Canva Manila is pushing a new work culture, with face masks

Cover Art Erka Capili Inciong

Words by

Digital Reporter

Imagine a day in a week where everyone in your office drops their work to put on face masks. Yes, face masks. Or, imagine a Friday where employees into music randomly play instruments in one corner.

For the longest time, the term “corporate setting” has been synonymous with “toxic environment” because people feel trapped in their 9‑to‑5 work schedule. In the case of Canva Manila, however things are pretty different. The local office of the Sydney‑based graphic design startup is considered to be among the coolest offices in the metro today. From colorful murals that bring youthful vibe to the three‑storey office to free scrumptious meals prepared by its in‑house chefs for all employees, Canva’s local office located in Makati has all the best things to offer to its people. But there’s more to it than its aesthetically appealing setting.

Since the company opened in the Philippines in 2013, the team tasked to head it has been playing around ideas to make its Filipino talents comfortable at work. After all, the local team has the herculian task that is very crucial to the company’s operation: they curate ALL of the creative templates and designs available on the website.

And so to foster growth and productivity, the company maintains an “open work environment.”

“We have an absolute full spectrum of word class team members here in our Manila office,” Canva’s CEO and co‑founder Melanie Perkins told SparkUp in an interview during a media event that the company organized last March 8 in its local office. “The kind of environment that we really try to create here is really an open, transparent, and creative one and our current office environment really embodies those characteristics.”

This effort to maintain a healthy work culture, Perkins added, is “useful because that means everyone in the company has context on everyone else’s goals,” which the company use to continue striving as it expands its operation worldwide. The platform is currently available in over 100 languages in 190 countries.

“We’ve always considered that our office environment is a critical part of our culture and it says the same about creativity,” she said. “Even on our earliest days we would always have lunch together, and that is a tradition that we continue today.”

Also part of this initiative, Canva Manila’s more than 97 Filipino employees are currently grouped into different clubs depending on their interests. Every week, each clubs have the freedom to organize an event in the office, with all the expenses shouldered by the company.

Examples of these groups are “GGSS Club” consists of employees who are into cosmetics, “Music Club,” “Toast Masters,” “Craft Makers,” and “Cooking Club,” to name a few. Just recently, these clubs collaborated to organize a 90’s‑themed prom for the whole office.

According to Kei San Pablo, Canva Manila’s country manager, the idea is part of the company’s initiatives to create an “organic yet collaborative culture.”

“There is a perception that work can be stressful and that startup life is super fast,” San Pablo said. “When you give the people the freedom to work, like in our office we have an open environment, you have your own seat but you can work anywhere. When you give the people that freedom all they have to worry about is to be creative and simply productive.”

It also “helps in making people feel that they’re part of a small community within the office,” she added.

“Everyone is in front of their computers, all busy, but they don’t look stressed and for us as a company it means that people enjoy what they’re doing. And when everyone’s attitude towards work is like that, their output can be very exceptional.”

While maintaining such culture is challenging, San Pablo said all the efforts are worth it once they reap the fruits of this initiative.

“We always say that we don’t dictate the Canva culture because we can never dictate what to do to 90 people, so what we do is just we have articulated our values,” she said. “What we stand up for, how we do things, and how we talk about things maybe different, but this is what we believe in, so it becomes natural for everyone to actually contribute or add value to the culture. It’s not easy, but it really helps a lot if everyone participates.”

 

Valuing Filipinos

Canva has been named a “unicorn” just last January after attaining an over $1 billion valuation, following a round of funding that brought $40 million to the company. Aside from the investments, Canva also generated profit from its services such as “Marketplace” where users pay to use photos from contributors, subscription‑based “Canva For Work” that allows users to utilize templates with specific branding features, and “Canva For Print” that enables businesses to design and print business cards faster, among others.

The company attributes a chunk of this success to its Filipino users and employees.

“One of the reasons why Canva decided to put an office in Manila is that when Canva started, the Filipino market was one of the top 10 users. We are really early adaptors,” she said.

While the company did not disclose the number of its current Filipino users, San Pablo said the Philippines is “still part of the top countries using Canva, especially since that we have an office here.”

“Everyone can really use Canva because it’s free, so the range of people who can use it is not targeted to certain markets. Everyone can use Canva, especially Filipinos, we are very high‑tech, so we take advantage of the tool.”

With its current milestone, the company is just expecting to continuously grow its business in more than 100 countries where it is available. In the Philippines, for instance, Canva is looking for more local employees, including engineers, a position that was not offered to Filipinos before.

“Our efforts to grow is really global because we market Canva as a product to the whole world, it’s not targeted to certain countries.”

“That’s what makes the company interesting; for most of the BPO‑style companies that we know here, Manila is just a part of what they’re doing as a whole, but here in Canva it’s very collaborative theres’ always someone here from Sydney, there’s always someone from Manila in Sydney.”