Consulting During COVID: A Worldwide Crisis Calling for Change
Updated: Sep 8
COVID-19 has been a presence in our lives for almost 2 years. From work, to education, to our social lives, it’s truly altered our modes of communication and transportation to something that would’ve been unrecognizable to our 2018 selves. Some might say these changes have been a heavy hindrance, others might say that it’s been a nice change from the perpetual hustle and bustle of rigorous work life. Either way, immense adaptation has been required. The operations of the ever-active world are not fixed variables. So, adaptation and change in a worldwide crisis are essential.
Within the consulting industry, changes have been needed to ensure strong client-consultant relationships can be maintained as if in a pre-COVID era. But what has needed to change when we're all fully working from home? And are these changes sustainable?
Consulting During COVID - Action Plans:
Just as action plans may be in place for fire or evacuation drills, a COVID-specific plan will become a necessary addition to firms. Creating a plan is necessary to be flexible, open to changing circumstances and ensure that a workplace health and safety (WHS) management system is in place. This plan may include workplace capacity volumes, working from home mandates or allowing client interactions to happen in person whilst other meetings occur virtually.
But with work at home conditions, consultants are unable to network or learn effectively as done previously, especially where work from home flexibility has been taken advantage of. These opportunities have drastically decreased and in a competitive market, where connections are imperative, which can be as detrimental to gaining promotions and other opportunities as outlined by former PwC partner Jon Williams. Although greater flexibility is possible via working from home, it does come at a cost if misused.
Technology has always been a vital factor in consultant operations, but it’s really stepped to the foreground during the pandemic. In a market where demand is constantly growing for consultants to provide their problem-solving skills to corporations, the aim here is to adapt professional standards to the virtual workplace - through our beloved Zoom calls and telecommunications.
Videoconferencing and phone communications are not new by any means. They were once a choice amidst many forms of face-to-face interactions. Yet the new ‘normal’ of video conferencing, which is no longer a choice, has predominated the communication sphere. Here, it is important to strengthen client relationships and client management systems (CRM/CMS) to identify the best technological means that works on both ends. For some, it might be their first time working virtually so the technology used should be convenient for everyone.
Crystal Clear Communication:
On one front, communication must be crystal clear between client and consultant, but even within consulting teams it is vital. In high intensity situations where high performing teams require quick responses, efficient working procedures and effective leadership strategies, communication could not be any more important.
Now, when working from home, external factors like home life with children or noisy roadside construction have been intergrated into the workplace. These distractions can intercede the communication processes which disallow for work to be efficiently completed in various time constraints. It’s as though home and work life have blended into one, rather than being separated. Moreover, where these barriers are blurred, the idea of connectivity, which at first seems positive, can become unhealthy if you're glued to your screen 24/7.
Are all these changes sustainable in the long-term?
Rather than conducting business only virtually, a more sustainable long-term solution would be to have a hybrid between the two, with these implemented changes – and, of course, all while being COVID. Unfortunately, at this time a hybrid system seems like wishful thinking but as vaccination rates increase on a national scale this is something that can be considered. Accenture’s Head of Strategy & Consulting, Louise May has voiced support for the virtual-in person model. May's reasoning stems from the difficulty in "interacting with clients and solving problems" within a virtual space. Furthermore, the ability to learn from others through observation and action are integral to developing foundational personal, workplace and consulting skills.
That being said, working virtually allows for unprecedented flexibility, which has enabled resources to be accessible outside the office and has created new means of communication. With our limited knowledge about the pandemic’s circumstances, if we are forced to be fully online for prolonged periods of time, at least we have constantly evolving technologies to support us.
While for now, we are all confined to the four walls of our homes, a long-term sustainable plan that includes part face-to-face work, and part virtual work is something that consultancy can look forward to in the future.
“The pandemic is not eliminated, and it can rear its ugly head again…and that is because recovery will not be a linear move from health to economic. It will be a policy dance of sorts, carefully balancing economic cost with health risks.”
How has working from home impacted your consulting projects?
Written by Evie Filippis