brand experience brief: zappos corporate office

What’s it like to work at a company that has no managers?!  This Brand Experience Brief takes you inside the new offices of online retailer Zappos.  Last year, Zappos adopted a self-organization system called halocracy, which it says “enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”  This week Fortune magazine’s Jenn Reingold published an expose of sorts on the halocracy at Zappos.  Thought you might enjoy an inside look at Zappos corporate office.

DLYohn Brand Experience Brief: Zappos Corporate Office from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.

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Zappos, the online retailer of shoes and other items, has gotten a lot of attention for adopting a self-organization system called Halocracy.  I thought you might like to see what it’s like to work at Zappos, so this brand experience brief takes you inside the company’s corporate office in Las Vegas.

First, a little more background on Halocracy.  It replaces managers and the usual hierarchical management structure of most organizations and empowers employees to self-direct their work.  Employees work together in circles that focus on various aspects of company operations.  The change has been both heralded and vilified, with supporters praising CEO Tony Hsieh as a courageous visionary leading the future of work and critics saying halocracy caused a mass exodus of employees and is unsustainable.  I think it’s too early to tell if it is an effective management approach, so consider this a video audit and analysis of a work in progress.  The last background point I’ll make is that Zappos’ offices have always been a little crazy — even before halocracy, employees were allowed to decorate their work spaces however they liked and spontaneous parades would break out in the middle of the day.  So some of the unusual aspects of the office you’re about to see are simply a reflection of the Zappos brand and its values, not of the new organizational approach specifically.

The building is donut-shaped and the center ring displays stadium-like boards of Zappos vendors’ logos.  Gathering spaces with fake grass and nice furniture offset the industrial feel.

From the moment you enter the building, you know you’re not in a typical corporate office.  A huge mural of Legos welcomes you to the Zappos “family” and there are strange displays in the lobby such as a bunch of plastic legs extending from a barrel next to an old-fashioned shoe shine stand and a weird butterfly-inspired structure.

The call center areas are adorned with streamers, art, and other paraphernalia; employees desks are decorated in every imaginable way.  Tony’s workspace — a desk in a row of other desks — looks just as crazy as everyone else’s.  And in case you’re wondering how Human Resources feels about employees’ creativity, the HR department area looks the most outrageous of all.

There’s the standard customer call center whiteboard that you’d expect showing the number of calls and wait times but in Zappos fashion, it also shows the number of PECs achieved — PEC stands for personal emotional connection and employees are encouraged to rack them up by sending customers thank you cards and cookies and other gifts.  Like many other things at Zappos that seem extravagant, you wonder how they can be profitable and my tour guide skirted my question of how they manage the costs associated with such an effort.

Common areas are located near the windows at the center of the building and contain stations with free snacks and drinks.  The cafeteria offers healthy meals and sports a ping pong table and a roof-top lounge area.  And there are gender neutral bathrooms.

Perhaps the only sense of hierarchy in the office are the license plate style signs that employees get that show their name and when they started at the company.  Employees are given tags for every year they’ve stayed and different color signs indicate different lengths of tenure.  Other than that, there’s no executive suite, very few conference rooms, and no personal space.

Tony says that he believes investments in company culture drive employee productivity, customer service, and brand strength.  This office shows one example of how Zappos invests in its culture and it definitely offers a distinctively Zappos experience for employees.

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