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With Covid-19 keeping jet-setting management consultants home-bound, I’ve managed to pin them down for a chat under lockdown. I’ve had some very interesting conversations around how working from home has affected their work, their relationships and their health and I was interested in their thoughts around if the future of consulting will look very different when we move out of lockdown.

The collective feeling is that that, mostly, consultants are really enjoying being at home but generally feel they are working harder to get the same results as before and are starting to feel less fulfilled in their work. This is down to the simple fact that human beings, whether in an Agile or more traditional process are just more efficient working in person, and Agile is centred around being able to work closely and in person with sprint teams. Many cited that the quick informal coffee meetings or hallway chats with clients are often the best way to really understand the underlying problems a business may have, and are missing the interaction. Instead conversations have moved to Zoom or Skype and many consultants are experiencing Zoom fatigue and teething problems with technology – such as clients using different digital platforms to the consulting firms or not being technically savvy.  Mostly, however, clients and consultants alike are quick to adapt but find interactions are just less enjoyable: web chats are being scheduled instead of an impromptu quick chats and this is resulting in longer and more formal conversations.

The most obvious downside highlighted by every consultant I spoke to was the inability to build deeper relationships with clients, especially new clients. The lack of small talk before and after meetings has made it harder to really connect the same way as they have been used to. Although their clients seem to welcome a quick call whenever needed, it just doesn’t seem to have the same impact.

Of course, the effect this is having on consultants’ personal lives has been enormous. Most love not doing the expected travel, and whilst they are still putting the same – if not more – hours in, they have swapped lengthy commutes and flights for exercise and family time. Although their frequent flyer points are suffering immensely, they are able to put their own kids to bed and read them bedtime stories. Their self care has improved, with sleeping more and eating home cooked food – well most are – some are still expensing Uber eats daily apparently. Their pets are wondering what is going on having never been walked by their humans so much in their lives. Generally, life is just better.

Some cited having their kids in the other room being really hard, and not for the reason I first expected… and yes there are stories of “zoom family bloopers” with cheeky toddlers running into the office at exactly the wrong moment, but mostly they are feeling guilt. Guilt for being present but not being present.

What the vast majority of the consultants I have been speaking to echo is that this unprecedented situation has given m a glimpse into what “normal” life could be like outside of consulting and many are liking what they are experiencing.  This could see a rise in consultants looking to make a move into industry roles in the coming months.

It’s clear that the top tier consulting firms, such as McKinsey, Bain & BCG, are extremely busy right now as they are being pulled into Covid response projects. Their leadership teams are trying to figure out how and if they need to change the way they operate moving forward – it is the hot topic of the moment. Do they move to a more flexible working culture meaning consultants can enjoy a more tangible work/life balance? Or do they return to the Monday morning 5am dash to the airport? Or something in between? Many feel there is a middle ground that needs to and can be reached.

Where do you sit on this topic, and do you think there is a happy medium? Let me know in the comments below.