PHOTO: The G Adventures Outpost office in Melbourne, Australia. (photo by Kat Vallera)
As I step off the elevator, entering the G Adventures Outpost office in Melbourne, Australia, I’m greeted by a big, colorful sign that says: ‘HAPPINESS’ underlined by a string of Tibetan prayer flags.
On an adjacent wall hangs a sign that reads, ‘Work with PEOPLE who BELIEVE what you BELIEVE and you’ll BE AMAZED by what YOU CAN accomplish’. The vibrant color scheme of the office is concentrated around a rich shade of purple—the hue that artists say is associated with magic and creativity.
It doesn’t take long for me to realize that the Outpost is not your typical office space. G Adventures is not your typical travel company.
G Adventures organizes small group escorted tours with guaranteed departures to all seven continents. They offer nine different travel styles: From YOLO tours that are more like backpacking for travelers age 19-39 to the more family friendly Classic tours and National Geographic Journeys.
Employees at G Adventures adhere to a single set of inspiring core values that include: Do the Right Thing, Create Happiness & Community, Love Lead Embrace Do and Embrace the Bizarre.
These mantras are stamped onto company t-shirts, embroidered onto throw pillows and painted across walls as a constant reminder of the company’s dedication to positivity. Perhaps what creates the most happiness for G Adventures employees? The fun and imaginative workplace, which goes above and beyond to Embrace the Bizarre.
“We are not one of your traditional travel companies, which is one of the things that I love and all of our travelers love about us,” comments Pill Atlee, an energetic GPS (Global Purpose Specialist) who is touring me around the brightly lit loft space.
“[The core values are] part of our culture, part of what G Adventures is all about. It’s something that we really believe in.”
We come upon a set of what I can only describe as round, spinning alien egg chairs. Atlee points out that the egg chairs are soundproof, which makes them perfect for one-on-one business meetings.
“They’re a lot of fun,” she remarks as she sits down and spins around in one. “But you can get super dizzy!”
Atlee then escorts me through several larger, dynamically themed conference rooms designed for group discussion and presentations.
The largest meeting room is the Anzac Room, themed to represent Australian history and culture. Across from the Anzac Room is the Polar Room with its Antarctic theme to celebrate G Adventure’s exciting new partnership with National Geographic Journeys.
There are a large raft and paddles leading against one of the walls, which are festooned with larger-than life-penguin photography. The Polar Room is filled with stuffed animals in the likeness of polar bears and more penguins; I even discover an inflatable swan.
Atlee remarks how the fluffy toys keep their employees inspired. She tells me how G Adventures has doubled the amount of National Geographic itineraries and departures in this second year of their partnership.
Next door to the Polar Room is the Dr. Seuss Room, a popular conference space that appears at every G Adventures location. On one wall, there’s a bold painting of Horton Hears a Who beneath a giant banner of the Dr. Seuss travel mantra: ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go”. The other wall is plaid from floor to ceiling with pages from the popular children’s story books.
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We also visit Atlee’s favorite meeting room, The Ball Room, which is literally—I kid you not—a fully furnished ball pit for working adults.
“Every Friday we sit here, do our catch up calls, I [even] had my final interview in here,” says my guide as we jump into the ball pit to pursue our discussion. “This is what G Adventures does: we have ball pit meetings.”
All of these imaginative meeting rooms seem to gravitate around the large ping-pong table, which stands as the centerpiece of the G Adventures Outpost. Atlee explains how the ping-pong table is crucial to the entire team’s happiness and how it encourages employees to Embrace the Bizarre.
“Our company culture is such a big part of what we do, and it’s a huge part of what makes G [Adventures] so special,” Atlee maintains, “The culture and happiness relates into tours and into our CEOs [chief experience officers, aka the tour guides] that are out there on the ground.”
According to Psychology Today, a happy workplace can have a significant impact on business results and success. There’s no doubt that the fun and exciting nature of the G Adventure’s office translates to their product and reflects the creative spirit of the brand.
“The benefits of working at a place like this flows through onto our CEOs on the ground and then onto how the tours are run,” remarks operations supervisor Grainge Phillips as we sit across from one another at the Dr. Seuss Room’s round conference table, which is encircled by art depicting 'One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.'
"We work in a really vibrant place with lots of fun people. Passion is the key. There’s passion that comes down from the top, if you will. It flows through us and then onto our tours. We know that we’re delivering on what we promise because we’re so passionate and it’s reflected in the workplace.”
This concept of creating a positive workplace starting at the top is discussed in the publication, “Workplace Essentials for Better Business”, released by the Government of Australia Department of Training and Workforce Development. As a matter of fact, it seems that G Adventures follows the manual’s instructions for building a positive workplace culture to a tee.
“Through every facet of who we are, every division, the emphasis on workplace culture is so important,” comments Public Relations Specialist Bella Twomey, seated next to me at the fish table. “Through that culture extends our passion...If you are happy where you are and loving what you do, then, of course, it translates onto the tours and onto the customers. It creates the [positive] atmosphere throughout.”
In an article for Forbes Magazine entitled “Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today”, author Josh Bersin explains how companies that focus on office culture experience significant payoffs: "Culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, rewards system and rituals that make up your organization. You can ‘feel’ culture when you visit a company because it is often evident in people’s behavior, enthusiasm and the space itself."
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“There are so many different pieces of the puzzle that have got to get in to make a tour happen,” adds Regional Operations Manager Mike McBride, who is also seated for our discussion at the fish table,
“You’ve got operations, who deliver it, but before that, you’ve got marketing, you’ve got sales, you’ve got even IT and all the different parts of the business that are so crucial to making it happen. In this office environment, there’s no real separation between the different parts of the business. We’re all pulling together for the same goal, even though we have different focuses and do different things. We have the same vision for what we’re doing, which is really cool!”
Not only does G Adventures value teamwork within each individual office, they’re also utilizing globalization and technology to sync their various locations around the world.
For better performance, Elizabeth Lupfer of Social Media Today writes that businesses must strengthen and change their corporate culture not only by building innovation with employees but by extending beyond the brick and mortar corporate walls to unify a global workforce.
By coordinating between offices in North America, Australia and Europe, G Adventures is able to provide 24-hour customer care without having to employ any graveyard shift call centers. Basically, when one location is closing for the evening, there are other locations in other continents that are just opening for the day and take over the phones.
That means if you call G Adventures in the middle of the night, whether to inquire about a trip or with concerns about your itinerary, there’s a good chance that you’ll speak to a sales CEO who is seated across from the Ball Room in Australia. This discovery leads me to comment on how I still can’t get over the fact that they have a ball pit for a conference room!
“That’s not normal?” Mike responds to my awe with a humorous tone.
“It’s normal to us,” says Phillips as we recoil from laughter. “We have the five core values of the company we use as guidelines, and one of them is to Embrace the Bizarre.”
That’s when Mike rips open his jacket to reveal his t-shirt, which spells out this core value.
“We didn’t plan that!” Mike remarks as more lighthearted laughter ensues.
Phillips continues, “You can see the guidelines that we have to work with flow through into the office environment, and it’s that feeling you get when you come in. For somebody who has not been into an office like this before, it’s like, ‘oh wow, this is amazing!’ but that’s what we get to do every day.
"Having that as a benefit of our workplace means that doing things from an operational point of view is so much easier. And when it’s easier, it’s more enjoyable for the guys who are out on the road. Regardless of whatever it is that we do here, there is an impact that we’re all having on the passengers and that comes from the culture we have here [at the office].”
G Adventures has an impact on more than just the passengers who partake in their escorted tours. Some of the company’s other core values include Do the Right Thing and Create Happiness & Community. That’s why the company established a not-for-profit organization called Planeterra in 2003, a program that demonstrates social responsibility by supporting sustainable businesses around the world.
“We love changing people’s lives,” Atlee explains. “But we want to change the lives of the people in the places where we travel. We have different Planeterra projects—it might be a restaurant or it might be a kind of taxi service that our travelers need—then we bring our travelers through and help them grow these sustainable businesses. What we’re trying to do is keep as much money as possible within the community.”
My visit to the G Adventures Outpost certainly changed my life as well as my own perspective towards business culture and professionalism in my field. As an individual who’s often inclined to think outside the box, I love how G Adventures promotes such positive experiences, and I certainly identify with their core value to Embrace the Bizarre.
I can only imagine how the undercurrents of this successful and innovative, multi-national company will influence the future of the travel industry, not to mention the very foundation of established corporate office constructs.