Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Situated on a street lined with corporate buildings and coffee shops, the 600-square-meter space occupied by the Manila office of the Sydney-based graphic design startup Canva is a specimen to behold, one that lives up to the name of the company it’s meant to represent. Think murals along several walls (one is about adventure and another features Philippine icons like the jeepney and the tarsier), meeting rooms with writings on the glass, standing desks next to a brick wall, couches, and long tables instead of cubicles.
The office design was done internally, with the only outside help coming from a consultant and a construction firm. “I think there was definitely an attempt to keep both of our offices consistent,” Shamal Si, a Canva designer and architect, says, “[But] it’s kind of nice having the Philippines touch, especially natural materials and such.” Melanie Perkins, a co-founder and CEO of Canva, who is part Filipino, agrees: “We have a lot of glass and wood throughout the office, to keep it really very open and natural. [It has a] home-like feel, with the kitchen being part of the office environment as well.”
Canva Manila opened in August 2014 in Makati. “We asked a number of people which is the best area, and a lot of people said Makati,” Perkins says. “It has a very similar vibe to our office in Surrey Hills in Sydney, a very cool and upcoming sort of area.”
In its early days, Canva Manila had a team of six people and occupied only one side of the floor it was on. The team has since grown to 60, ranging from designers to engineers to “customer happiness” specialists (as opposed to customer service or satisfaction; “a Mel thing,” in reference to Perkins, according to Rose Powell, Canva’s communications strategist), resulting in a much-needed takeover of the other side.
Having two offices that are almost 4,000 miles apart has prompted the use of virtual teams, but Perkins stresses the importance of physical teamwork as well. “This year we moved to a model of small startups,” she says. “Each team is their own startup with their own ambition and their own goal.” She adds: “But the important part is, as we become larger, to make sure that each team still has that same feeling of, ‘We want to achieve great, big things.’” Last year the Manila team flew to Australia, and recently the Sydney team made their own visit to the Philippines.
To foster growth and creativity, several types of work spaces have been set up. “One of the spaces is more of a collaborative space,” Si says. “It’s for people to be noisy, talk together. Incidental meetings can happen which is all fun and happy and great. I think there’s also a space where everyone can go back to working a little more, have solitude and get stuff done after having those cool meetings.”
They also hold individual and team workshops, as well as a “hack-a-thon,” which entails 24 hours of “people working on whatever project they want and then they present to the rest of the team,” resulting in “lots of fun and innovation.” According to Perkins, creativity is a landmark of all that Canva stands for: “I think enabling people to have a voice [is important], so that they can not only own their environment but own their work and own their team’s creativity.”
Celebrations and a “familial feel” play an important part in Canva’s work environment. Doves have been released, plates have been smashed, tomatoes have been crushed under feet (“a mini La Tomatina Festival”), islands have been visited, and meals are shared — a tradition of sorts that’s been around since the company’s beginnings in Perkins’s mother’s house. Perkins calls it egalitarian: “I think that the environment that we have really brings out the best in people. Having lunch together, it might be a bit of a novelty, but it actually has real benefits for the company and for the individuals here. People feel a lot more included and part of the family that is Canva.”
Perkins states that the work environment is crucial to Canva’s productivity, and that design decisions regarding their offices are made very consciously. “We’ve always wanted to make a place or environment that we wanted to work in,” she says. “The people we employ have got to be super passionate and motivated, and in the office we have a very transparent and open culture, so that’s got to be the way we style our office, too.”
There’s also a certain whimsy around the place that’s been apparent in their overall brand; an entire wall dedicated to inspiration, with posters, magazines, and various decor, is a testament to this. “It’s actually very important [to us], having a bit of fun — making it a very relaxed environment that feels like a café, and a sort of culture that reflects the feeling at Canva,” Perkins says.
In their team workshops, there’s often a lot of talk of Canva’s future: what they hope to do, and how they plan to do it. With almost 10 million unique users and counting, they’re fully aware that they’re not quite done yet. “Our vision with Canva is to enable everyone to take their idea and see what they turn that into,” Perkins says. “But we’ve only really achieved about 1 percent of what we’ve been working for here, so there’s a lot more yet to come.”