Adam Harwood, D&D London

Culture Pioneers, D&D London
Culture Pioneers Pillars

With 43 restaurants across the UK and beyond, D&D London had no shortage of obstacles to overcome when the first lockdown was announced. By serving up a new information-sharing platform, the organisation motivated its employees to better support, develop and connect with one another – proving that having many cooks doesn’t always spoil the broth!


Hospitality has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic. Not only has business income been depleted through two lockdowns and the tiered restrictions, the pace at which these organisations have had to adapt to new health and safety regulations and innovate to provide a good customer experience in the midst of a pandemic has been unprecedented.

One such company encountering these myriad challenges back in March was D&D London. With a collection of 43 restaurants across London, Manchester, Leeds, New York and Paris, it was one of the many businesses forced to close during lockdown.

Adam Harwood, the Head of L&D at D&D London, knew that the biggest challenge for the business would be effective communication and that he would have a big role to play in developing something fit for purpose in this unpredictable period. 

The company’s 1,400 employees were extremely anxious by the closure and had a multitude of questions they were looking to the leadership team to answer. With those leaders themselves thrown into a world of uncertainty, however, this would be no easy feat.

“It became apparent very quickly that during this period of closure, one of the biggest hurdles we faced was ensuring our people were kept updated and felt connected,” said Adam.

A recipe for disaster?

As the organisation is neither a restaurant chain nor a single brand, each restaurant is its own unique entity and operates independently with its own menu, style and culture. While this makes the business wonderfully diverse, it also caused each restaurant to work in silos before the pandemic, with little communication or collaboration across brands. 

What’s more, when it came to business-wide communications, pre-pandemic the company relied heavily on cascading information and updates down through restaurant managers to their respective teams in person.

So while for many organisations the transition to regular virtual communication was not a tricky one, with channels and technology already in place to leverage, for D&D London, digital communication was a whole new world. With employees at home on furlough, the business needed to fundamentally shift its approach to ensure regular, accurate and concise communication was implemented.

“During this period of uncertainty our old habits and behaviours needed to change, and it was more important than ever to create a sense of connection and togetherness amongst our staff, regardless of where they were in the world.” said Adam.

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Introducing D&D Connect

Jumping into action, Adam and his team created a new online platform offering support and guidance through the pandemic called ‘D&D Connect’.

Acting as a single, centralised hub, D&D connect was the go-to destination for any information employees needed to answer their concerns and navigate through the period. From the latest business updates, to Job Retention Scheme Q&As, to wellbeing support and financial advice, these resources provided trustworthy, accurate information specifically catered to D&D London employees.

The platform acted as far more than just a useful collation of information, however. It also allowed employees to comment and ask further questions within each resource, so there was an ongoing dialogue – even when most of the workforce was furloughed.

Being available on both mobile and desktop, it was also easily accessible for employees whenever and wherever needed, with notifications set up to alert employees of new announcements. 

D&D Connect

The secret sauce for connection in a crisis

Through this platform, Adam and his team crafted the perfect recipe for a truly flexible and inclusive learning and information resource.

Once employees started to see the benefits and the further potential of D&D Connect, the resource really came into its own. “The platform soon became more than just a place to get updates. Over time it transitioned to a virtual destination for staff to feel connected and engaged,” said Adam.

Starting at the top, the organisation’s CEO and senior leadership team posted their messages of support to staff on the platform. Following in their footsteps, employees began to add their own content, from cooking tutorials, fitness classes, wine tasting and even flower arranging.

D&D colleagues not only uploaded tips and tutorials, they also shared stories of how they had volunteered during the pandemic, whether that was making meals for key workers with D&D, or creating masks and scrubs in their own time.

For Adam, it was extremely rewarding to see how the platform had transformed into an employee-driven channel for bridging the connection divide.

“It felt like a positive moment for us, a shift from how we would usually communicate and interact as a business. Everyone inspired each other, sharing knowledge and coming together as one group,” he said.

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Cooking up a new culture

When employees took it upon themselves to share their knowledge and support one another via D&D Connect, it became clear that new attributes were being embedded into the organisation’s culture.

To be clear, employees were not being asked to interact with the platform via their managers or HR, they were taking it upon themselves to share their expertise in their own time. 

For example, D&D London’s Wine Manager developed her own Wine Academy, offering weekly live events via the platform. Some of its top chefs shared video tutorials on how to cook everything from banana bread to coq au vin. Several managers also shared their insights on wellbeing and dealing with anxiety during lockdown.

“This was a huge shift from our  pre-pandemic culture, as employees who had the expertise either didn’t want to or didn’t know how to share their knowledge,” said Adam.

Boiling down to the numbers

Using analytics on the platform, Adam was able to gain insights into how employees were engaging with D&D Connect.

From March to July, the resources had almost 10,000 views with an average of 12.8 views per person. It’s not just about quantity, however. With an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 for each resource, users also viewed the majority of content as being of high quality too. 

Here’s what employees had to say...

Communication has been fantastic so far and now this platform tops it off, well done guys!

Felt informed, inspired and feeling connected.

I think that the people involved did an amazing job letting us know of the updates and the changes.

To assess how employees were feeling about the return to work and ensure the platform continued to offer value, the business conducted a staff survey a few months after the platform went live. The results were overwhelmingly positive:

  • 88% felt safe carrying out their role for D&D London.

  • 90% felt the communication of Covid-19 updates/changes had been timely.

  • 92% felt like they had received adequate training for their return.

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Looking to the future

With local restrictions continuing in early 2021 at the very least, D&D London will have to continue to flex depending on each restaurant’s location – and the platform will be essential to supporting employees through this disruptive journey.

In terms of next steps, the organisation is currently piloting a digital onboarding experience for new hires, which features local insight and know-how from existing staff such as tours of the sites, and interviews with chefs and general managers. 

The workforce’s united response to the pandemic has also shone a light on the common values shared across the organisation, despite each restaurant being so unique.

“This experience has reignited the company’s desire to develop our values, and share what makes D&D London a great place to work. I’m really proud of what we have achieved, and I’m excited about where this journey will lead to”, Adam concludes.

What did the Culture Pioneers Ambassadors think?

Culture Pioneers Ambassadors

Our ambassadors were impressed with how an event that brought so much upheaval to hospitality businesses galvanised D&D London’s team into positive action.

“Coming from one of the hardest hit industries during this pandemic, this story shows that a challenge can actually bring out the best in an organisation,” says Blaire Palmer, CEO of That People Thing. “It seems as though the lockdown and furlough generated huge creativity, and a real stepping up of communication and support”.

Laura Overton, Partner of Industry Insights at Tulser, saw D&D London’s efforts as driving forward a new culture of connection and knowledge sharing. “I liked the way that the organisation harnessed the covid situation to initially support change but actually created a new lasting change of collaboration and organisational learning”.

For Becky Norman, Editor of HRZone, the fact that the platform came into its own when employees generated their own content is telling of the kind of culture D&D London has shaped. “This story shows that even across a fragmented workforce you can nurture a highly supportive learner-centric culture by giving employees a platform to make their voice heard and the autonomy to use it how they wish”.

Enjoyed reading this story? Discover how our other Culture Pioneers reshaped their culture during the pandemic.