“At Canva, we’ve been trying to balance flexibility and connection in an intentional way since we started offering remote working,” Jennie Rogerson, global head of people at Canva said in an exclusive editorial interview at UNLEASH World.
As a global company, Canva employs more than 4,000 people – spanning the US, UK, the Philippines, China, Europe, and Australia. To achieve this successfully, it advocates hybrid, remote, and flexible working policies. With Rogerson, we discussed why this was a strategic business move for Canva, as well as the steps other businesses can take to ensure they set the correct foundations before implementing these policies.
Understanding flexibility and promoting intentional connections
The benefits of hybrid and flexible working are seemingly endless – long commute times have been axed, the infamous work-life balance is seemingly easier to manage, and for many, productivity increases.
But what exactly does it mean for a business to be ‘flexible’?
“Flexibility is being mindful of what time you work to ensure it fits around you and your family,” Rogerson explains. “For example, if you work from home, if you have childcare or other care responsibilities, if you’ve got a chronic illness, if you’re neurodivergent, and so on. It’s therefore important to us that our team can live and work flexibly.”
And it should come as no surprise that more employees are demanding this from their employers, with research from Forbes stating that 97% of employees would like to work under either a hybrid or remote working model.
In fact, 57% of employees shared that they would consider leaving their current role if it did not offer flexible benefits – highlighting that employers need to get on board and take the matter as seriously as their employees do.
Yet, without a permanent office, employees are more likely to feel disconnected – and even isolated – from their work colleagues. Which is why, Rogerson stresses the importance of fostering “intentional connections”.
“It’s all about balancing connection – that doesn’t have to be an in-person connection, it can be as simple as connecting people on Slack – but in an intentional way,” she says. “To encourage this, we have more than 420 clubs that our team can join. This spans everything from Dungeons and Dragons Club and Tetris Club to Bad Musicians Club and Drawing Club. This helps our team meet others they wouldn’t usually interact with at work and helps foster a sense of belonging, particularly as Zoom allows people to integrate from across the globe.
“I’m actually part of the Tetris Club, and I absolutely love it,” Rogerson exclaimed. “We compete globally via Zoom, and hundreds of people watch us to ramp up the competitive spirit!”
Creating well-connected global teams
Creating a truly global team is no mean feat – it takes time to implement the model successfully, to ensure all employee and employer needs are met.
Rogerson explains: “There were lots of lessons that we learned along the way: how can teams collaborate most effectively; how do we simplify notification overload. But on the flip side, how do we make sure people aren’t lonely?
“How do we make sure people feel connected and like they belong – especially if they lived in the middle of nowhere during the pandemic? Some people had a lot of caregiving responsibilities, so we needed to make sure they weren’t feeling isolated.”
One of the most fundamental lessons learned was, quite simply, to listen to employee feedback. To do so, the team sends pulse surveys every six months, asking what individuals are thinking and saying.
These could be questions like, ‘We’re thinking of opening the offices again, how many days a week would you like to go in?’ or ‘How would this make a difference to your experience?’. With her team, Rogerson then reads through every answer and formulates a response based on team sentiment.
“Something that came out of this process during the pandemic was the idea of a sacred lunch hour, which means people can block out their lunchtime on their calendar and nothing can be booked over the top,” she explains.
“We’d also host events like pub quizzes, but these were all optional – we didn’t want to force people to attend or to put their cameras on, for example. It was mainly to bring people together in an intentional way while being mindful not to overcrowd people with ‘another Zoom call’ – everything was opt-in. This was the same with the clubs.”
As a goal-oriented company, Canva loves celebrating every achievement. That’s why, each team is encouraged to think about how they can celebrate when they achieve something they’re proud of.
“One of my favorite examples of this is an Australian-based team that had one team member based in the Philippines,” Rogerson says. “When they achieved a goal, the team decided to go go-karting. To ensure the individual in the Philippines was included, they attached a GoPro camera to one of the helmets and competed as that person, so it was as if they were with the rest of the team – just remotely. This was a way of showing togetherness and keeping the energy high during the height of the pandemic – it was really meaningful.”
Fostering flexibility, connectivity and trust
Although there are a number of factors to consider for businesses contemplating moving to either a hybrid or fully remote working model, Rogerson outlines four specific points.
“There are so many factors that matter, but for us at Canva, it was important to work at the right time of scale with the right structures in place,” she says. “I’d suggest ensuring the right HR structures are in place and that businesses have the right kind of performance metrics set, for example feedback sessions and review cycles. That’s the basis on which you’re built.
“Secondly, flexibility and connection are of importance at Canva – it’s what we’re balanced on and something we always go back to whenever we’re making decisions. So, I would advise having those as core principles.
“Finally, I would say be clear that you want to help teams learn and grow. Nothing is going to stay the same forever, so teams need to be listened to and actively encouraged to speak up so they can be heard.”
To achieve these, teams should be encouraged to participate in surveys and leaders need to listen to the responses. “I think of it like this: If you’re creating an environment for teams to do their best work so they grow the business’ product, but you’re not listening to them, how will you understand the most critical things that need to be changed?”
Last, but certainly not least, Rogerson highlights the importance of trust. Although 60% of businesses admit to using tracking tools to monitor employees during working hours, Canva is proud not to.
“Trust is huge. We just make sure that we hire amazing adults and treat them like adults. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were all these questions about how to measure productivity. But for the last two years, Canva has been the most productive company, which just shows that our team are equally as productive working from home.
“We are also trying to implement individual goal setting, so people feel accountable to their goals, and to work around what works for them. In this regard, trust is crucial.
“So the main piece of advice that I would give to others is: Hire amazing people – then trust them! Give them the frameworks in order to do their roles well and be really clear on the role clarity. Take the time to align the goals together so that everyone knows the measures of success.”
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