‘This is how we build an attractive, sustainable work culture’: Xero founding CTO Craig Walker

No business is ever finished developing and growing, but here are some of the things we’ve found seem to be working for us, writes Xero founding CTO Craig Walker

I’ve encountered many people working for companies that seem to operate in corporate cultures of hierarchy and fear

Craig Walker, Xero

When we started Xero in 2006, we took our time figuring out the type of company and culture we wanted to develop. At the heart of it, we wanted everyone to feel valued for who they are. Life can be complicated and having an organisation that understands this is important. 

The world has changed and what people expect from their workplace has transformed. In the ICT sector, for example, there’s more choice than ever for jobseekers searching for the perfect fit. It’s becoming even more difficult to entice and retain the best of the best. 

It’s been a journey since 2006 to build a company we’re proud of with several successes and a few failures along the way. Throughout it all, we’ve kept an open mind to respond to what our people value. 

No business is ever finished developing and growing, but here are some of the things we’ve found seem to be working for us. 

Flat corporate culture 

Having spent the past eight years in San Francisco and New York, I’ve encountered many people working for companies that seem to operate in corporate cultures of hierarchy and fear. 

But happy employees make for a productive company, and this is in no small part based on work culture. Values like kindness, transparency and community have been critical to our success. We are a quintessentially Kiwi company. 

For example, we boast a relatively flat corporate culture. There are no egos or pretension about the importance of any role above any other. 

One thing I love about this is empowering people to speak up, to contribute and share ideas, to make their voices heard. You can talk directly to the CEO if you want to! 

Outside of team backgrounds, we also were aware from early on that we were building a family - a company family, but one that would eventually extend to our customers. 

My co-founders and I valued hard work and creative thinking to be sure. But we also cared about having a culture of openness, trust, flexibility, and fun. Those values still translate today. 

Thirteen years later, when people ask me what makes Xero a great place to work, the first word to come to mind is still “family”. My team in New York feels like family; we spend time together inside and outside of work. 

Flexible, compassionate work schedules 

Attracting the world’s best talent also means providing them with the tools and support to do the best work of their lives. This includes, among other perks, flexible work locations and schedules. 

The ability to work remotely at least part of the time is now standard for tech companies. So is openness to modified work hours to accommodate family life changes. 

Offering both has helped us scale at a rapid pace. We’re just lucky Xero was born in the cloud, so we’ve never had to worry about physical infrastructure. 

On my team in New York, for instance, nearly half the team work from home one or two days per week. Several work remotely full-time. 

As long as the professional deliverables are being met, I don’t feel the need to be “traditional” about working hours or working location. I’m about helping people do the best work of their lives; it helps them, their families, and the company. 

The author @ the annual XeroconCredit: Xero
The author @ the annual Xerocon

Meaningful career progression 

Speaking of growth, it’s heartening to be able to say our employees are often looking for a career - not just a job. We have worked hard to create a global organisation that encourages mobility and provides a career path for people who want to stay at the company for the next five to 10 years or more. 

Many of our employees have taken advantage of the ability to move away from New Zealand as a chance to experience the world or to develop their careers. The-Wellington-to-London journey, for instance, is quite popular. 

Mobility exists in different forms - whether it’s moving from customer support into product development or taking the opportunity to explore the world and using your career as a platform to do that. 

As we know, many young New Zealanders like to live abroad at some point. With offices in eight countries, there’s opportunities for whatever you’re looking for. 

Some go abroad and stay abroad, and some come back. We’re tackling so many interesting problems that when our employees go abroad, they want to continue working with us. 

And of course, we offer the “table-stakes” corporate perks of tech firms - from remote and flexible working, to extra employee leave, standing desks, and DIY in-office espresso machines. 

It’s important for all the boxes to be ticked when it comes to business culture - mobility, growth, professional and personal development. 

After all, you’re not going to stick around just for the excellent coffee. 

Credit: Dreamstime

Craig Walker is founding CTO and executive GM payments and billing at Xero

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