Consulting is a Contact Sport
Modern technology makes it easy for workers to get things done away from the office. But as the contingent workforce swells into the tens of millions of professionals, many independent consultants are faced with the question of where they should ideally do their work. The short answer: the client site.
The lure of the remote workplace is understandable. What consultant wants to waste time commuting when they can be working? There have been studies suggesting that, despite the perception of lazy telecommuters in slippers and robes, remote workers can provide increased efficiency and productivity over their office-bound cohorts.
Consulting is a Contact Sport
But…just because you can work remotely doesn’t mean you should.
Effective consulting engagements are first and foremost relationships, and the quality of the personal connection has a direct effect on the quality of the project output. It follows then, that good things happen when people are present – physically and intellectually.
Generally speaking, high-value consultants are “people” people. That is, they thrive on personal interaction with clients, rather than working in isolation. As effective as remote technologies can be, they can’t replace face time for delivering on these interactions.
When onsite, a consultant can more effectively observe and leverage the workplace dynamics. They can see in “3-D” which work styles fit best and deliver the greatest results. While some of this can be conducted remotely, face time is essential to capturing the complete texture of the work environment, including the all-important non-verbal cues.
In addition, consultants can establish their own work style while at an organization. This is important because you want to be seen as a real person with a real role on the team. Not some disembodied voice at the other end of the line. It’s a bit like online dating. The relationship can only go so far until everyone meets face to face.
Time spent at the company makes it possible to conduct more effective ad hoc meetings. These quick, informal get-togethers can be an opportunity to test and share ideas.
Accordingly, the independent consultant should always strive to be physically present at the client company. This is particularly true in the following circumstances:
When a fast turnaround is required — Fast turnaround typically requires more face time to shorten the development cycle.
When working in small teams—Smaller groups tend to be more relationship-driven and, therefore, benefit from face time. Even in larger meetings, a consultant should make every effort to be present to enhance his/her personal capital.
During periods of high collaboration—High levels of collaboration generally benefit from more face time because of the potential for ad hoc meetings.
When there are a large number of tasks involved—If the project requires the management of many tasks (or people), face time can help the consultant more effectively “ride herd”.
Of course, while it’s best to be onsite every day, realistically it may not be feasible due to travel or scheduling conflicts or the dispersed locations of the project team. In those instances, working remotely may be the only way to deliver certain skills to a decentralized group. Fortunately, today’s collaboration tools can be used to afford the consultant a virtual presence, but they should be used only occasionally and not viewed as a permanent replacement for in-person interaction.
Bottom line: as the workplace continues to evolve so will the question of where to work. Ultimately, it’s people interacting with people that gets the job done. Thus, independent consultants should work at the client site whenever possible. After all, consulting is a contact sport.
The complete white paper is available to download at M Squared.