Consulting After the Pandemic (#320)

This episode discusses how consulting has changed after the pandemic. In other words, after the pandemic, do you really have to go back on the road to be a consultant? It depends on the situation. It will probably require somewhat less travel, but generally speaking, consultants need to be on the road. There are some good reasons for this.

Let’s start with consulting partners. They need to be on the road. Period. The number one responsibility of a consulting partner is to drum up more business, because – unlike auditing – consulting projects are not recurring. Once a project is completed, it’s not coming back. This means that partners have to be constantly networking, which means meeting with people. In person. And on top of that, someone who is about to spend millions on a consulting project is more likely to award the job to someone that he has a personal connection with, which – again – supports the need for partners to be on the road, meeting people. All the time.

The need to be on the road also depends on the type of project. For example, if you’re dealing with a technical issue, such as installing software for a client, that doesn’t necessarily require a lot of direct interaction with the client. It still requires some interaction, such as when you need to talk to them about how they want to configure the software. So in this case, you might be able to do the bulk of the work remotely, just using Zoom or Skype calls. Though, realistically, some time will still be needed on site.

And then we have change management projects. Consultants get called in a lot to work client employees through all sorts of transitions. For example, consultants might be brought in to overhaul a process, which means interviewing people to see how the current system works, and then going through brainstorming sessions to find a better way, and then implementing the new system. Or, a client might be conducting a large layoff, and needs consultants on-site to figure out how to reallocate the work among the people who are left.

In these cases, the work needs to be entirely in front of client employees, every day. I don’t really see how much of this work can be shifted off-site.

And then we have benchmarking and best practices consulting. These projects are focused on making client operations better. They involve going on site and measuring how well a targeted operation works, and then comparing it to performance benchmarks from some other best-in-class company. In this case, the work is intensively hands-on. Opportunities for off-site consulting would be few and far between.

There’s also controls consulting. This involves going through processes in detail, figuring out where controls are installed, how well those controls are working, and whether more controls should be added. This work can only be done on site. There’s just no way to see if a control is working properly when you’re parked on the other end of a Zoom call.

The impression I’m trying to convey here is that consulting is intended to be on-site. Yes, there are some limited technical situations where you might be able to do some work from home, but for most consultants, it means travelling to the client to help them at their location.

Realistically, the only consulting positions that will be able to mostly avoid travel will be low-level staff positions that are highly technical. This is really a support role, so if you want to advance into a managerial position, then expect to be sitting on airplanes and sleeping in hotel rooms – a lot. I really don’t see the pandemic changing the situation. This is just the nature of consulting.