Australia markets closed

Virtual pubs, Zoom yoga and lunch money: How companies like Canva, Atlassian and TransferWise are engaging staff working from home

Sharon Masige
  • The coronavirus pandemic has led many businesses to shift their employees from an office set-up to work from home arrangements.
  • We reached out to companies such as Canva, Employment Hero and Culture Amp to find out what initiatives they have implemented to keep staff motivated while working from home.
  • Some of the perks include 'virtual pubs', stipends to order lunch and even extra days of leave if someone has to self-isolate.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Many companies are making their employees work from home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with some dishing out the perks to make it an easy transition.

Canva, Culture Amp, SAP and SafetyCulture are just a handful of the many tech companies that have got their employees working remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

We spoke to these companies to find out what they have been doing to keep staff connected and motivated during this period.

Canva

Canva not only managed to get its more than 800-strong workforce working remotely in less than 24 hours but also managed to implement a range of initiatives to keep its workers productive while at home.

The company offers staff a daily stipend for lunch to support small businesses in their community, holds virtual company-wide Netflix nights and hosts Friday night musical acts via Zoom to support local artists who can't get gigs.

Oh and there's more. Canva has moved all of its clubs online including its meditation, wine and pasta clubs. It has an internal website filled with daily updates, work from home tips and Slack channels with food challenges and podcast suggestions.

The company's resident chefs have even developed weekly menus, shopping lists and how-to videos with cheap and easy recipes employees can follow. Meanwhile, Canva's resident health and wellbeing coach delivers fitness sessions via Zoom.

Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins told Business Insider Australia via email the company has emphasised a culture employees love working in since it launched.

"This same ethos has continued as we’ve moved our entire team to remote working," she said. "Early on, we decided our guiding principles are to ensure our team’s safety and well-being, to support our community, and to rally together and grow. These principles have guided all of our decisions during recent weeks, and make sure we all move in the same direction."

Perkins added that most of Canva's work is already being done online, making its transition to remote working "relatively smooth".

"We’ve concentrated extra effort on connecting team members across the business," she said. "We’ve increased proactive communication and context sharing, with weekly company-wide meetings and a host of new initiatives. It’s been critical that we continue the same special traditions as we have moved online, to help our team stay connected, to continue striving to do the best work of their lives, and to create a product that serves our community."

And for companies that may be employing work from home arrangements for the first time, Perkins emphasised social connection. "The whole world is in the same boat right now, while everyone has to be physically distanced, it’s important we keep our social connection," she said. "We’ve implored our whole team to have compassionate leadership - to be compassionate with their teams, compassionate with their communities and compassionate with themselves."

Culture Amp

Australian employee engagement platform Culture Amp told Business Insider Australia its full workforce of more than 440 employees - across offices in Melbourne, San Francisco, New York and London – has been working from home for more than three weeks.

"Our first priority was (and still is) employee health and productivity, and then also how we can help all our people support the communities they live within as well," Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga said. "We were fortunate that being a global technology company we were already fairly well set up to work remotely."

Elzinga explained the measures the company has taken to keep its staff engaged and motivated while working from home. It introduced a digital ‘aperitivo’ – a 10-minute drink with colleagues at the end of the day – and ‘hours of power’ where everyone joins a call not to meet but to work on their own with colleagues working in the background. That's not to mention opportunities to have morning or afternoon tea via video conferencing so workers can chat like they would in the office and adding more time to meetings to see how everyone is doing.

"Simply adding 10 mins to the start of a virtual meeting to check-in is really impactful for individuals craving connection," Elzinga said. "This is a simple yet effective practice that is helping our team to stay engaged and supported."

Elzinga shared his tips for making the most of work from home arrangements, highlighting how important it is to communicate with workers.

"It is extremely important to intentionally build upon your culture during these trying times," he said. "Leaders cannot over-communicate. Be the voice of calm in a sea of uncertainty. Be human, share how you’re processing this experience, the questions you’re asking and how you are approaching the challenges."

"Checking in with your team is also critical. Maintaining regular feedback to understand whether people feel supported if they have the right information and what they need to do their job."

TransferWise

All of TransferWise's offices around the world have transitioned to working remotely. To keep its staff connected and engaged, the company has several activities available via Zoom including yoga classes, a book club, meditation and a mobility training session that has tips on how workers can stretch while at their desks. Not to mention a dedicated slack channel where creative workers can showcase their artwork.

Plus, the company has a virtual 'Fika' – a communal afternoon break for coffee & biscuits and chatting – as well as a virtual pub on Fridays for an end of the week catch up.

"This is clearly a very unsettling and challenging time and we felt it was more important than ever to come up with creative ways our team, who we call Wisers, can stay connected, feel supported and also to keep them smiling, since we implemented a global work from home policy on March 16th 2020," TransferWise global head of people operations Rose Stott told Business Insider Australia.

"We’re fortunate as a company that we already had a culture of working from home but adapting to that full time is a shift for many, especially the social aspect of work."

To make sure its team is comfortably set up to work from home for a long period of time, TransferWise has given everyone a set budget to put towards setting up their own workspace at home. It also recommends workers use the mental health platform Modern Health which offers free online webinars for people to ask questions about how to manage stress, isolation and loneliness. Every worker also gets access to the company's employee assistance programme, where they can discuss any issues they're having with a counsellor.

Employment Hero

Employment Hero CEO and co-founder Ben Thompson told Business Insider Australia that since the company has supported flexible working for a while, its transition to working from home has been "quite seamless".

Each Wednesday Thompson films a short video sharing government updates and thanking the team for their hard work. He also shared the importance of having a routine when working from home.

"In the mornings, we have 8:30 AM ‘stand-ups’ with leaders and their teams to debrief, and then at 9 AM we do a leadership ‘stand-up’," he said. "It’s a quick check-in, but this daily communication creates a steady cadence which is key to staying motivated and productive."

To make life a little easier for employees to work from home, Employment Hero encourages communication via Slack and Zoom, with some meetings even having themes like 'wear your favourite headwear'.

"We tend to forget how important ‘water-cooler’ chats are for morale. So we’ve organised virtual group Zoom calls most mornings and afternoons as an optional initiative for teams to get together and have a laugh," Thompson said. "On top of this, we encourage our teams to take regular breaks, get outside for some fresh air and keep active."

Thompson also shared his tips for companies newly transitioning to working from home: communicate with your team, focus on new ways to acknowledge the hard work of your team, encourage team members to set goals and check in on how your staff are feeling.

Atlassian

Image: Supplied

All Atlassian staff are working remotely, after the company implemented a work from home policy in early March. Atlassian Chief People Officer Tami Rosen told Business Insider Australia via email the company was able to adjust to working from home very quickly as it has been working in a "highly distributed way for years".

"When we acquired Trello, the majority of the team was remote, and they brought over a decade of road-hardened experience, practices, and work styles that we learned from," she said.

Atlassian continues to pay its hourly contractors that aren't able to work from home, such as its cleaning and hospitality staff. Plus, it has offered to reimburse employees for work from home equipment they need.

Atlassian has internal blog platforms and Slack channels for staff to share their personal work from home experiences and support each other. It created a rule book to help employees who haven't worked remotely before adjust to the new normal, digitised in-office activities like daily workout classes and cooking classes, and has live music that employees can stream from their homes. The company also encourages its workers to find ways to socialise through team lunches or virtual happy hours.

Clipchamp

Video creation platform Clipchamp has had its employees working remotely since March 16. Co-founder and CEO Alex Dreiling told Business Insider Australia workers were quick to sort out virtual solutions to rituals they had in the office. These included Slack channels dedicated to coffee corner chats, board games and virtual Friday afternoon drinks.

"Our own reliance on video communication is at an all-time high, as we transition to video conferencing and one-on-one video calls to replace in-person interaction," Dreiling said. "In the transition to becoming 100% remote during this period, we are working to ensure that our company rituals continue without disruption."

Clipchamp head of culture and talent Julia Poloai advised that while employees work from home, it's important for business leaders to acknowledge everyone’s individual needs fairly. "When operating remote teams, leaders should take into consideration employees’ families, networks and connectivity, the ways individuals absorb information when digitally communicating, and the varied energy levels of staff at different times throughout any given day."

Envato

Aussie digital assets platform Envato has been a big supporter of flexible working even before the coronavirus pandemic. It made the decision that its workforce work remotely from March 18.

"As a company that has had workplace flexibility in place since day one, we understand that working from home can be both a blessing and a curse, especially in our current working climate, where care responsibilities and isolation from family, friends and work colleagues put extra strain on our wellbeing and in turn, our productivity," Michelle Ridsdale, chief people officer at Envato said.

In addition to Slack channels, Google hangouts and remote social events to encourage employees to gather together, Evanto has ramped up its leave arrangements.

It provides 10 days additional personal leave for staff who fall ill, are in isolation or are caring for someone sick or isolated. It is also offering up to 15 days 'negative leave' to be taken if a worker runs out of their existing leave entitlements but still needs to take on extra care responsibilities.

As for advice the company would give to businesses embarking on a work from home arrangement for the first time, Ridsdale said businesses should be clear in what it wants to achieve during this time, ensure workers can regularly connect and remove any barriers employees may be facing to achieve their work.

SafetyCulture

SafetyCulture has implemented several initiatives to keep its staff motivated while working from home, including virtual trivia, weekly team drinks, sending birthday cards for an employee's birthday and launching virtual fitness sessions. It's UK team also created a virtual pub.

"[The pub] has four rooms that you can enter to have a drink with colleagues - a karaoke tavern, a wine & cheese bistro, a jazz bar and a cocktail bar," SafetyCulture COO Alistair Venn told Business Insider Australia. "They are themed accordingly and staff can enter and exit as they please to socialise and have a drink at home but feel like they are with their colleagues."

SafetyCulture has an employee assistance program that provides counselling services and a wellness app that focuses on mental, physical, social and financial health. The company is also providing flexible working hours for parents working from home with children and allowing workers to expense office equipment they need.

SAP

All SAP employees in Australia and New Zealand are working from home, with its more than 100,000 strong global workforce working almost entirely remote as well. To maintain its culture during this time, an SAP ANZ spokesperson told Business Insider Australia via email the string of measures it has introduced.

"To help boost team spirit and maintain an element of normalcy, we’ve rolled out a range of fun initiatives, including weekly yoga sessions, twice-weekly virtual exercise bootcamps, a companywide 'Quaran-tunes' playlist, a 'virtual happy hour' every Friday, and a #LifeatSAP hashtag where staff can share social snaps of their home setups," the spokesperson said.

On top of that, the company's giving its more than 1,400 employees in Australia and New Zealand a $250 working-from-home grant to help improve their home office setup, as well as free flu shots, a $25 meal voucher in the absence of the company's normal end-of-quarter celebratory lunches and a monthly, ‘Healthy Habits’ online program, which offers exercise and nutrition advice.