What does it take to make the Great Place To Work list?


Ahead of the 2019 Great Place To Work list announcement HRM spoke with Canva and Atlassian, who’ve previously made the list, to see what it takes to make the cut.

Every year Great Place To Work releases a report which lists what it considers to be the companies that employees love most.

While the list is open to dispute, getting on it is widely prized. That’s why a couple months before this year’s list is released, HRM reached out to Canva and Atlassian, who were on the 2018 list. We talked about their HR approaches in order to get a sense of why they stood out. 

The former emphasised their fun, employee-first atmosphere while the latter focussed on how they built a culture of inclusion.

The ‘People Group’

Some companies like to offer perks such as free gym memberships, other companies like to offer birthday wheels, in-house chefs, and a company farm – and so many more it’s hard to keep count. Canva does the latter.

Last year Canva, the online graphic design platform, secured the coveted number one spot on the Great Place To Work list for companies with 100-999 employees. It only recently qualified – in 2012 the company had just ten employees in one office in Surry Hills. Eight years later, and it has grown dramatically. It currently has 550 staff spread across three different countries (with plans to double its staff by the end of the year).

Canva’s head of people Zach Kitchske is the one tasked with managing that scaling from an HR perspective. He says the company’s main focus used to be growth, but now they’re focussed on culture.  

That seems like an appropriate shift. Canva has a very decent 4.5 rating on employer review site Glassdoor (the top score is five). Some of the ‘pros’ of the company highlighted by current and former employees include free breakfasts and lunches (which is arguably a tool to keep people at work). But many of the ‘cons’ they’ve registered point to company growth as being a difficult obstacle.

Potential scaling issues aside, the company really does offer an impressive array of perks and fun workplace rituals for their staff.

An example of the latter is the Birthday Wheel, a wheel-of-fortune game that offers an element of exciting unpredictability that the standard birthday cake doesn’t. The wheel can land on a variety of prizes like special lunches, gift vouchers, cheese platters and more.

“We’ve had requests for tapas, pho, ribs, okonomiyaki – there’s nothing that our in-house chefs can’t make! Once we even had espresso martinis and kombucha on tap,” says Kitschke.

Food seems to have central importance at Canva. Staff eat lunch together every day, which is what eventually inspired the Birthday Wheel. And you’re probably thinking that on-site chefs are a big commitment to employee happiness, so you’d be forgiven for doing a spit-take when you learn that Canva goes one step further by sourcing all their food from a company owned farm in regional NSW. Employees are even encouraged to stay at the farm, though this perk is not free.

“The Farm has two homes for short stays, where the team can enjoy an exclusive 25 per cent discount on accommodation. This year our Vibe team has organised weekend stays on the farm to plant and harvest the fruit and veg that we are eating everyday at Canva,” says Kitschke.

Employees are also encouraged to be involved in other special occasions like job anniversaires, called ‘Canvaverseries’. On the day the loyal employee receives a certificate, signed by the people they work with. To celebrate every fifth Canvaversary, the employees get featured on the ‘Canva Wall of Fame’ with a caricature coupled with a new ‘honorary title’.

As Canva is a multicultural company, the company organises ‘Expat Events’ which are tailored to make newcomers feel welcome in Australia.

“Over 25 per cent of our workforce are international hires who have relocated from all areas of the world to join Canva. We host quarterly expat events designed to help them meet new people and explore the sights and surrounds of Sydney,” Kitschke says.

Aside from that, Canva also provides free gym memberships, sanitary products in their bathrooms, and for the employees who cycle to work – free bike servicing. Canva also encourages its employees to bring pets with them to work.

“Canva’s culture is about creating a place where everyone loves coming to work, where everyone is striving to do the best work of their lives and creates the most outstanding product and company we can,” says Kitschke.

Rockstar of HR

Atlassian may provide a fun workplace as well, but what is really interesting about this company is their approach to diversity and inclusion.

The Australian tech giant reached number two on the Great Places To Work 2018 list for companies with over 1,000 employees, coming in just under Salesforce. HRM spoke with Atlassian’s global head of diversity and belonging, Aubrey Blanche. She was dressed in a rainbow dress with rose gold hair at the time; so she looked like the HR equivalent of a rockstar. It was immediately clear that thinking differently wasn’t just something she talked about.

At the core of Atlassian’s success, says Blanche, is inclusion. And she has a number of examples.“In Sydney a couple of years ago, we noticed that women were really isolated in their teams”.

She was tasked with providing a space where women, and ultimately other employees who were in minorities, could connect. So she created a coffee date program.

“We took a confluence page, put out a call to all of the women and said, ‘Put your name on the page if you’d like to be matched with another woman in the office have coffee with.’ It was opt-in. There was no pressure to join, but we were creating this vehicle for them,” she says.

A program manager would randomly match people who had opted in and they would meet up. And, in case you were wondering, coffee was not a prerequisite – sometimes people just went for a walk.

“What we found was that we were basically building the architecture for those women to create personal connections that their male peers were getting a little more organically.”

Atlassian also provides employees with mentoring groups, where the focus is on peer-to-peer professional development. Employees are encouraged to get together in groups of six to 12 to share tips on confidence, presentation skills, advocating for promotions and more.

Side by side

In 2018 Atlassian released its State of Diversity and Inclusion report, which surveyed 400 tech workers in Silicon Valley and a further 1,500 tech workers across the US. Of those surveyed, 80 per cent of respondents agree that diversity and inclusion is important. Despite that, the report found that less than 30 per cent of marginalised groups have representation, a sense of belonging and good retention rates.

Blanche says these insights highlight just how much work needs to be done in finding ways to help marginalised people feel like they belong. One way Atlassian is trying to do that is by encouraging them to write on the company’s ‘Side by Side’ blog, which was created to foster inclusion and belonging among team members and to remove barriers for other employees who may not be familiar with people who are different to them.

To explain the storytelling power of the blog, Blanche referred to an employee who came out as a transgender woman. The woman wrote a post on Side by Side entitled, ‘How not to f***k up with your trans teammate’. In it, she shared information about how transgender people are marginalised and provided a ‘dos and don’ts guide’ on how to treat people at work who are transitioning or who have transitioned.

While the blog is internal, and not necessarily used to promote the company, it is a helpful resource to encourage open communication among employees. It gives them a safe space to speak about issues that matter to them.

“It’s not about a corporate program that teaches you to be sensitive. It’s about creating moments for you to learn how to be more empathetic for the people around you. And I think it’s more motivating for people to hear it from their teammates,” says Blanche.


If you want to be among the best, then best HR practice is key. AHRI’s course ‘Building and managing teams’ will help you develop the tools and skills you need.

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Great Places to Work is so subjective. You don’t get any feedback, you have to pay for reports, zero transparency. We received awards for best place to work awards in our Asian, Europe and USA offices, got over 90% in our CultureAmp engagement scores with our ANZ offices but didn’t even crack the list after pouring hours into our submission last year.

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What does it take to make the Great Place To Work list?


Ahead of the 2019 Great Place To Work list announcement HRM spoke with Canva and Atlassian, who’ve previously made the list, to see what it takes to make the cut.

Every year Great Place To Work releases a report which lists what it considers to be the companies that employees love most.

While the list is open to dispute, getting on it is widely prized. That’s why a couple months before this year’s list is released, HRM reached out to Canva and Atlassian, who were on the 2018 list. We talked about their HR approaches in order to get a sense of why they stood out. 

The former emphasised their fun, employee-first atmosphere while the latter focussed on how they built a culture of inclusion.

The ‘People Group’

Some companies like to offer perks such as free gym memberships, other companies like to offer birthday wheels, in-house chefs, and a company farm – and so many more it’s hard to keep count. Canva does the latter.

Last year Canva, the online graphic design platform, secured the coveted number one spot on the Great Place To Work list for companies with 100-999 employees. It only recently qualified – in 2012 the company had just ten employees in one office in Surry Hills. Eight years later, and it has grown dramatically. It currently has 550 staff spread across three different countries (with plans to double its staff by the end of the year).

Canva’s head of people Zach Kitchske is the one tasked with managing that scaling from an HR perspective. He says the company’s main focus used to be growth, but now they’re focussed on culture.  

That seems like an appropriate shift. Canva has a very decent 4.5 rating on employer review site Glassdoor (the top score is five). Some of the ‘pros’ of the company highlighted by current and former employees include free breakfasts and lunches (which is arguably a tool to keep people at work). But many of the ‘cons’ they’ve registered point to company growth as being a difficult obstacle.

Potential scaling issues aside, the company really does offer an impressive array of perks and fun workplace rituals for their staff.

An example of the latter is the Birthday Wheel, a wheel-of-fortune game that offers an element of exciting unpredictability that the standard birthday cake doesn’t. The wheel can land on a variety of prizes like special lunches, gift vouchers, cheese platters and more.

“We’ve had requests for tapas, pho, ribs, okonomiyaki – there’s nothing that our in-house chefs can’t make! Once we even had espresso martinis and kombucha on tap,” says Kitschke.

Food seems to have central importance at Canva. Staff eat lunch together every day, which is what eventually inspired the Birthday Wheel. And you’re probably thinking that on-site chefs are a big commitment to employee happiness, so you’d be forgiven for doing a spit-take when you learn that Canva goes one step further by sourcing all their food from a company owned farm in regional NSW. Employees are even encouraged to stay at the farm, though this perk is not free.

“The Farm has two homes for short stays, where the team can enjoy an exclusive 25 per cent discount on accommodation. This year our Vibe team has organised weekend stays on the farm to plant and harvest the fruit and veg that we are eating everyday at Canva,” says Kitschke.

Employees are also encouraged to be involved in other special occasions like job anniversaires, called ‘Canvaverseries’. On the day the loyal employee receives a certificate, signed by the people they work with. To celebrate every fifth Canvaversary, the employees get featured on the ‘Canva Wall of Fame’ with a caricature coupled with a new ‘honorary title’.

As Canva is a multicultural company, the company organises ‘Expat Events’ which are tailored to make newcomers feel welcome in Australia.

“Over 25 per cent of our workforce are international hires who have relocated from all areas of the world to join Canva. We host quarterly expat events designed to help them meet new people and explore the sights and surrounds of Sydney,” Kitschke says.

Aside from that, Canva also provides free gym memberships, sanitary products in their bathrooms, and for the employees who cycle to work – free bike servicing. Canva also encourages its employees to bring pets with them to work.

“Canva’s culture is about creating a place where everyone loves coming to work, where everyone is striving to do the best work of their lives and creates the most outstanding product and company we can,” says Kitschke.

Rockstar of HR

Atlassian may provide a fun workplace as well, but what is really interesting about this company is their approach to diversity and inclusion.

The Australian tech giant reached number two on the Great Places To Work 2018 list for companies with over 1,000 employees, coming in just under Salesforce. HRM spoke with Atlassian’s global head of diversity and belonging, Aubrey Blanche. She was dressed in a rainbow dress with rose gold hair at the time; so she looked like the HR equivalent of a rockstar. It was immediately clear that thinking differently wasn’t just something she talked about.

At the core of Atlassian’s success, says Blanche, is inclusion. And she has a number of examples.“In Sydney a couple of years ago, we noticed that women were really isolated in their teams”.

She was tasked with providing a space where women, and ultimately other employees who were in minorities, could connect. So she created a coffee date program.

“We took a confluence page, put out a call to all of the women and said, ‘Put your name on the page if you’d like to be matched with another woman in the office have coffee with.’ It was opt-in. There was no pressure to join, but we were creating this vehicle for them,” she says.

A program manager would randomly match people who had opted in and they would meet up. And, in case you were wondering, coffee was not a prerequisite – sometimes people just went for a walk.

“What we found was that we were basically building the architecture for those women to create personal connections that their male peers were getting a little more organically.”

Atlassian also provides employees with mentoring groups, where the focus is on peer-to-peer professional development. Employees are encouraged to get together in groups of six to 12 to share tips on confidence, presentation skills, advocating for promotions and more.

Side by side

In 2018 Atlassian released its State of Diversity and Inclusion report, which surveyed 400 tech workers in Silicon Valley and a further 1,500 tech workers across the US. Of those surveyed, 80 per cent of respondents agree that diversity and inclusion is important. Despite that, the report found that less than 30 per cent of marginalised groups have representation, a sense of belonging and good retention rates.

Blanche says these insights highlight just how much work needs to be done in finding ways to help marginalised people feel like they belong. One way Atlassian is trying to do that is by encouraging them to write on the company’s ‘Side by Side’ blog, which was created to foster inclusion and belonging among team members and to remove barriers for other employees who may not be familiar with people who are different to them.

To explain the storytelling power of the blog, Blanche referred to an employee who came out as a transgender woman. The woman wrote a post on Side by Side entitled, ‘How not to f***k up with your trans teammate’. In it, she shared information about how transgender people are marginalised and provided a ‘dos and don’ts guide’ on how to treat people at work who are transitioning or who have transitioned.

While the blog is internal, and not necessarily used to promote the company, it is a helpful resource to encourage open communication among employees. It gives them a safe space to speak about issues that matter to them.

“It’s not about a corporate program that teaches you to be sensitive. It’s about creating moments for you to learn how to be more empathetic for the people around you. And I think it’s more motivating for people to hear it from their teammates,” says Blanche.


If you want to be among the best, then best HR practice is key. AHRI’s course ‘Building and managing teams’ will help you develop the tools and skills you need.

2
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Bert
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Bert

Great Places to Work is so subjective. You don’t get any feedback, you have to pay for reports, zero transparency. We received awards for best place to work awards in our Asian, Europe and USA offices, got over 90% in our CultureAmp engagement scores with our ANZ offices but didn’t even crack the list after pouring hours into our submission last year.

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The 'Great Place To Work' list: What does it take to make the cut? | Recruitment Marketing

[…] What does it take to make the Great Place to Work list?  […]

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