Behind the Scenes: The Companies Hosting Culture Tours

Behind the Scenes: The Companies Hosting Culture Tours

Do you ever wonder what it must be like to work somewhere, or how your favourite product is made? – I do, all the time. You see, I’m a curious person, and I find nothing more fascinating than learning about the inner workings of a company. From their start-up story, to what their company culture is like. No two stories are the same. So, as I sat drinking my can of kombucha after a yoga session, (yes, for my sins I’m a cliche millennial), I started reading the can of my drink wondering where it was made. How did this fizzy fermented mango juice end up in my hands? 

At that moment, I realised how few organisations openly talk about their origin story, or their company culture. Yes, they’ll write a few words about it on their website, but I want to ask questions, see it for myself. My itch of curiosity is not scratched by just reading a nice bit of copy on a website. 

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has this need to always ask the how, and why. In fact, I know I’m not the only one from the amount of people who read my culture investigations into Netflix, Google and Zappos. Why are these features so popular? Because we want to know more about the brands we interact with, and who have become commonplace in our lives.

With this need for knowledge clearly in our minds, why haven’t more companies adopted the practice of culture tours? 

In this feature I want to share the companies opening their doors to the public, and giving us a real-life experience of what it’s like to work there. 

What is a culture tour?

If you’ve never come across a culture tour, and you love learning about different organisations, your inner culture nerd is about to find its next obsession. 

In essence, a culture tour is where companies invite customers and clients, and even the general public into the business to learn about how they operate, and discover more about the organisation’s culture. In some instances, you can even visit the business at their location and have a physical tour of their office space, and attend a real company meeting. 

Culture tours will often consist of learning about the origin story of the business and how it all began. Hearing stories from employees about their work life. Getting to see or experience part of the production or service they offer. Plus getting to learn more about how they are developing their company culture. 

The companies hosting culture tours

Now, in my head I have a long list of companies who I would love to visit for a culture tour. ( Patagonia, Lucy & Yaks, Lego, Spotify.)  I’m sure all of us do. And if we haven’t got the budget we can always enjoy the bucket list travels of the Corporate Rebels, who were among the first to tour the world to visit progressive organisations. 

However, lucky for us, there are some companies that are already well experienced in hosting tours. Each doing it slightly differently, and in their own unique way to truly represent their culture. These tours not only offer us a real-life experience, but help to show us what’s possible. You might think that the way they work would not work for you, but it does offer up an invitation to consider what you could look to improve on within your own organisation. 

Zappos

Zappos don’t need much in the way of an introduction. I’ve written about the Zappos culture in-depth in a previous article, as their passion for culture has given them a huge reputation in both employee and customer happiness – something that feels so rare in the land of retail.

Zappos have not only won awards for their culture countless times, but their ways of working have become infamous. Including their well-documented recruitment process. Their former CEO Tony Hsiesh was an advocate for the power of culture, and many have been inspired by his talks and belief that a company is only as good as its people. 

Zappos know that what they do is unique, which is why they provide regular culture tours of their head office in downtown Las Vegas. You can book a 90 minute tour where you get to have a full tour of their office, meet team members, and learn how they’ve integrated their core values into the way they operate. There’s also the chance to do a deep-dive Q&A where you can learn more about life as a “Zapponian”. 

Of course if you can’t make it to sunny Las Vegas, they also offer a virtual tour. It doesn’t come with a Pina colada by the pool, but at least no matter where you are in the world you can discover the magic of one of the world’s happiest places to work. 

Discover the Zappos Culture Tour Here.

Menlo Innovations

In Ann Arbour Michigan, USA, Menlo Innovations are opening their doors to people intrigued at how the software development company is challenging the status quo with its company culture. “Joy in work” is their guiding principle, influencing not only what they do, but how they do it. 

With a culture built on radical transparency, it’s no surprise that you can visit them in-person at the Menlo Factory, or take a virtual tour online. 

Guests on a tour get to learn about how Menlo intentionally built their culture for joy and agility, learn how they include their clients in their design process, and discover how running experiments is the key to culture change. 

There are many other areas covered in the free 90 minute tour; which only begs the question, what will you be inspired to try? 

Discover Menlo’s Culture Tour Here.

Viisi

Viisi specialise in mortgage advice in the Netherlands. Founded in 2010, Viisi’s purpose is to change the world of finance to make the industry better; more sustainable and more long-term focussed. A motto of Viisi’s is; employee first, customer second and shareholder last. They truly believe and operate in a people-first culture. 

In 2016 Viisi adopted Holacracy as their operating model, and have since gone on to make it their own by adding iterations that felt more like their way of working. They are a brilliant example of how models can help get you started on a new way of working, but how ultimately it’s about making it your own. 

As Viisi uses glassfrog to organise how they work, you can see their organisational network in public. All is there for you to see.  

Visii opened their doors to culture tours as they were gaining awards as one of the Netherlands “Great Places to Work”. People wanted to know what their secret was, and how they kept managing to keep winning all these awards. 

So now, you can go along to their office in Amsterdam and experience how they work. Even joining a real team meeting. When I caught up with Marc-Peter Pijper at Viisi, he shared that someone on the tour once remarked, “I didn’t know meetings could be this productive!”. 

However, it’s not just what visitors learn that has a great impact on these culture tours. As Marc-Peter shared, another byproduct is how proud the team feels in their work when they have people come to visit. 

Discover Visii’s Culture Tour Here.

People & Transformational HR (PTHR)

People & Transformational HR is a UK consultancy helping to transform traditional HR. 

Led by Founder and Chief Energy Officer Perry Timms, PTHR is a self-managed B corp, WorldBlu certified and 4Day Work Week company. You name it, they live it. This is a company who truly walks their talk when it comes to their culture, and they’re not afraid to share their journey. 

PTHR hosts a regular virtual culture tour where you can learn about how they work as a self-managing company, and the practices they have implemented to help them continue to progress their culture. From the Learning Mosaic for personal development, to the way they structure their roles. There is an abundance you can learn from how PTHR operates. 

Discover PTHR’s Culture Tour Here.

Teal Safari's

If you’re really in the mood to make culture tours a full on experience, then why not visit more than one company? 

Progressive organisations who are pioneering flatter hierarchies and self-organisation have been at the forefront of culture tours because people are so fascinated by how this alternative way of working works in practice. No bosses and self-set salaries sounds great, but what does that look and feel like? – Come and see for yourself. 

Luckily for us, there are a few organisations and special individuals who arrange what’s known as ‘Teal Safaris’ whereby you can either visit these companies in-person across the course of a few days, or take an online safari.  

If you’re interested in how you can join one, I’d highly recommend you visit Live Sciences Teal Safari or reach out to Nora Fleischhut who developed the Teal Safari Berlin

Corporate Rebel Cells

Perhaps you’re more intrigued about companies in your country and what they’re doing with their culture? If that’s the case then the other resource I would recommend is Corporate Rebel Cells. 

Off the back of their global bucket list tour, Corporate Rebels have created Rebel Cells, where local progressive organisations meetup regularly to share their learnings and insights. While this isn’t specifically a public culture tour like the others, if you are a company who wants to do things differently, then joining a country cell may just be an opportunity for you to meet like minded people all learning together. 

Find out more about Corporate Rebel Cells Here

Now, by all means I encourage you to attend a culture tour. These tours can enlighten us to what’s possible beyond what is our known reality. Sometimes, we can read about great cultures, but think it’s not going to work for our company, or our industry. But seeing is believing. When you experience these places it will open your mind to the possibilities of what you can do in your own organisation. 

If you work in an organisation, you might think that your company isn’t that exciting or glamorous enough to do a culture tour, but trust me, it doesn’t matter what sector you sit in and what you do, more people will be interested in learning how you work than you may know.  

What are the benefits of a culture tour?

So why do a culture tour? Why open your doors up to the public, customers and even ‘competitors’ to see how you work? 

Below I’ve listed the benefits of embracing culture tours, and the impact it can have on both your people and the business. 

Build deeper connections between business and customer 

How often do you interact with your customers or the people most impacted by your product or service? 

We’ve got into some bad habits of being quite detached from our customers, when the reality is, the closer the relationship, the better we can create meaningful services and products that actually enhance people’s lives. We need to close the distance between business and customer. 

In my opinion, much of this distance has been created because we rely too heavily on data and metrics, rather than actually talking and engaging with our customers. But the data can only tell us so much. And a reliance on data doesn’t build relationships. 

Besides, the data continues to show that as customers we want to see the human behind the product or service. We value things far more when we see the effort and the energy that goes into making something. I know I value my local baker’s cinnamon buns far more because I watch him make them, it’s pure artistry!

Boost employee morale

As Marc-Peter Pijper put it earlier when talking about the impact of the Viisi culture tours; team members feel an increased level of pride in their work when they see that people are interested in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. 

Recognition for the work we do is so often one-sided, but culture tours offer a new level of recognition from the customer, and a chance for team members to truly share their passion in the work they’re doing. 

People want to feel like they’re making a difference in the work they’re doing – it’s a human need. Opening up the doors on a culture tour, and building relationships with people around their work helps them to experience the impact they are having first-hand. And that’s some powerful stuff you can’t manufacture.

Support recruitment 

The honeymoon period fades fast in most candidates’ experience of a new workplace because suddenly the rose tinted glasses are lifted, and the real culture comes to light. 

To avoid this regret, a culture tour is an ideal way for potential future candidates to come along and experience the culture without everyone ‘playing’ the part. It helps them to learn more about the expectations of the company, the environment, and to see for themselves what a working day looks like. 

Imagine how much easier recruitment would be if people felt like they had the opportunity to try before they buy?

Teach the next generation 

The education system is failing us. Well, definitely if you live in the UK. I mean it’s not been great for a while, but if ever there’s something gone from bad to worse, it’s the UK education system.

One of their many failings is the lack of preparation young people have for the existing workplace and the future of work. So, I believe it falls on the rest of us to help the next generation discover what work looks like now, and beyond. 

Inviting students along to culture tours is a way to help them learn what work looks like, and discover more about what type of work and workplace they would like to contribute to in their future.

Why aren’t companies doing culture tours?

The benefits of opening up the doors to the world are huge, yet unfortunately there will still be organisations whose fears will keep them forever in a fog of mystery. Fears over confidentiality, fears over competitors, and even fears to engage with their own customers. It’s sad, but true, that most companies would not feel willing to be fully transparent about how they operate. For example, Apple has forever had a highly secretive organisational culture, steeped in fear that any new product launches or innovations may be leaked to competitors. It reminds me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. Willy Wonka is so frightened by the fear of his competitors stealing his inventions that he has become an outcast. And the same will happen to companies unwilling to open themselves up. 

Try a tour or start your own tour

I suppose my purpose for this feature is in two parts. I want to encourage you to go ahead and try a culture tour. Visit these inspiring workplaces who are ready to share their lessons with you. 

But also, if you feel like your company is at a place where you want to share your story and how you work together; then I urge you to consider the benefits a culture tour will not only bring to your team and business, but also to the world around you. 

lizzie-benton-culture-coach-about-page

Never miss a post.

Get instant updates on my latest culture insights, as well as exclusive invitations to webinars and events (no spam here, pinky promise)

    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.