Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the need for companies to help their employees unplug and recharge has never been more clear. Studies have shown that work-life balance is most strongly correlated with job satisfaction. At CrossComm, we are steadfast in our commitment to work-life balance and encourage our employees to use our guilt-free unlimited paid time off (PTO) benefit as a way of caring for themselves and their families. In the “Unlimited PTO Diaries,” we asked our employees to share how they celebrate life, outside of work.
I’ve been a Disney fan ever since the first time I wished upon a star, so you better believe I started planning a trip to the happiest place on Earth after the world started opening up again and all my family members had been vaccinated. This would also be my stepdaughter’s first trip, and I wanted to make it as memorable as possible.
The magic began as soon as we touched down at Orlando airport and put on our MagicBands - more about those in a minute. Disney has a great, free shuttle service from the airport to Disney World for all guests staying on one of the property’s 26 resorts. While you are riding on the motor coach, you’ll be enjoying some classic Mickey Mouse cartoons. Now, I knew our experience would be different from previous trips because of COVID-19 safety restrictions, but don’t worry, the mouse thought of everything to keep you and your family safe, while providing more convenience through technology.
Working for a software development company has...shall I say, increased my standards and expectations around what an app should provide in terms of functionality, and unsurprisingly, the My Disney Experience mobile app did not disappoint. I was able to check into my room, make park reservations, dining reservations, check ride wait times based on my location, order food, and see all my roller coaster photos, all through the app. I was even able to participate in Disney World’s new virtual queue system to ensure my party and I could get on the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride before we entered the park that day.
Remember those MagicBands I mentioned? Disney World provides resort guests with a free, watch-looking bracelet that uses RFID technology. It acts as your room key, your park ticket, and your payment method for your entire trip. Every member of your party gets one, and you can tie it to your reservation through the mobile app. You can also manage MagicBand permissions through the mobile app. Don’t want your 12 year old buying everything in sight on her MagicBand because it's her first trip? You can restrict spending to specific MagicBands that are secured with a PIN for each guest.
Disney has also put RFID reading technology throughout their rides. If you want to see your family screaming their heads off on the Expedition Everest roller coaster on your phone as soon as you get off the ride, you can! They even used MagicBands to make waiting in line more entertaining. For example, on the Aerosmith roller coaster, as you are walking through the concert poster room, you’ll see your name show up as the lead guitarist of a fake band, or the featured artist on an album cover. Anyway, you get the idea: MagicBands = GREAT!
We were fortunate enough to be able to spend six days at Disney World due to CrossComm’s generous unlimited PTO policy so we spent a day at each park: Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom. We spent a day relaxing and wandering around Disney Springs (formally known as Downtown Disney), and also took an extra travel day. Trip highlights include eating our way around Epcot’s World Showcase (the sea salt caramel ice cream was particularly good), experience classic rides at Magic Kingdom (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, and the Tea Cups), seeing giraffes eating leaves 10 feet away on the safari ride at Animal Kingdom, and of course, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios.
I’ll tell you what, the Imagineers outdid themselves creating an immersive Star Wars experience. We drank the blue milk. Our 12-year old got to make a custom BB-8 style droid that she could remotely control. We saw R2-D2’s tracks in the ground as we were walking around. We paid for soda in bottles shaped like thermo-detonators with “credits” not dollars. Our daughter even attempted a Jedi mind trick on one of the Stormtroopers walking around, with hilarious results.
We also got to experience some true Disney magic. When we first arrived, we were required to wear masks indoors (except for our hotel room or while eating), on Disney transportation, and while in line for an attraction, regardless of whether the line was outside. Halfway through our vacation, Disney announced that, starting on June 15th, masks will only need to be worn while on Disney transportation. The change that happened overnight was AMAZING. All the clear plastic barriers on the buses and in lines disappeared. All the social distancing ground stickers and on restaurant tables and chairs were gone. I have heard of Disney’s extensive underground tunnel system to move food, merchandise, and employees around the park, but to see it in action (or actually to not see it) was very impressive.
Lastly, one of the best things about the whole vacation was knowing that all my coworkers at CrossComm knew that I was on PTO and respected my need to recharge and spend time with my family. I didn’t receive one Slack message, text, or email asking me to do something while I was out of the office. Everyone knew that I was available for emergencies but one of the benefits of working for such a great, small company is that people are willing to step up while you're away. Thanks to CrossComm for promoting such a positive, work-life balance culture!
Stella Cox is Chief of Staff at CrossComm and has previously held key positions as Project and Program Manager. Stella has a diverse managerial background, having served 4.5 years in the US Army as Logistics Officer, Quality Manager at Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and Director of Operations and Compliance at a regional recycling company in Upstate New York. She has a BS in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University, and is currently an MBA candidate at UMass Amherst. Stella resides in Chesterfield, VA with her husband and two dogs: Ralph and Suzie.