How Canva Uses Creativity and Company Vision to Keep Remote Employees Engaged

Claire Hastwell


Based out of Sydney, Australia, Canva is a graphic design platform that makes it easy for anyone to bring their creative ideas to life. So, it’s no wonder the company is also focused on keeping things creative within the workplace.

Crystal Boysen, people lead at Canva, says the company wants to be a place where employees not only love coming to work, but where they also feel supported to do their best work.

To achieve this goal, Canva turned to Great Place to Work to help them check in and objectively review their workplace culture.

The result? Canva has earned the number 3 spot on the 2021 Philippines’ Best Workplaces list. Canva also became Best Workplaces™ winner in its home country of Australia.

Since achieving these company recognition milestones, Canva has seen a whopping 370% increase in job applicants.

We talked to Crystal about the tools and techniques they’ve implemented to attract and retain top talent.


How employer brand impacts recruitment and retention

Canva knew that organizations with strong employer brands attract the best talent. With Canva in a hyper-growth phase, the company opted to check-in on their culture to ensure they continue to be the best place to work for its team members and can continue to attract the best talent across the globe.


Great Place to Work: How has being named to a Best Workplaces list helped your employer brand?

Crystal: Being named one of the Best Workplaces has helped amplify and validate who Canva is internally, to the external market. We wanted to first understand what our own team members were thinking and feeling, and what they value most to help us focus on the right messaging externally.

In 2018, we received around 36,000 applications for positions across the organization. In 2019 it was 64,000. Last year, we had 134,000. Being able to more clearly articulate our employer brand by focusing on the most important pieces of our culture has contributed to two-fold growth in application volume in the past year alone.


Great Place to Work: Has the Best Workplaces award helped with employee retention?

Crystal: Absolutely. Great Place to Work supports us in ensuring we’ve got our finger on the pulse, in understanding the level of trust our people have with our leaders, the level of pride they have in their jobs and the extent they enjoy their colleagues and the broader work environment.

Our Great Place to Work recognition has helped us attract the best talent, however, it’s the accountability and visibility from the survey that we value most as it helps ensure we focus on the things that matter most to our people.


Using your company vision to engage remote employees

Globally, less than 5% of Canva’s workforce was remote pre-COVID-19. Currently, the majority are remote. To keep employee engagement high, Canva focuses on communicating its purpose and vision.


Great Place to Work: Why is it important to get the company vision across to employees, and how you do that with a remote team?

Crystal: Understanding a Company’s mission and vision is a huge driver of engagement. People want to do great work and understand how their work connects to the bigger vision and mission of a company.

At Canva we work hard to ensure everyone is aligned to our mission and vision and that every team member understands how they contribute, regardless of whether we’re in a physical or remote environment. For instance:

  • We pride ourselves on a collaborative approach with new hires, facilitating discussions on how they feel their role will contribute to our goals and vision.
  • Our teams check-in on their strategies every season to sense check that today’s actions impact tomorrow’s vision.
  •   We’ve evolved our weekly “stand up” meetings to be at-home “sit downs,” where our teams share their goals and achievements and how their activity contributes to Canva’s overall mission.

We often use the analogy that we’re all in the one rowboat. If we’re not all rowing in the same direction, we go nowhere, fast. Whereas if we’re all rowing in the same direction, working towards the same vision, it can only lead to success.


Great Place to Work: What else is critical for a great employee onboarding experience while remote?

Crystal: It’s essential to keep the human connection at the heart of our onboarding experience. We want every employee to feel valued, even if we don’t meet them in person.

We send physical welcome packages to our new team members, assign a dedicated buddy to every newbie, and set them up with virtual coffee dates with random members of the organization.


Celebrations and recognition are powerful engagement tools

Great Place to Work’s research has found that celebrating special events and employee recognition are both key to engagement. But in remote workplaces, these things can easily be forgotten. Canva makes an effort to ensure these celebrations continue virtually.


Great Place to Work: How does Canva celebrate and recognize employees while remote?

Crystal: We’ve done a lot to ensure we continue to celebrate achieving goals and celebrating team members for their impact while remote. For instance, we’ve created:

  • A #kudos Slack channel where any team member can give anyone recognition and praise
  • A “Keeping the Vibe Alive” internal website that showcases birthdays, work anniversaries, personal and professional wins and new additions to families (babies and fur-babies)
  • A“Messages of Appreciation” process,  by which people create cards in Canva and have them printed and sent to the recipient’s doorstep
  • A celebration playbook for all employees to inspire and facilitate easy, impactful and most importantly, inclusive celebrations
  • Employees celebrating their five-year “Canvaversary” get their own caricature created and hung on the wall alongside the founders and all the others who have achieved that milestone. It’s quirky, fun and distinctly Canva!

Creative ways to support productivity among remote employees

Recent research by Great Place to Work shows that working from home improved productivity, collaboration and innovation at the start of the pandemic, but then saw a fall in the middle of last year. With workplaces remaining virtual for the foreseeable future, employers like Canva need to continually measure and adjust their efforts.


Great Place to Work: How has Canva helped improve collaboration and innovation while remote?

Crystal: We’ve really focused on clarity, specifically increasing intentional communication and being more diligent in documentation. We’ve leveraged our own product to facilitate virtual mind mapping and brainstorming sessions.

When we first went remote, we launched a remote working toolkit for the team to share best practices, tools and tips for working effectively. We also ran several remote working learning programs to build the unique skills needed to be successful.

We’ve also found educating the team on how to set clear routines and boundaries has helped. Without clear boundaries and a routine, you can end up responding to emails and meetings at all hours and feel like you’re working around the clock. This leads to people actually being less productive and eventually burning out.


Great Place to Work: How does Canva foster camaraderie and a sense of fun while remote?

Crystal: Our employee clubs encourage stronger connections within our teams. We have over 360 unique, employee-led clubs, from #wine-club and #music-club, to #pasta-club-official and #mindfulness-club.

We host a virtual Friday Night Entertainment session every week which features live performances. It provides an opportunity for the team to wind down after a long week and also support the local entertainment industry.

Lastly, we’ve launched an initiative called “Team Innings” to continue team building while remote. Team Innings is a playbook of activities for teams to draw upon — from virtual games of Pictionary and Bingo to team fitness sessions and specialized cooking tutorials.


Check in on employees’ mental health

COVID-19 has left us all juggling a three-eyed demon: a health pandemic, an economic crisis and a mental health pandemic. As such, monitoring employee health and wellness is more important than ever.


Great Place to Work: How does Canva check in on its employees’ mental wellbeing?

Crystal: We regularly check in on our employees through seasonal pulse surveys. We also offer training sessions for our coaches and leads on how best to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their teams.

Seasonal wellbeing education programs are run every season, featuring webinars on critical mental health topics such as building resilience, setting effective boundaries and adopting habits to ease anxiety. We also encourage and subsidize the purchase of mindfulness and meditation apps and have an internal mindfulness club.


Make “bold acts of leadership”

Canva became certified carbon neutral in December 2020 and is an excellent example of a company creating a source of employee pride beyond products and services. This kind of “bold act of leadership” is a new area in which Great Place to Work evaluates companies for Best Workplaces ranking.


Great Place to Work: Why is Canva’s social impact important for your company and culture?

Crystal: Currently, our Sydney office and operations are carbon neutral. Within the next two years, our global operations will be too, but we’re not stopping there. From 2023, Canva will be climate positive.

To achieve these ambitious targets, we are working with a wide range of projects that not only focus on resources and emissions, but in addition, empower people and communities.

Our people are the backbone to our company, and we don’t underestimate the power we have collectively to make an impact, to amplify and put into action our core values.

Want to see your business on a Best Workplaces list? Contact us today to learn how being listed can give your company a competitive advantage.

Claire Hastwell