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Canva case study: designing an international culture

Graphic design company Canva discusses how to nurture a varied international culture as it expands into Europe.

Over the past few years, the Australian design platform has acquired six Europe-based companies, including Flourish (2022), Pexels (2019), and Pixabay (2019).  

The company also unveiled its first European office in Hoxton, London, last week (25 May).  

It now has 80 employees in the UK, a growth of 50% since last year. The UK team has grown by 20% since January alone and 50 more hires are expected by the end of the year. 

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As the company becomes increasingly international, Jennie Rogerson, Canva’s global head of people, says she will not maintain the Canva culture at the detriment of treating teams individually. 

She tells HR magazine: “It’s vital not to be so prescriptive with our culture. In each location, there are different people, there are different cultural norms, and what is most important is that their environment works for them.” 

This is echoed by newly appointed Europe lead, Duncan Clark, who joined Canva through the acquisition of data visualisation tool, Flourish.   

Speaking to HR magazine, Clark says: “Real culture isn't a monolith. No one wants to work in a company where you go half the way across the world to visit the HQ and it's a cookie cutter of your own office. 

“We think there's a huge value in a culture that does have local flavour. If you're shaping local culture in a unique way you're catering towards individual teams. 

“The sweet spot is a shared global mission and wonderfully varied offices that have their own local culture.” 

Rogerson emphasises the importance of treating employees as individuals even in a company that now employs over 3,500 people.  

She says: “There are two ways of thinking about it. Firstly, people want to know they're doing amazing work that is contributing to something bigger than themselves.  

“We have to create a strong mission and we make sure everyone knows how they're playing into those goals. 

“Secondly, it’s about consistently listening and learning from our team about what they really need and how we can help.  

“We hold people polls every six months where we ask 20 questions about what we want to move the needle on. We then cut that data by diversity lenses, location, childcare, etc. So that helps us understand what matters to our team and how we can cater for it.” 

While many companies are going through turbulent times financially, Canva is exceeding targets and has been profitable for the past six years.  

However, Rogerson is conscious many employees are experiencing economic uncertainty. 

She adds: “We’re all about over-communication. We want people to rest assured that there are no layoffs coming their way and that we’re in an incredibly fortunate position with cash in the bank. 

“In a world that is so turbulent, we have to listen to our team's lived experiences about what is going on, how we can help and how we can become more resilient.” 

A challenge for many UK companies has been the talent shortage. In March 2023, there were one million vacancies in the UK. 

Yet Canva received 250,000 applications in 2022, and has already received 115,000 applications in 2023. 

Clark says Canva has attracted and retained candidates through its positive reputation and the charitable work of the Canva Foundation. 

Set up in 2021, the foundation is a charitable arm of the company funded by the equity of co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht.  

The foundation has donated $10 million (£8 million) to nearly 13,000 people in Malawi and $933,000 to help those displaced by the war in Ukraine. 

Canva created the foundation as a fundamental part of its two-step business plan: ‘become one of the most valuable companies in the world’ and ‘do the most good we can’.  

The company has also taken the 1% pledge – a global initiative where companies give 1% of their profit, equity, product, or time back to their communities.  

The charitable efforts, Clark says, help to unite staff under a shared positive mission. 

He says: “We are seeing many job applicants who are aware of our charitable work, including the founders having personally donated the majority of their equity to the Canva Foundation and all the other things we do. 

“There’s nothing more motivating than being a force for good.” 

Rogerson is excited to see what Canva can achieve next.  

“I can’t wait for the next chapter in our global story,” she says. “Seeing our global cultures evolve on their own is amazing and every time I visit the UK team, I am amazed at how far they have already developed. 

“We don’t believe that our people and product are separate. The better our cohesion and culture is, the better our product is. 

“And we do have such a global product. It is used in over 190 countries, in over 100 languages, by over 100 million people. We are excited that our international teams will represent our users all over the world.”