It has been an exciting and fulfilling journey to be part of the thriving family of Canva in the Philippines. I remember my first days as the first recruiter of Canva here in Manila in 2015. From 35 people, I saw us grow to our first 100. Since then, we’ve launched multiple specialties and teams, from designers to copywriters, human resources to legal, all the way to growing our one-of-a-kind “Vibe” team, a team with the important mission of making our office one of the best places to work in the Philippines. Now, here we are — with over 250 people in our team in the Philippines, a quarter of our global team footprint. And it gives me so much pride to see us continuously growing.
But, as they say, life is unpredictable, and a leader’s true mettle is tested in times of challenges and difficulties, not only during moments of triumphs.
The threat to life of COVID-19 has been the scariest and most unprecedented challenge I’ve ever dealt with in my time at Canva. To this day, there are many things unknown and unresolved, and the COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise every day.
It was toughest during its early days. Local businesses had to move quickly but it was all uncharted territory. We had to protect the team from a highly contagious virus that we knew very little about, apart from its ruthless spread and perceived danger to people. Admittedly, I felt like a fish out of water, scared that one wrong decision can cost me a priceless, irreplaceable life.
I had placed an immense amount of pressure on myself to ensure that our team’s health and wellbeing, no questions asked, remain the top priority throughout this ordeal. This meant that we had to thoughtfully but very quickly reinvent our office operations — in a span of 24 hours. Throughout the confusion and uncertainty, it was humbling for me to be guided by the leadership of our founders, Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams, whose concern and support for the global team never wavered — and only grew stronger. They certainly led by example and have empowered leaders throughout Canva to be comfortable and confident in making decisions that prioritize the health and wellbeing of the team, no matter the cost.
We need to adjust and be agile because the way we used to do things no longer makes sense. With the pandemic and everyone shifting to work from home, you simply cannot expect everyone to operate the same way. We’re living in the “new normal.”
For the fortunate, people are juggling work with additional caretaker duties — all while trying to protect themselves from the virus. Our situation now calls for compassionate and empathetic leadership. Simply put, this means that we need to trust our team to manage their time effectively and provide them with more flexibility where they need it.
This has certainly been a uniquely challenging and exciting experience for me as I continuously try to do my best to not let the team down by leading them amidst a pandemic, and take care of the budding life in my belly. As of this writing, I am six months pregnant with my first child. Like many others finding themselves in the same situation, I never imagined being pregnant in the time of a pandemic. No words can describe the anxiety and fear constantly going through my mind, as I attempt to balance leading a team and be a mother for the first time ever.
However, one thing I’ve learned through my personal coaching journey and life experiences is the power of vulnerability and being in control of your mindset.
As Brene Brown said in her TED Talk, there is more harm than good when you constantly bottle up your feelings and emotions. The key is to be self-aware, understand where your emotions are coming from, and be bold in facing them head on. We’re living in unprecedented times and no one has come close to perfecting its handling. So instead of avoiding mistakes, I choose to be open to feedback and criticism, acknowledge when things have gone wrong, and learn from this experience in both my personal and professional life.
I’ve always had the mantra that every problem is a solution in disguise. Now I’m nowhere near superhuman to say that I’ve solved every problem that has come my way. But having this mindset has empowered me to believe in the possibility that there’s always a way forward. The key is to take action. Always.
“ We’re privileged to be in a position that gives us the ability to protect our team from the virus and continue with our jobs as if it was business as usual. And when you’re given such a privilege, you recognize it and use it to help those who don’t have it. ”
So right now, I try to be conscious of my balancing act. At work, I have clear values and goals. Health and well-being of the team come first. Only then can we rally and grow together to give the most value we possibly can to our community. We encourage everyone to practice open communication and feedback, in the hopes of empowering them to speak up.
I’m grateful to be part of an organization that truly puts people first. Over the last few months, I’m relieved and glad to say that most members of our team have acclimated to the new normal of remote work. No one is required to go back to the office until the end of the year. This is just our small way of helping our community flatten the curve.
Now more than ever, we’re called to be a force for good. We’re privileged to be in a position that gives us the ability to protect our team from the virus and continue with our jobs as if it was business as usual. And when you’re given such a privilege, you recognize it and use it to help those who don’t have it. You go online and watch the news and see that not everyone is in the same position. So we give back as much as we possibly can.
The virus is strong and has been a blocker to the growth of our national economy — however, it is not strong enough to stop our team from doing good. With Canva’s mission to democratize design, we’ve opened up our platform to healthcare organizations with design needs for their COVID-19 related materials through our #StopTheSpread campaign and rallied Filipinos to show support to our frontliners through our online campaign of sending messages of love and support to health workers and COVID-19 patients. We also donated medical supplies to designated COVID-19 hospitals.
“ Every day, we look for ways we can help and give back. There’s no such thing as too big or too small. All opportunities to help are immeasurable ”
We’ve also curated a free collection of online learning content on our Facebook page to enable Filipinos to use Canva to bounce back and thrive in the new normal and we’ve partnered with the Department of Education and other local educational institutions to give Canva for Education to teachers.
You would think that when remote work was put in place, our in-house chefs would have nothing to do. Instead, we got creative with their roles. Aside from sharing their recipes with our employees online, they also started cooking and donating meals to displaced jeepney drivers through a project called “Para kay Manong” and for the children of SOS Foundation.
But it doesn’t stop there. In fact, it shouldn’t stop at all. Every day, we look for ways we can help and give back. There’s no such thing as too big or too small. All opportunities to help are immeasurable — from processing valid customer refunds as fast as we can, to answering a question from a user on Twitter, to helping teachers and students with their visual graduation ceremonies. This just tells us that the world will never run out of moments to give you the privilege of giving back.
And in between those moments of giving back, I’m always reminded of what being a force for good can do: it means helping change the world, one life at a time.
Edited by Rica Delfinado