that your staff are struggling with the change, no matter what their situation.

There has been an increase in the use of mental health hotlines and services across the country, which indicates that our people are not coping as well as we would like to think.

For me, I felt very uncomfortable and struggled to adapt, I felt everyone around me appeared to be doing 12 hours of work, baking delicious looking banana bread and topping it off with a home workout. Then there was me, having chocolate for breakfast in my favourite oversized jersey I’d been wearing for the past 5 days. But by being honest and saying I wasn’t ok; it gave others courage to also admit that things were not perfect for them and accepting that this was also ok. From there it was about creating strategies on how to manage in the new norm.

Manage your expectations

Don’t expect for employees to carry on as per usual, this is a better assumption to manage than to thinking that everything will go on as it has before.

For me this meant beginning work at 5:30am before the rest of the household, so I could have quiet time before the madness began. I also took a break for around an hour and a half between 12 and 2. This was not only to keep my sanity, but also to break up the overwhelming feeling of being ‘stuck’ inside. I spoke to my team about the hours that worked best for them, the only thing I required was them to be present for our 9am morning check in. Whilst our expectations may have been previously been centered around start and finish times, there is no way to really manage this, as you don’t want to be the overbearing manager asking when someone has logged on! So agree to a plan and focus on the deliverables.

Have an honest conversation

It can be hard to manage staff remotely and although you should most definitely manage your expectations; you shouldn’t completely eradicate them. If you really feel that you are not getting close to the deliverables you need for your team’s success, then you need to address the situation.

Businesses, just as much as people are going through tough times, so it is important to have a discussion around meeting KPI’s and objectives, especially if you feel that there are a number of tasks that are not being met. If through this conversation you find an employee is struggling, look at how work can be amended i.e. reduction or change to their hours.


This may seem relatively basic, but in talking with a number of people across different industries they feel left in the dark by their organisations and this puts their minds in to a tailspin, ‘am I going to be let go?’ or ‘what’s going to happen to me?’.

If you’re managing a group of people give them as much information as possible, even if the news isn’t favourable, employees appreciate transparency. This period of uncertainty wont last forever, but the memory of how the organization communicated and treated its people will.

Our CEO sends out a weekly video and we have multiple communications that go out during the week (Newsletter, Covid updates, Friday night drinks/tea). Further to this we have established a Pandemic Response team which is managing all aspects of Covid related activities and this team in contactable 24/7. This ensures that there is two-way communication if an employee needs to reach out to the organization for support.

Have some fun

Although these are uncertain times, this doesn’t mean you can’t share a laugh with your team. Best working from home animal and zoom lunch time lectures have been a fan favourite at Rocket Lab. Whilst things are changing frequently, to be able to connect with your colleagues and have a laugh about anything from a meme to a story, is one thing that should never change no matter the situation we find ourselves in.