Starting a new consulting project or joining a new project team is daunting at the best of times but many of our consultants are trying to do just that, plus make a good first impression during a global pandemic and lockdown.
We have had a number of consultants start new projects “from home” over the last few weeks’ so we took the opportunity of asking them about their top tips and lessons learned so they could hit the ground running on a virtual consulting team.
Martin, who started a new consulting project through B2E during the week that Boris Johnson announced the UK-wide lockdown suggested the following useful tips:
- Set up 30 mins video intro sessions with key stakeholders and colleagues
- Set out clear expectations with your direct reports
- Have regular catch up sessions to track progress
- Ask for video training sessions
- Expect everything to take longer
- Take the opportunity to learn new skills if your opportunity provides them
- Having the right tech is a must.
These ideas from Martin are a great starting point. The best way to overcome the challenges of working remotely on a new project could be grouped into: Creating a “Consulting-Friendly” Workspace; Maximising Structure; Communicating Effectively; Optimising Technology and Being Flexible. Let’s go through these…
Creating a “Consulting-Friendly” Workspace
- Where possible, create a dedicated office ‘room’ at home with a door, to minimize interruptions and extraneous distractions.
- Also consider the ergonomics – you may need to work from home on this project for some time and many hours a day, so make sure your seat is comfortable and that your screen and keyboard are at the right height.
- Work set times in your home office and take set breaks. The more structured and formalised it becomes the more it will feel like regular working/consulting and not “working from home”.
- Taking breaks is essential for your mental well-being and subsequent productivity. Stagger these throughout the day and consider getting outside at the end of the day when you finish work to get some air.
“Laptop stands are very useful and can bring the webcam to a more flattering height!”, said another consultant.
- Work with your client to set up a structured induction schedule with plenty of video calls with fellow team members and important stakeholders within the first couple of weeks.
- Take time to read any documents thoroughly in advance of your calls and meetings.
- Keep people updated regularly on your availability. The “Shifts” functionality within Microsoft Teams is great way to indicate when you are available.
- When on video calls make sure that you are dressed appropriately and have a suitably plain / professional background.
All of the consultants we interviewed for this article remarked that “Everything takes longer”. In normal times at a client site, you’d be able to ask a quick follow up question after a meeting – you may now have to write an email or message, which may not get picked up immediately or may be sent to the wrong person to answer. In a real world situation you’d find the answer very quickly but in a virtual world, every small question becomes a much larger hurdle. So quick, instant communications on Chat Apps like Teams and What’s App are extremely important in this new virtual world.
Regular catch ups with your main client are more important on a remote consulting project. They should initially be set at the end of every day, moving to weekly, and then Business As Usual. Open, constructive and honest communication is important from both sides at all times. There’s a lot to be discussed and imparted.
- Make sure you are extremely clear on your deliverables and the client expectations -focus particularly on agreeing outcomes (as well as “ways of working”) with your client.
- Check in regularly with your client and your team – maybe even more regularly than you would in an office environment.
- Use quick instant communications/messaging when you need an immediate answer but also pick up the phone!
- As a team leader/ project manager consider setting up social zoom calls periodically to replace the “end of week drink”.
Will is a Finance Modeller who started a consulting project remotely for a B2E client during the lockdown. He advises, “Video conferencing on the whole is a lot better than I thought it would be. Attend virtual meetings even if they are marginally relevant, you can always do other work in the background.”
Technology really is one of the key enablers here…
- If you have a new consultant joining your team, we recommend planning ahead to make sure all necessary hardware is delivered before they are due to start. Ensure everything is tested and in place a few days before their start date. Factor in time for hardware to travel from the vendor to IT before deployment to your new consultant. The last thing you want is your consultant spending their first few days in the job going backwards and forwards with your IT team, setting up equipment and troubleshooting issues.
- Reliable broadband is essential – make sure your home WIFI is reliable and secure.
- Assuming you are already armed with a laptop or PC, then it is useful to ensure you have all of the state of the art apps in your armoury for virtual consulting:
- Microsoft Teams – for chat and discussions and to “feel connected”
- OneNote – for note-taking and to capture ideas and information in different digital format
- OneDrive – to share files and documents easily
- DocuSign – to speed up and automate contracts and official documents
- Google Meet, Zoom & Facetime – video calls will be key when you are working at home.
Which particular software and apps you use will of course be guided by the client but maybe they will be open to new technology solution ideas from you.
Indeed one of our consultants Liz, who is currently working in the Energy sector, has the following suggestions to hit the ground running…“Be flexible in your approach, when you are onboarded with a new client remotely you won’t have the easy in-office updates. Ask questions and define a check list of what you need to do to get systems and applications access.”
Although it’s important to structure your day, you may find it’s also beneficial to be more flexible with your time when working on a new project from home.
- Be honest with yourself and your client – do you have home schooling commitments, can your dog bark and interrupt you when you are working from home? Do you therefore need to do some work outside core-hours / have a longer lunch break to feed the family? In the current environment clients are very understanding of these challenges so long as they are communicated and managed appropriately.
- Free your diary and be open to video calls whenever the key stakeholders are available to talk to you.
- Be aware – you won’t get quick answers to questions. Perseverance pays!
At one of our large consumer electronics clients, several consultants have joined the team during Lockdown. Shailesh says, “Be patient as you set yourself up to work for a new client – and also be more flexible with your time.”
Think about your visibility. When you’re working from home it’s easy to ‘slip off the radar’. Think about which senior clients would benefit from knowing about what you’re working on and send them a brief update. Ask if you can dial into another team’s meeting so you can keep up to date with their activities and concerns if they have an impact on your project too.
Finally, if you are starting a new consulting project from home in the middle of a global pandemic and it seems a little daunting then consider the plight of our consultant Will who several years ago met a brand new client on Day 1 of his consulting project at Manchester airport and then had to fly straight to Moscow to close a deal… Consulting from home may seem easy in comparison!