Softvisioners’ Stories During the COVID-19 Crisis: Ioan Sighiartău

Ioan Sighiartău, DB Team Lead talks Virtual Pod life

We’ve all been there. Scouring the internet, page after page, looking online to book a nice place for our summer vacation. The photos are awesome: there’s a huge living room to hang out, the bedrooms are clean and spacious, the kitchen is equipped with everything a visitor may need. The pictures are almost a promise to elevate your vacation to the next level! Except, in reality, it’s not that at all. Upon arrival, the place is nothing like the photos. The living room photo was taken from an angle that makes it look way bigger than it is, the bedrooms have been photoshopped to look better and the kitchen is basic at most. What a bummer. I wonder how the next two weeks will be like…

Working from home has typically been advertised as a utopia and now, due to the current pandemic situation, Cognizant Softvision teams, much like the rest of the world,  have switched from working at studios to working from home. In what seems like an overnight switch, the world went from a very traditional model to trying to navigate working in this new “utopia.” Our traditional Pods transformed into Virtual Pods, and team members that typically access our global studios, are now working from home, prompting questions like, “What are the differences between the old vs the new way of working?” “Are Virtual Pods as efficient as the traditional Pods?” In a way, the world is left answering, is this utopia, really a utopia? Do the pictures really match the reality?

I took the liberty of googling the meaning of the word “virtual” and here are the results:

We can see from the get-go that some limitations are imposed, but limitations as a true professional, cannot affect quality and efficiency, so how can organizations and employees adjust in order to limit the limitations?

The following is my experience with just that: adjusting to make sure the Virtual output is just as good – if not better – than regular output, but it’s also about recognizing and adjusting to the differences being in a Virtual Pod brings.

The first and most visible difference between the traditional and the Virtual Pod is space dimension – office vs. home (virtual office). These can be very different.

Circling back to the utopian reference, most people initially think,  “Cool! You can work from your bed if you want, or from the couch.” That’s exactly what I did – at first. In my first three weeks of working from my virtual office, the couch was my chair and desk. Comfy, right in the living room, good lighting, everything was great. But as the days passed by, I could see two issues regarding my chosen working location. The first issue was I didn’t anticipate that the couch had little to no lumbar support – it’s just not set up to be ergonomically friendly. I tried to adjust by stuffing pillows under my back, but that didn’t do the trick. I started to miss my chair from the office and knew something had to be done. Secondly, there was the strange issue of having your work setup in the living room, meaning there is always the temptation of doing something more – replying to one more skype message, writing one more email, taking a look at another Jira ticket, etc. There needs to be a clear separation between the “working space” and the “relaxation/other stuff space” in the house. With that, I bought a new desk and a new chair and now I have a dedicated “work” space in the house, keeping the living room work free.

Another big difference when working from home is that there are no colleagues around. In a traditional Pod, we accentuate the importance of interaction between Pod members, but with Virtual Pods, there are limitations, yes, but they can easily be worked around and perfected. Communication is one of the keys to success in almost every circumstance that involves people, and with Virtual Pods, we ensure that we keep the communication flowing in an efficient way. Relying heavily on the communication apps that we have in place, our Pod uses Skype as the main communication channel. We created designated Skype groups for different purposes, such as a group for the entire Pod, a group for code reviewers, a group for interviewers, and even a spam group that allows us to detach a little bit from the seriousness of things, etc. Being in a virtual environment can be challenging because you miss out on that face-to-face time, but each meeting that we have is with the webcams on, so very little is missed. On Friday afternoons, we stop the work for half an hour, and we have a call with the entire Pod, webcams on, and ready to just chat about non-work-related stuff and drink a beverage of choice together. This helps to feel more connected to one another than just work colleagues.

The last big difference that I’ve seen working in a Virtual Pod is time. It’s true –  time is saved when working from home because there’s no travel distance to the office. As mentioned before though, working from home can sometimes negatively impact time if you don’t plan accordingly. When working from the office the schedule is clear: Eight hours of work plus a typical one-hour lunch break, and then you go home. When working from home the schedule can get messy, there’s always the temptation of doing something more and it’s easy to see a trend of working overtime.  Overtime, no boundaries – it’s just not something sustainable as it will result in burnout. 

Through all of the differences and the boundaries and the changes, working from home and in a Virtual Pod has given a constant keep the efficiency and quality of the project as high as before, without compromising personal lives. No goal can be monitored without clear objectives, without having some clear metrics tracked, but being successful in a virtual environment relies on more than just measuring output. That is why we, as a Pod, have in place different KPIs that monitor our performance on a weekly basis, and we go over them regularly so we can address in time any issues that might occur.

So, do the virtual pictures match the reality? Yes, I believe that working in a virtual environment doesn’t have to be misleading.  Working in a Virtual Pod or any environment takes discipline, but it can be successfully done and I believe working in a Virtual Pod can be just as efficient or even more efficient than working in a traditional Pod.