Recruitment & Retention

Does your company need a ‘head of vibe’?

Chris Low takes the employee experience at Canva seriously.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Chris Low serves as graphic design platform Canva’s head of vibe. You read that right: head of vibe. Canva takes the employee experience so seriously it employs a nearly 70-person vibe team, which Low oversees.

Low’s been in charge of vibes since 2016. He’s relying on his decades of experience in the hospitality industry to create “moments” at work for the company’s more than 3,500 employees across eight campuses and a number of coworking spaces globally.

Low got his start washing dishes in a noodle restaurant. He “touched every part of the hospitality industry,” eventually becoming a partner at his restaurant, Orto Trading Co, in the Surry Hills section of Sydney, Australia, near Canva’s campus.

“All I knew of [the] tech industry was the Facebook movie,” he said. “But I learned that Canva was incredibly aligned to my values and could allow me to do some of the most exciting, best work of my life, and haven’t looked back.”

Canva’s execs would often patronize Orto, he said. Named for the Italian word for kitchen-garden (the one closest to the house growing the food a family eats), the restaurant focused on comforting, family-style service and “paddock to plate” produce.

When Canva’s co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht learned Low was planning to sell Orto, he said, they asked him to “bring the vibe” of the restaurant to Canva as its first head of vibe.

headshot of Chirs Low smiling


Vibes at Canva. Employees feel the vibe right when they walk through the door, according to Low. Looking up from the entrance is a “massive commercial kitchen and a big space that looks much more like a restaurant to most people than any workplace.”

This is because the act of breaking bread is “sacred” at Canva.

On every employee’s calendar is a daily “sacred lunch hour” invite, so remote employees and those in the office can step away from their work and take time for themselves, their families, or their coworkers.

This “moment” began in the company’s startup days, when every day at noon its founders would make lunch for the team on sandwich presses and “push all the desks together.” As the company has grown, Low has expanded the program, with Canva offering breakfast and lunch at its campuses globally.

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“It’s very intentional…creating your workplace experience,” he said. “Because those things symbolize to people ideas like belonging, connection, and coming together breaking bread together.”

Feeding 3,500 employees is a massive undertaking, but overseeing the company’s vibes involves more than its hospitality program.

What is a vibe team? Low’s team oversees space creation and vibe experience. Each arm of the vibe team works to cultivate Canva’s workplace culture and enable employees to do their best work.

Low’s team includes kitchen hands, workplace experience employees, construction professionals, event managers, and people with expertise in celebration and team recognition.

Much of the work is focused on creating spaces and experiences that showcase the company’s values and signal to employees that they belong. His team works closely with the people team, and Low said it’s “a huge part of the employee value proposition.”

Low is leading the team overseeing the development of Canva’s new flagship office in Surry Hills.

“There’s so many things that we design into those buildings that represent our values,” he said, pointing to gender-neutral bathrooms as an example.

The vibe team coordinates and funds more than 400 clubs at Canva, which Low said represent the company’s diversity, supporting interests from soccer to nail painting. He’s spearheaded the development of a company farm. At the height of the pandemic, his team developed Zoom backgrounds so employees could celebrate team birthdays when it wasn’t possible to be together in person.

Canva operates to “set crazy big goals and make them happen,” so his team helps Canva celebrate and recognize the work when those goals are accomplished.

“Celebration is fundamental to the cycle of goal-setting,” he said.

Low said Canva combs through 300,000 applications a year, and that’s a testament to the vibes.

“All of those things we do that sound just like nice-to-haves have a really direct relationship to people doing their best work,” he said. “We don't do anything unless it creates an environment that…empowers our team to do their best work.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.