The Company is Not the Building

Today is the first day I’ve set foot GlobalLogic’s Silicon Valley headquarters building since the lock-down started in early March.

For the last four-and-a-half months, like many of us, I’ve been working from home. While I live in a suburb less than 15 miles / 25 km from the office, it seems like a different world. We haven’t re-opened the office yet, but today I went in to pick up a much anticipated new laptop. I could have had it mailed to me, but honestly I was curious about the office and—hard-core techy that I am—I didn’t want to wait the extra day it would take get my new machine through the post.

When I arrived at headquarters, the parking lot was deserted and the much-coveted parking spaces in front of the main entrance were all vacant. I didn’t need to worry about social distancing in the elevator because I was the only one IN the elevator—or in the building lobby, for that matter. When I got to the floor where our reception desk is located, I was eagerly greeted by our receptionist who was one of only two people in the entire office that day. The other was the IT person who received and had done his IT magic on my new laptop.

The only reason these two people were in the office is to receive physical things and forward them on. The receptionist receives physical packages from FedEx and other delivery services that are addressed to the office, and forwards these on to the relevant person. The IT person receives incoming hardware, configures it, and sends it on to the user. He told me that he could do this from home, but it was a big hassle to change the delivery point on our corporate accounts so he just comes in a few hours a day. He said that social distancing was not a problem with two people in an office environment that can accommodate hundreds.

It was eerie being in a place where so much of importance has happened, and seeing hardly any people. Our CEO and the rest of the executive team all have their offices near my own, but no one was there. My office was exactly the way I left it in March, with Perrier bottles still on my desk waiting to be consumed, and a clutter of post-it notes waiting to remind me of things to do. With no disrespect intended to our Ukrainian colleagues, my first thought was that this looked like Chernobyl without the dust: like everyone just dropped what they were doing, and left.

And, in fact, that is exactly what happened: when the lockdown order came we all just stayed home, between one day and the next. The office is as we left it in March; the only sign of habitation is it’s clearly been maintained and dusted by the custodial staff, because it’s stayed very clean.

Thriving in Isolation: Luck, Preparation, or Both?

When I talk to people about the impact of the lockdown on GlobalLogic they are surprised to hear that 93% of our staff was working from home within a week of the lockdown, and the 98% within two weeks.

We have not (knock on wood) missed a single deliverable; instead, we have been ramping up new projects. While we’re always conscious that we are NOT in control of the COVID situation and its ultimate outcome, we are also very thankful that we have been able to keep our people fully and productively employed, while also keeping our commitments to our clients—both old and new.

People have asked me how this is even remotely possible. Like most successes, I attribute our smooth and continuing operation during the previous 4.5 months of the lockdown to a combination of good planning, hard work, experience and luck.

While I was well aware of our disaster planning in general, I had no idea that we even had a “pandemic plan.” Sure enough, we did. I credit our Facilities, HR, Delivery and IT teams with surprising far-sightedness. Who among us would have even conceived of a global pandemic causing a world-wide lock-down several years ago, when most of these disaster plans were created? I certainly would not have taken the idea seriously, even as late as this January, and I’m generally not accused of a lack of imagination.

Advantage #1: Held to High Standards

One “luck” part of this preparedness comes from the fact that we do mission-critical work for very large, very sophisticated global customers who hold us (GlobalLogic) to a very high standard. Among other areas (security being another notable one), they review and test our disaster response regularly, as part of their own disaster preparedness. Our plans were therefore vetted and informed by the “best of the best” in the software industry and, thank goodness, when push came to shove they actually worked.

 

Advantage #2: Globally Distributed

The nature of our business is another area where we got “lucky.” We are a global software business; we operate and do software development work in multiple countries and multiple time zones routinely. This means that collaboration between distributed teams was already part our DNA; it’s not something we had to learn post-COVID.

Also, a bit less obviously, nearly all of our engineers have always needed to be able to take calls and work from home during “off hours” in their local time zones. This is because of global time zones; nothing to do with COVID. When it’s 9am on the US West Coast, it is 9:30pm or 10:30pm in India, and 7pm in Eastern Europe—so an engineer will often take meetings from home when collaborating with colleagues and clients in the US. Even within the US, distributed meetings and working are common.

The upshot of being globally distributed is that all of our management team and nearly all of our engineers already had the ability to work from home—in fact, to work from anywhere, as frequent travel is also part of being a global business. We were therefore “lucky” in the sense that our business already acted like a globally distributed entity pre-COVID. What COVID did for us was cut off our other alternatives—physical meetings and travel were now out. But working distributed ‘from anywhere’ was something we were used to from long experience, so we were able to continue working in what to us was already a normal fashion.

 

Advantage #3: Previous Experience with Global Crises

While I would in no way frame it as “luck,” we also learned from our experience with the Russian incursions into Ukraine in 2014. While, again, we did not miss any deliverables out of our Eastern European centers during the 2014 crisis, we faced at that time the very real prospect of disaster overtaking our Ukrainian development centers. We formulated and rapidly implemented a robust disaster mitigation strategy for geopolitical risk first in Ukraine, and then in our centers world-wide. This included equipping engineers with laptops and the ability to work remotely even when not required for their day-to-day work, among other measures. Many of the measures we took to mitigate geopolitical risk are helping us today in our pandemic response by enabling decentralized work.

Advantage #4: Up-to-Date Infrastructure

Another piece of ‘luck’—though hats off to the IT people who made it happen—is that we’ve kept up-to-date with our infrastructure. We migrated all our productivity and software tools infrastructure into the cloud many years ago, except for a handful of legacy systems that are hosted and remotely administered. This move had nothing to do with COVID, but we are certainly reaping the benefits now. When I talked with our IT guy in the office this morning, he actually had no need to be there to manage any physical servers. Except for receiving physical shipments of laptops in the mail, he had no need to be physically in the office at all.

While a very large portion of our software development work is done in the cloud or with remote web-based tools, GlobalLogic also does work on physical devices: cars, medical equipment, communications equipment and the like. We also have some designers and content engineers who need special equipment—such as very large monitors—for their jobs. For those systems that cannot be accessed remotely, in most cases we were able (with the client’s permission) to relocate this specialized equipment into people’s homes. While I haven’t seen it, I’m pretty sure a number of our embedded engineers have the ‘infotainment’ systems of upcoming car models parked on their dining room tables. Kudos to the engineers and families who are hosting physical equipment in their apartments or homes during the lock-down. Those of us, like myself, who deal mainly with virtual systems have it much easier.

 

We’re All In This Together

The ‘hard work’ part of GlobalLogic’s successful response to the last 4.5 months of the COVID crisis has come from all of us together—both GlobalLogic employees and our clients. Our whole business model relies on client intimacy, and on the Client and GlobalLogic acting as a single team. I personally have been working as closely with clients throughout the whole crisis as I ever have—though virtually for the moment, of course. So has just about everyone in GlobalLogic. Without exception, these client interactions have been terrific. Whether we are badged as a GlobalLogic employee or a client employee, we all know that we are in this together. It’s part of our DNA to see our client’s success as GlobalLogic’s success, and I get the sense most clients see GlobalLogic’s successful response to COVID as key to their own as well.

Returning to GlobalLogic’s almost empty Silicon Valley headquarters today shook me a little bit. Seeing the empty offices of the people I work with every day, our executives and staff, was unnerving. But I exchanged messages with our CEO just yesterday. I interacted with much of the rest of the executive team, and a number of engineers and other leaders, multiple times this week. I interact with my admin, Jackie, multiple times a day. And I’m working with clients just as closely (virtually) as I ever have. True, I’m not sitting next to them—but we’re still connected.

It struck me very strongly that GlobalLogic is not a physical place; it’s not our headquarters in Silicon Valley or the dozens of buildings we occupy around the world. It’s the relationships and collaboration we have with each other, and with our clients. Those are as strong as ever, even as the buildings stand empty.

Dr. Jim Walsh

Author

Dr. Jim Walsh

CTO

View all Articles