Changes to Consulting

How COVID-19 disrupted an entire industry

Since the world went into lockdown in March 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to identify an industry or profession that wasn’t profoundly affected. Whether it was closures, restricted hours, work-from-home rules, or changes to how businesses and services interacted with customers, Covid changed everything.

I haven’t blogged about consulting life recently, so thought I would hone in on a few of the major changes I’ve seen happen over the last year (positive and negative), and try to predict what the future might look like as the world is opening up.

  1. No More Travel

This sucked for me. Going from traveling every single week from Monday to Thursday, to never leaving my apartment for work has been nothing but downside for me. I miss hotels, I miss airplanes, and I miss the change of scenery and the Thursday afternoon flights to help break up the week. While some consultants are slowly getting back to travel, say 1 day per week for important client meetings, it will likely never go back to how it was. This is understandable - clients realize we can deliver the same service without having to pay for our travel and expenses - but it still sucks.

  1. Pay Cut

This one may sound privileged, but with the cancelation of all travel came a significant increase in personal spending. I used to never buy groceries from Monday to Thursday, and every meal was covered on the road. While I’m more than happy to go grocery shopping now, and genuinely enjoy cooking and eating healthier than I would at restaurants when the tab is covered, it does add to my personal expenses without any increase in my personal income.

  1. Lifestyle gone, life may be back

We were famously told by partners (and fully believed ourselves) that consulting was never a job, but a lifestyle. And it was true. You were always on the road, and with that came the expectation to be fully committed to work during those 3.5 days away from your home. But with those late night emails and time-crunched presentations, came the rewards of high-end hotels, meeting people from all over the country every week, collaborating in conference rooms, and enjoying nice meals and fun nights out.

Conversely, many people hated all of the travel and the lifestyle aspects of the job. All the sexiness may be gone but it has opened the door for people who were looking for more predictability in the time spent in their home city or with their families. In particular, this may keep more rock-star women in the industry for longer, since staring at the idea of having a family under US maternity laws and then traveling 80% of the time must have seemed impossible at worst and unappealing at best.

  1. Flexibility

Like many jobs, cutting out commuting, work clothes, and the constraints of four office walls has its perks. I’ve gone for short runs, 3-5 miles, many times in the middle of the day which was unheard of when on the road or working from the office. It gives people the flexibility to cook food they actually want, take a 10-minute break for meditation or sit-ups or reading, or just walk around the block to grab some fresh air and Vitamin D. This is a huge win that I know industries beyond consulting have truly enjoyed.

  1. Online expectations

I was super surprised when I heard this one raised in a large corporate town hall, but then started to consider it more seriously and agree with some aspects of it. The idea is that when everyone is virtual, there’s more of an “invisible pressure” to always have that green check mark near your name, signaling you’re online and working hard - regardless of the time or day. While I think most of this can be solved with the elusive “don’t care what others think” mentality, it can be easier said than done.

Additionally, because the lack of travel, you’re no longer sitting 4 feet away from your co-worker where you can both look at each other at 8:30pm on a Wednesday and say: “let’s get this done by 9, then we’re logging off and going for dinner”.

It’s funny because today, when I want to message with a co-worker and I see their status is “away for 20 mins”, I think nothing of it. Yet in some sick double-standard way, I sometimes catch myself super paranoid of ever leaving my computer for 20 mins. So maybe the answer is to not judge yourself so hard, and know when you need a break versus when you’re ready to grind.

  1. City matters

When we were traveling 4 days per week, tons of people didn’t think twice about where they “lived”. They were often looking for the cheapest option, one they could easily fly in and out of, and then would “Alt Travel” - where you fly to a destination for Friday to Monday on the company’s dime rather than flying home for the weekend” - every weekend to travel the country as somewhat of a nomad. Now that travel is gone, people are considering how and with whom they’re spending their time. I’ve had colleagues move home, or move to that city they finally wanted to live in, and everywhere in between. It’s cool that consulting companies are an open book and let you live anywhere in the country, the hard part is making the choice.

Conclusion

In the grand scheme of things, not much changed in my actual work. I’ve been lucky through the pandemic to be part of a business and industry (healthcare) that not only was affected, but actually thrived, throughout the pandemic. That means we’re in demand and there hasn’t been much risk of “cuts”. However, with the lifestyle aspects of the job taken away, you’re left with nothing but the work that you’re tasked with. You often don’t even get to appreciate the people you work with anymore. Sure you’re in meetings with them all the time, but you don’t get to work through problems on a whiteboard in a team room, and you no longer get to enjoy a nice meal with them.

It’s a great eye-opener and chance to reflect on the work I’ve been doing and whether it, and it alone, is fulfilling. I think there’s something there, but it takes some time to understand it fully.

Thanks for reading.

Mike