Cassandra knows better than anyone that a crucial aspect of a well-oiled production team is the workplace environment itself! As the Workplace Team Lead, her team empowers everyone at the studio to be their authentic selves and do their best work by ensuring an enriching, safe and inclusive work environment for all. She now reflects on her career journey and shares her thoughts on the importance of the UbiProud ERG, and diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry.
Hey Cass, tell us more about what do you do as a Workplace Team Lead? Oh, and what’s your favourite thing about your role?
The Toronto Workplace team serves a wide array of functions that supports and provides an enriching experience for employees by creating a comfortable, engaging and safe work environment. As team lead, I ensure that our team has the resources required to achieve various projects including employee services, studio improvement projects, health & safety, and sustainable initiatives.
What I enjoy most about my role is the variety of different projects. I always feel challenged when embarking on an innovative task, inspired by the talented folks around me, and supported by my incredible team. I relish knowing that every day is different, and I absolutely love working with our historic building and collaborating with different teams and external vendors.
Can you describe the Operations team within Ubisoft?
The Operations department consists of three teams who work closely together: Procurement, Design and Workplace. The Workplace team supports employees in varying capacities, and they work with Design to improve and maintain the studio space which is approximately 150,000 sq/ft within a 100-year-old historic building this includes production areas, an in-house café and a motion capture studio. Working with a historic building has many challenges but our team has an appreciation for its unique characteristics.
What drew you to Ubisoft Toronto?
It’s hard to believe that it’s going to be six years here at UbiTO this October! As a lifelong gamer I have to say that Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia were some of my first loves. I’ve adored these brands since I was young, and I always got giddy when “nerding out” over video games (before they became popular as they are today)!
What did you do before working at Ubisoft Toronto?
From the RTA School of Media: Media Production program at TMU (Toronto Metropolian University), I landed an internship at the City of Toronto’s Special Events department. The valuable connections I made at city hall led to jobs stage-managing concerts and events at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre, Nuit Blanche, Pride Toronto and the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair.
In the meantime, I also worked in the restaurant service industry. One of my colleagues started working at Ubisoft and I loved learning about their work culture. Then, my partner and I quit our jobs at the time, went traveling internationally for 7 months and came back to the city jobless but determined to begin our professional careers. Ubisoft Toronto had an opening and here we are today! To grow up loving video games and finding a space to belong here is a dream come true.
What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on?
I am proud of the work I did project managing the construction of our in-studio café which is now operated by a beloved local business, Wallace Espresso. I enjoyed working with Dan (the owner) and our contractors to beautify the space and transform it into a social hub and an integral part of the studio experience. The café plays an important role in creating meaningful moments and fosters social connections and boosts productivity.
However, one of my favourite projects that I worked on recently was organizing the used hardware and furniture sale for our employees. All proceeds went to a local charity, and we were able to give all items a second home! The response to the sale was overwhelmingly positive so it was great to see that the Workplace and IT teams provided a service that was valuable to the studio and the community!
Ubisoft Toronto has shifted to a hybrid and flexible work model. This has led to some upgrades to our studio which the Operations team had a major hand in. Could you tell us more?
Our Workplace and Design teams have made improvements to the building to facilitate the future of flexible work and to foster a comfortable space where meaningful moments can transpire. We transformed areas to hybrid meeting rooms so that we can collaborate with team members around the globe, and we added focus rooms for employees who wish to work in a quite space. We also improved the acoustics and added comfortable furniture to many gathering areas. We are fortunate to have a space to host amazing events and to welcome guests from other studios to utilize shared desks anywhere in the studio.
What’s the biggest takeaway or lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
One of the key lessons I learned in my career is to always keep seeking knowledge and perspective from mentors, field experts, and colleagues. Working through challenges with others and receiving their advice has allowed me to grow within my role and learn so much more than I could alone.
Another big takeaway is to gravitate toward the type of work that makes you fiercely passionate. This will energize you to do your best work, forces you to be creative, and provides you with a strong sense of purpose.
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome in your career and how did you do it?
My biggest challenge so far has been moving into a people-managing role. Suddenly, I had to learn how to lead a team, set professional goals, delegate, motivate, and advocate. I’m extremely fortunate to already have an incredible team who were equally supportive while I learned to navigate these new responsibilities. This was a time when I leaned on the advice of my managers and sought an informal mentorship with an accomplished leader from another team to help me get through the initial challenges. I also conducted my own research on what makes a good leader and enrolled in internal courses available to Ubisoft employees to learn tactics that include conducting critical conversations, setting two-way feedback, and project management.
What is your first memory of the Ubisoft Toronto studio?
From the moment I stepped into the studio for my first interview, I felt electrified by how social and creative the space was. The Communications team is always planning the next best social event which fosters a deep camaraderie among colleagues. Also, there are dozens of employee-run clubs for all kinds of interests and hobbies.
What surprised you most when you joined Ubisoft Toronto?
I was and still am in awe of how people-centric the company is. The HR and Studio Leadership team put their employees’ well-being first. They offer a wide range of subsidies and support services along with flexible work arrangements and generous time off so that employees can bring their best selves to work.
What are Ubisoft Toronto’s strengths and what can we work on? What has changed for the better recently?
Ubisoft does a great job providing transparency on decisions and strategies made by studio leadership. Leaders are approachable, and they offer opportunities for employees to submit questions in advance or ask them during live company updates. I have been most impressed by the initiation of the Diversity & Inclusion team which has grown over the past few years. They have made such a positive impact on our work culture by mandating anti-harassment and discrimination training for all employees and by supporting our employee resource groups (ERG). There wasn’t a Diversity & Inclusion team or ERGs when I first joined the company so we have come a long way, there’s still more work to be done but the team is continuing their incredible work so I couldn’t be more optimistic for the future!
You’re part of our studio’s UbiProud ERG. For folks who aren’t familiar, can you share what the ERG is about and what it means to you?
Our UbiProud ERG is a supportive community of 2SLGBTQIA+ employees and allies who chat and meet regularly to discuss current issues and common interests, and under the current leadership of Gav Sarafian and Jonathan Pavan, they hold internal events such as guest speaker series, mixers, and more! I’m blown away by our ERG members who drive our group’s mission by passionately advocating for our community and creating awareness around our roots and queer history.
Can you share your experience as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in the video game industry?
I am extremely fortunate to be able to come to work as my authentic self and to be able to share the joy with my colleagues and allies. With the continuous backing of our ERG and the Diversity & Inclusion team, I feel that I am provided with a safe and respectful space to work in.
However, it is important for me to recognize that my experience and my privilege does not reflect the entire 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which is a rich community with different perspectives, experiences and challenges. Which is why the work that our ERG does is so important to ensure we are continuously working towards building a culture that is inclusive for everyone.
Have there been games with 2SLGBTQIA+ representation that have impacted you deeply/resonated with you?
One of my favourite games is The Last of Us 2. It’s incredible to see a big-budget, AAA game with a strong, queer main character as well as a trans character (also played by a trans actor). The developers took risks, and they lost and gained fans, but they told a story that was deeply resonating. Growing up, this kind of representation was non-existent so it’s an absolute delight to see more and more queer characters played authentically by queer actors in the media.
What are your hopes for the gaming industry in the near future in relation to representation, diversity and inclusiveness?
I hope to see more strong queer main characters of various representations from under the 2SLGBTQIA+ umbrella. I wish for them to be portrayed authentically and without the tragic ending that queer narratives have been oversaturated with. Queer characters are deserving of joy, hope and celebration!
What do you do to relax?
I have several ways to unwind some of which include cooking, reading, cycling through the city and taking advantage of the beautiful seasonal and climates of Canada. Cooking is a great way for me to release my creative pursuit, and I always have a book with me on the go. During the summer I go backcountry camping, and in the winter, I hit up the west coast or Quebec to snowboard.
People of Ubisoft Toronto is a series featuring studio members from a variety of projects and backgrounds as they share their experiences at our studio, perspective of the video game industry and, perhaps, even a sneak peek of what they’re working on!
Our studio values diversity and believes in embracing differences to build stronger and more creative teams. We welcome people who would like to join us and redefine the future of games. Visit our careers page for more information on open roles and how to apply. To know more about our studio members and culture, click here.