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The importance of being kind at work

On my first shift as a waitress at 16, I was unbelievably overwhelmed. Imagine everything you’ve ever found irritating about waitstaff at a meal… I did it all in the first 10 minutes.

Suddenly, a fellow waitress — and knight in shining armour — Wendy, saw my pitiful attempt and swooped in. She gave me a hug, told me to pull myself together and that she’d be taking half my section until I could cope. Although it was a small act, Wendy did it with kindness and it made all the difference. From then on I have tried to implement the same philosophy as much as I can.

At work, kindness can be thought of as putting you “behind” not “ahead”. Luckily, I found a workplace where kindness is woven within our values and I have seen just how amazing the impact is first hand.

“People buy books on how to be healthy, wealthy, popular, and balanced. But few people are rushing out to buy books on how to be kind. In our competitive world, we seem to think kindness would keep us from achieving greatness.” — Mike Bechtle

At a recent internal event, Canva’s COO Cliff spoke on “How to be Successful at Canva”, and about the pyramid of success having Being a Good Human as the base on which all else is built.

Similarly, at our weekly all-hands our CEO Melanie talked about the importance of kindness, and the permission we need to give ourselves to be kind.

By embedding our values so deeply into Canva’s culture we set our kindness with the right intention; kindness isn’t about you or recognition. Kindness is about others. Secret, selfless kindness is truly the best kind.

While kindness can be seen as a nice-to-have, it’s actually deeper than that — kindness is good for us. Genuine acts give us a Helpers’ High, reducing our stress and anxiety, and can improve our blood pressure and overall contentment through oxytocin production. Kindness can also give people space and lead to innovation.

I am 1000% a work in progress in kindness, and always will be. I am by no means whatsoever an expert, but over the last year I have made an effort to notice acts of kindness, talk more to people about kindness and how they see it. These are some of my favourite things I have learned:

Kindness doesn’t need to be grand gestures — it’s often the little kindnesses that people value most. At Canva we are big believers in the importance of fostering moments of kindness throughout the day. There’s no shortage of ways to incorporate a little bit of extra kindness into your day — it could be as simple as:

  • Getting yourself a coffee? Make yours and someone else one too, or invite a newbie to a virtual coffee (especially someone from a different office or country).
  • Becoming a mentor to someone. Think about who you needed 5 years ago and be that to someone else. Doesn’t have to be long term, and could be one-off.

We recently added ‘conversation starter’ cards into the lifts to help break the ice and spark conversation.

  • Take an extra minute to show curiosity. Check-in on how their weekend was, or put some question cards around the office to spark conversation while waiting for the lift or coffee.
  • Making eye contact. The remote world can see us withdraw into a comfort zone without eye contact, but we can use it as an emphasis to show we have seen and we hear them.
  • When you are scheduling meetings ensure that the time works for all timezones. Try to avoid accidentally asking someone to get up at 5am for a call.
  • Treating people equally, from the person you meet in the lift to the person who pays your salary, and everyone in between.

The way we communicate with each other plays an enormous role in cultivating an environment of kindness. While it’s easy to get caught up in projects and deadlines, it’s important to take a step back and remember that we are all human.

We have looked at a few different initiatives to champion communication at Canva. From adding conversation starters in all of our lifts, to onboarding sessions on delivering feedback with compassion. Incorporating some extra kindness into the way you communicate could be as easy as:

  • Actively listening. Listening is a superpower. Listen to hear and understand, not to solve. Each time you want to say “why don’t you X” or “I would Y”, stop yourself and listen instead. Listen and ask for clarification. Listen and ask for detail. Listen and ask if there’s something you can do. Don’t listen just waiting for your ‘turn’ to talk.
  • Communicate feedback openly and early. Ensure you follow best practices. Be direct and go into it with kindness, calmness and honesty.
  • Share things about yourself, even when you feel vulnerable. There is an important difference between sympathy and empathy, and empathy with and without vulnerability when building connections.
  • Assume positive intent. Try to see the whole person versus things they did you didn’t like.
  • Keep your word. People should be able to freely trust that you don’t share things further. Trust is the deepest kindness.
  • Remember things about people and follow up. “Last time we spoke you mentioned..” or “I followed your advice and..”
  • When someone gets interrupted, point the conversation back to them — “What were you saying, Alex?”

As the world shifts to hybrid working (with some people in the office and others working remotely) it is more important than ever to form a bedrock a kind environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging, no matter where in the world they are.

Inclusivity can be as simple as joining video meetings from individual devices (rather than lots of people in an office room together and then some alone online), or displaying your pronouns on your Slack profile. There are plenty of ways to help create a culture of belonging, such as:

  • A few years ago, we changed the name of our ‘#hq’ channel on Slack to ‘#sydney’ and our ‘#general’ channel to ‘#team’ to ensure our team feels included worldwide.
  • Acknowledging you have received a message on Slack, even when you’re busy. An emoji goes a long way to those who are remote 👌🏼 💯
  • In fact, it can be good to use more emojis in general. Meaning can get lost in all-online communication and emojis are a great way to translate nuances and spread positivity 👏🏼 🚀 🎉 🥳 ✨
  • Taking time to ensure we all foster an authentic inclusive environment to create a greater sense of belonging organisation wide. You can see how we are thinking about this in a video on the importance of inclusion as well a recent blog from Hugo Welke, a wonderful Product Designer at Canva, on being out at work and #proudtobe.
  • Making sure we are all taking extra steps to make sure team events are inclusive for anyone, no matter where they are in the world:
  • Chatting on a project quickly in person might seem easier, but to a teammate who is in a different timezone, it can make their efforts to participate much harder. Try to wait until all stakeholders can join, or if it’s urgent — ensure you document any decisions made.

Not every day is going to be perfect — whether you’re juggling a few too many projects, working on a deadline, or just having an off day. Sometimes being kind isn’t easy, but it’s up to you to lead by example and treat others the way you want to be treated. Even when it’s not easy, remember that:

  • Kindness is for other people. It’s easy to do what you would want, instead of paying attention to what is happening. Listen, and if someone wants space, be sure to give it to them.
  • When you see someone is stretched, step in and ask to take things off their plate, or check-in and remind them to go easy on themselves.

“Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” Leo Buscaglia

  • People can often bond over a mutual dislike. Be sure you spread good words about coworkers instead. Be a cheerleader of peoples ideas, squash a rumour, speak up when people discuss coworkers.
  • Be sure to help when it’s not convenient, or when you’re tired. Help someone you disagree with.

At Canva, showing kudos is a huge aspect of our culture — we have a dedicated Slack channel for sharing kudos messages when people go above and beyond, hit a goal, or make someone’s day. It’s a great way to celebrate people and also the kudos of your Canva journey is a great thing to reflect on to see your own growth. There are many ways to give recognition at work, and a few really lovely ways we do this at Canva:

  • Giving kudos for going above and beyond either in person, over email, in a #kudos channel on Slack, in a team forum, or during a 1:1.
  • Better yet if someone goes above and beyond, give them positive feedback with a printed note, and even a gift for those exceptional times. Everyone loves plants 🌿
  • Create space for teams to call out great work or values. At Canva we have 1 minute during team Show & Tells for everyone to post their kudos for that week into the #kudos channel.
  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation for someone you really enjoy working with.
  • Take the initiative to create opportunities for your team to celebrate together. On birthdays you can all join a call with birthday Zoom backgrounds, or make a small gift basket with tips for a new parent in the team.

Canva’s Vibe Team spreading the Good Vibes online

It’s easy to get caught up in the speed at a hyper growth company. At Canva we are constantly chasing the next crazy big goal, setting challenges, and pushing ourselves to deliver magic to our global community. When things move quickly, it’s critical to take a step back and reflect on just how far you have come.

Being kind to yourself is just as important as being kind to others — and by being kind to yourself, you’re able to champion kindness in every other aspect of your work. Remember to look after yourself with self care such as:

  • Taking breaks in the day, a short walk, a coffee or even just to stretch.
  • Try to start your mornings slowly — try to do something for yourself before you check your phone, or do something work related. A few seasons ago, our CEO Melanie gifted everyone at Canva The 5 Minute Journal, which has been amazing at slowing down my mornings.
  • Make space for focus at the time of day that works best for you. Block your calendar and focus on achieving a goal that you’ve set for yourself. Then do a little celebration.
  • Treat yourself as if you would treat a friend or your five-year-old self — don’t let your inner monologue be mean.
  • Keep sacred time in your calendar. Meet-Free-Wednesdays, lunch hours, finishing before 6 pm — be kind to yourself by listening to your body and mind.

Ultimately, be kind, and try to make kindness part of your day-to-day. Bring it to your work by being quietly kind, assertively kind, secretly kind. However you choose to be kind, it’s a great service to yourself and those around you. Don’t hand it out when it feels advantageous to do. Kindness is an authentic way to build trust and meaningful relationships.

“Be good to people. You will be remembered more for your kindness than any level of success you could possibly attain.” — Mandy Hale

Imagine if everyone you knew did one thing kind tomorrow, authentically and beautifully kind things, what a wonderfully better place we’d be in.