How Disneyland Keeps Remote Workers Happy and Productive Through the Pandemic
Training & Learning

How Disneyland Keeps Remote Workers Happy and Productive Through the Pandemic

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every sector of the economy, with major impacts on businesses of all kinds. But some sectors, including tourism and entertainment, have been hit a lot harder than others. Disneyland, notably, falls in that category.

So, how can businesses like large-scale entertainment resorts respond to these disruptions? How can they continue to take care of their staff and offer continuity when so much is changing?

Recently, I caught up with Bruno Fournet, HR Director at Disneyland Paris’s Center of L&D Excellence, to chat about how the most visited entertainment destination in Europe has adjusted to cope with the pandemic and maintain a high level of performance during 2020. 

We started off by discussing Disneyland Paris’s shift to remote working.

The challenges of shifting Disneyland Paris to remote working

As the most visited entertainment destination in Europe, Disneyland Paris accounts for a massive 6.2% of France’s total tourism income. And as the park’s L&D leader, Bruno has a big role to play in driving this performance.

“As HR Director for Learning and Development at Disneyland Paris, I’m focused on making it easier for employees to be efficient,” says Bruno. “I’m supporting our people to have the skills and the motivation to excel in their jobs, and ultimately, to be great performers.”

For Bruno, supporting this great performance in 2020 has meant some big shifts in working arrangements.

“A big focus during the pandemic has been supporting the organization to move from a place where all the jobs were conducted onsite, to conducting some jobs from home. This is not only during confinement - we’re also looking at how we can work remotely in the long-term, too.” 

But as Bruno explains, not all staff can work remotely. “Of course, this cannot apply to all of our operational jobs, such as our waiters, or those in our merchandise stores. But it does apply to a lot of people from the corporate offices, like finance, HR, marketing, communications, and legal. A lot of these people can work from home quite easily.”

‘Changing, then performing’ - how Disneyland Paris adapted their operations during the pandemic

“During the confinement, people were forced to stay home,” says Bruno. “But even later, we decided for sanitary measures to encourage people to work remotely. We agreed with our union partners to extend our previous arrangements - where people could work from home one day out of five - to working from home as much as possible.”

As Bruno explains, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated some major shifts for a lot of staff. It has also pushed Disneyland Paris to adjust on the fly.

“We had to put the remote working system in place first, and then see how we could support it,” says Bruno. “This affected between 3,000 - 4,000 people. Usually, when we make a change on this scale, we prepare first, then implement. With the crisis, we had to do the reverse. We had to change, then make adjustments to keep our performance at a high level.”

"Usually, when we make a change on this scale, we prepare first, then implement. With the crisis, we had to do the reverse. We had to change, then make adjustments to keep our performance at a high level.”

For Disneyland Paris, it wasn’t enough to simply make the switch to remote working - the company had to ensure employees were happy and productive in these new circumstances. 

Related read: How to Pivot Your L&D Strategy in Times of Crisis

Four priorities for keeping remote workers happy and productive

Bruno’s overall goal is to help Disneyland Paris’s employees build their skills, be motivated, and maintain a high standard of performance. While remote working might have changed daily working habits, it hasn’t changed these high expectations.

But how exactly does Disneyland Paris support its employees to be productive when working from home? For Bruno, it comes down to four key priorities.

#1: A comfortable working environment

“When people are working on-site, we’re responsible for their working conditions,” says Bruno. “When people are working from home, we need to support them to adapt their homes in order to have a working space that is as convenient and comfortable as possible.” 

“Some of us are lucky enough to have space, but some of our employees are working in their bedrooms, or maybe in shared living spaces. It’s our responsibility to provide guidelines for employees to adjust their environment to be comfortable and work efficiently.” 

“When people are working on-site, we’re responsible for their working conditions. When people are working from home, we need to support them to adapt their homes in order to have a working space that is as convenient and comfortable as possible.” 

#2: Proactive time management, leading by example

“At the same time, we also need to support people to organize their work differently,” says Bruno. “In an office, you have set times of work. You go for lunch with your colleagues, and at the end of the day when everyone is leaving, you have a tendency to go home too.” 

“If you work from home, you’re completely independent with your schedule. There’s a tendency for people to work later in the evening, and to forget about taking breaks. That’s why we need to provide guidelines for people to avoid overworking. We want them to embrace new behaviors, like fully disconnecting during breaks. As leaders, we need to demonstrate these behaviors ourselves.” 

"We need to provide guidelines for people to avoid overworking. As leaders, we need to demonstrate these behaviors ourselves.” 

#3: Digital collaboration and new communication processes

“We also want our people to be autonomous in terms of their skills and the activities they need to perform,” says Bruno. “This has been a pleasant surprise for us, because a lot of our staff members have revealed themselves as having unexpected capabilities with certain activities. People have shown a lot of initiative, and have adjusted well on the whole.”

“At the same time, we’ve realized that some people aren’t quite so comfortable. Working alone has shown that people really need their colleagues for some tasks. They might be used to turning around and asking a neighbor for some help, and now they can’t do this. We need to pay attention and give them the opportunity to speak up and ask for any help they need.”

"Working alone has shown that people really need their colleagues for some tasks. They might be used to turning around and asking a neighbor for some help, and now they can’t do this. We need to pay attention and give them the opportunity to speak up and ask for any help they need.”

#4: Emotional connection

“The last important step is around emotional connection,” says Bruno. “When people work together in an open space, they have a lot of shared moments. They receive emails, and they take calls. They have joys, but they also have frustrations and surprises. With their colleagues around them, they can talk and share their problems when they experience negative emotions. When they’re alone at home, they might not have anybody they can rely on.”

“We need to provide the right tools and the right training for people to be more emotionally autonomous, and also to speak up when they are having a hard time,” says Bruno. “This might not solve all of their difficulties, but at least we’re encouraging people to express their emotions and get some validation from another person to help improve their mood.”

"We need to provide the right tools and the right training for people to be more emotionally autonomous, and also to speak up when they are having a hard time."

What specific L&D solutions Disneyland Paris has put in place

So, those are the four priorities for Disneyland Paris to keep its staff engaged during the many disruptions of 2020. But what specific L&D solutions has Bruno put in place?

1. Offer guidelines to managers 

“Very early in the process, we provided leadership guidelines to address the crisis,” says Bruno. “This was a short document with some key tips and best practices about how to manage people working remotely, and how to help our teams adjust.” 

2. Offer dedicated remote management training 

“Secondly, we organized a series of virtual classes about resiliency, engagement, and change management. We’re also working on a dedicated series of classes about managing teams during remote working, and developing a set of guides for organizing work spaces, managing time, and the other administrative aspects like getting reimbursed for expenses.” 

This series of classes also involves a shift to Collaborative Learning. “In our virtual classes, we’re not focusing just on instructors listing everything in the guidelines,” says Bruno. “These instructors are more collaborative, and will be asking participants for feedback about their best practices, experiences, and challenges. We want to use the knowledge and goodwill of participants to suggest solutions to problems. It’s a more active pedagogy.”

3. Offer a comprehensive guide for leadership

“On top of that, we’re finalizing a more comprehensive guide for our leaders,” says Bruno. “This explains the leadership behaviours we expect from people in a mixed environment where some people are working from home and some are in the office. We’re helping people to adapt their management style, stay connected, and know when to be quiet and let people work.” 

As Bruno explains, the goal of Disneyland Paris is quite simple. “It’s not rocket science. We want to offer simple guidelines to help people - both leaders and staff - solve problems and adjust to the new ways of working.”

Related read: How to Support Frontline Employees in Times of Crisis

Reach out to employees proactively to gauge the impact of the crisis

It’s one thing to put the right L&D systems and resources in place in response to a major disruption, but measuring the impacts of these changes is quite another.

“We’re lucky to be part of a big company,” says Bruno. “We have networks, for example, HR business partners, who are a great source of feedback. And because we’re in France, we expect our union representatives to speak up and bring issues to our attention. We have scheduled meetings with unions to measure the efficiency of our agreements and find improvements.” 

“On top of that, being part of The Walt Disney Company, we have regular employee surveys where we can ask very specific questions to employees about motivation and skills. We can also combine this with our data on remote working to gather business intelligence, and to see how we’re going, and whether people need additional support.” 

For Bruno, this is about more than just adjusting to the disruptions of COVID-19. “If people have the skills, autonomy, and motivation they need, they’ll be higher performing in the future as well.”

Many thanks to Bruno for taking the time to share his story with us! 

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