In conversation with Udemy

An interview with Kim Alpert, Director of Workplace and Real Estate & Yvonne Jacob, Workplace Partner from our recently completed office project, Udemy.

We recently collaborated with online teaching and learning platform, Udemy, for the design and fit-out of its new European Headquarters in Dublin. Located in the iconic Windmill Lane, our design was a response to the heritage of the physical surroundings whilst expressing the Udemy brand and fostering their community values within the design.

Their new headquarters are spread over circa 15,100 square feet in Number 2 Windmill Lane, previously home to U2’s recording studios and where many a legend laid down some serious sounds.

Leading the project for Udemy was Kim Alpert, Director of Workplace and Real Estate. Having worked cross-sector in real estate transactions, construction and design, Kim has managed a number of large office relocations for a number of high-profile multinational companies.

In Dublin, Kim had the support of Dublin based Yvonne Jacob. As Workplace Partner with Udemy Dublin, Yvonne maintained a relentless drive to deliver a project that would address all the requirements of their ever-growing team.

We were very lucky to have the opportunity to ask both ladies their thoughts on their sector and its ever-evolving landscape, how they are addressing the design requirements for each of their teams, how are they creating a positive remote workplace and about looking forward to the future and working together in their shared space again.

What prompted you both to work in the Real Estate and Workplace sector?

Yvonne – Workplace & Real Estate has been a great area to operate in. To be at every stage of a new office build out is challenging yet exciting and to create a working space that fellow employees are happy with is the icing on the cake for me. The workplace is a great opportunity to show who we are as a company and our culture for everyone that walks through our doors!

Kim – My passion for office expansion began in New York where I executed my first office move. I decided then that I didn’t want to simply carry out relocations, but be part of/manage the process from site location and strategy to office open and I’ve never looked back. The 2WML endeavor was a unique experience for me as I had just joined Udemy (September of 2019) and the project was already close to the finish line thanks to Yvonne! The ask of me was to help bring all the pieces together from budget and planning to design and logistics. 3 trips to Dublin later, we were celebrating the opening of a fabulous new space for our Ireland folks!

Describe a typical day in the remote office and how it differs, if at all, from your office-based days?

Yvonne – Working from home has definitely taught me to be better about balance. When your workplace is also your living space it is so easy for both to blend and not switch off. Mental health is especially important during this time so I make sure to carve out time each day to focus on this. A lot of my focus then is to make sure to check in with people regularly, keep connected with our vendors, host culture crew events and prepare for what the return to office will look like.

Kim – Like Yvonne, I’m an extrovert and tend to be more productive and am fueled being around people (most of the time!). Suddenly being home for weeks straight was a big shift because it wasn’t just working from home, but also being quarantined so having no choices to go socialize or take care of things. Finding the balance between working, not working, suddenly homeschooling 2 kids (in 2 different schools!), personal wellness, managing a team remotely, etc. is an ongoing challenge but I’m motivated not only by the great company and team I work with, but also knowing that we’re doing this for a global reason and there is an end in sight.

What are the biggest challenges you are finding in your role right now and how do you address them?

Yvonne – Thankfully I have not experienced any major challenges besides not being able to go to our new office 🙂 Obviously there has been finding a different way to operate and how we do things however each challenge that has cropped up we are surrounded by team and overall company support and this has been amazing to have.

Kim – it’s certainly a challenge to manage a global team of employees whose primary responsibilities are workplace-based and ensuring they stay engaged and feel valued. First and foremost, my focus is the wellbeing of my team and we do weekly check-ins as well as 1:1s so we all stay connected. Beyond that, I think my biggest challenges are yet to come as we begin planning for lightened restrictions around the globe and what the return to our workplaces will look like and how things will change going forward. The workplace is at the forefront of this planning and I take that responsibility very seriously.

We see lots of positive and inspiring Udemy stories coming through on social media, of Udemy teams managing to maintain comradery through these challenging times. How are you managing to nurture the Udemy culture through the use of technology through these times?

Yvonne – I think it is really important to have an established culture crew (group of people dedicated to embody the Udemy culture) and a great team to keep people motivated. Through our Culture Crew and individual team efforts we have definitely seen some amazing and creative events happening to keep everyone connected such as our Virtual Pet Happy Hour, twinning competition, cooking challenges etc. Zoom has definitely been well utilised to keep us all connected and in some ways we are more connected with people globally than we have been before.

Kim – Yvonne has really been the champion of this! She inspires me to get involved with group challenges, happy hours and to generally stay in better touch with my fellow Udemates. Our People Team leader is great about coming up with challenges for the global HR team to participate in together (i.e. a dance competition, craft challenge, guess the baby picture challenge, etc.) which has gone a long way in all of us not only staying connected but helping us get to know each other more in a way we may not ever have working right next to each other in the office! I’m super proud of the way Udemy has kept everyone connected and inspired during this time.

Aside from one another, what are the teams missing most from their office spaces?

Yvonne – Definitely the Kitchen and Ping Pong. These have been well missed by everyone!

Kim – I miss finding a sofa to sit on to work and people watching/chatting with folks as they go by. I think we all miss the little things we used to take for granted like saying good morning or getting a cup of coffee in the kitchen while catching up with someone doing the same. I have a feeling/hope we’ll be much more appreciative of this and each other when we’re able to be together again.

Whilst each of Udemy’s offices globally has a different focus, do you see any cultural differences between offices and does this result in differing design challenges depending on the geographical location of the office and their teams?

Yvonne – Every individual is a culture add, one of our values is about being earnestly authentic. It is truly amazing to be able to be ourselves and be able to add to the company where we can learn from each individual with our various backgrounds and experiences.

Kim – I think each office has its own unique personality contrasted with some elements that are consistently woven into each which is ideal. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to space or people – while Udemy values and culture are consistent throughout, the teams and their locations are vastly different and diverse which is what makes Udemy such a great place to work.

What are the top tricks in the Udemy space you use to encourage productivity?

Yvonne – Creating an office environment that encourages collaborative and open dialogue. Being able to listen to the needs of your colleagues and do what you can to accommodate if possible. We also for the first time in our new space included a basic recording studio which is a great opportunity (when we return) to eat our own chocolate and create courses.

Kim – Certainly adding more conference rooms/booths/huddle rooms in any of our spaces is going to increase productivity in this meeting-intensive culture. However, adding lots of elements of breakaway and collaborative (and fun!) spaces also encourage more conversations and productivity. And of course, the kitchen is the heart of any home and our offices are no exception to this! Each office has a unique canteen space that usually doubles as an all-hands and a place where the family comes together to eat, celebrate wins and discuss challenges. This is a super important element for us.

Can you give us an overview of Udemy’s philosophy and approach toward sustainability?

Yvonne – We had made a conscious effort to massively reduce plastic on the move to our new office, changing how we operate snacking, catering etc. We also have a cleaning company that operates using environmentally sound products for the space. We took away bins from each pod encouraging employees to separate waste.

Kim – I think this answer is different in every office and depends on the local governance as well as the building’s policies. Wherever possible, as Yvonne notes, we make every effort to promote and maintain environmentally sound practices.

What do you feel will be the key issue affecting the way offices operate in the coming years?

Yvonne – We are definitely now looking at what that will look like in future, it will be a new world we will go back to and how that looks like for office operation is still something we are brainstorming on. Right now we are definitely not in a rush to race back and want to make sure that what we plan for the office return is safe for employees and communicated widely.

Kim – I think the answer to this would’ve been very different a few months ago. Prior to the pandemic, it was all growth, expansion, hiring projections per city, etc. Now our focus is on making sure our workforce is healthy and feels comfortable in their work environment. Does this mean hiring more remote employees? Shifting to a more WFH-friendly environment while offering plenty of room for folks who choose to work onsite? These are the questions and challenges we’re facing. Because there’s no precedent or historical data for us to refer to, leaders are figuring out as we go and what things look like 6 months from now may not be at all what they are 12-18 months out. A great learning opportunity to be sure, but also a challenging one.

And on a lighter note, what do you find to be the most rewarding and enjoyable part of your job?

Yvonne – I am a people pleaser so once there is a happy office that is all I want! I love that my job connects me to every department across Udemy and has enabled me to get to know everyone on some level 🙂

Kim – Yvonne and I are very similar in a lot of ways, mostly pertaining to how we look at work challenges and our shared passion for all things workplace and expansion (I have referred to her as the younger version of me on more than one occasion!). I also am a people pleaser (I’m not really sure how or why you would choose a career in Workplace if that wasn’t the case!) but in my line of work I have also had to find the delicate balance between wanting to make people happy and needing to say no at times. It’s the moments when what they want align with what you can provide that make it all worth it! I really look forward to the time when I can travel to our offices again, see my teammates and the beautiful offices we have and/or are building – especially Dublin, I miss it there already!

And that’s it folks from Yvonne (left) and Kim (Right)!