Having a consultant on site, as “part of the team,” may sound appealing, but is it the best choice for you? Is a consultant’s visibility only defined by his physical presence? We at Clemson Road Creative say, “No.”
Clients often say they believe consultants can get the pulse of the organization only if they’re onsite. Often, clients want consultants to feel like part of the team, to be familiar with the operation, and to be available for quick inquiries whenever they come up.
So, the traditional consultant engagement is sold with 50% onsite time. Which means outrageous travel costs billed to the client even when the work being done does not require onsite visits.
When the work is electronic – and a lot of it is – being on site offers few to zero advantages. Sitting side-by-side with earphones working quietly on laptops is hardly teamwork. However, the intangibles, consultants and clients agree, like teamwork and compassion and socialization occur when consultants are on site.
What do those intangibles really cost you, the client?
In the end of a project, very few evaluations name constant consultant presence as a positive aspect. They may, of course, blame consultants’ absence for failures, though. So to guard against the consultant-invisibility syndrome, consultancies over commit (50% onsite is overkill), wear their own people out, and run up costs for the client.
Let’s be reasonable about “onsite” time.
Many remote employees claim a higher level of productivity away from the office. Being present doesn’t mean you’re actually working, after all, and in groups one distraction can take four people off a task. Don’t agree? When was the last time someone brought a baby into your office? Or, placed doughnuts in the conference room? Or, tried to get any work done the day after the most controversial call in NFL history?
Keep in mind that 100% remote isn’t perfect either.
Let’s be honest about remote engagement for a moment. Many remote mechanisms are awkward at best and brutal at worst. Sitting around a table together for a videoconference, for example, can feel like a visit to the dentist that everyone is witnessing. And being on a webcam while your team simply nods and takes notes can feel like ESPN going to remote analysts with resting bitchface waiting for their chance to talk.
And yet, as our workforce is more and more decentralized and our consultants more experienced with technology, remote engagement via Google Hangouts, Skype, WebEx, and other platforms is not only inevitable, it’s going to become the way business gets done.
So get over the hump and accept it as the alternative to high travel costs. There are ways to gird your team against the annoyances of remote engagement. You know, the classic conference call faux pas.
Check out this Conference Call in Real Life video.
So, can a balance exist?
For starters, remember that the work is what matters. What’s being produced, how the project is moving forward, the changes that occur organically in your organization are measurable and will boost confidence in the project’s efforts.
Second, small group collaboration, pairs and trios, will limit the disruption of multiple connections and that annoying “Please mute your line” dialogue ever-present in remote group work.
Last, asynchronous work is your friend. When people are passing work back and forth and working in their own best, most productive hours and locations, they will communicate with patience and focus. In contrast, when asked to sit in on an annoying, busy conference call out of which they get nothing at their peak time for productivity, they will resent the activity and the organizer.
Don’t expect your consultants to be on site.
When they are, make the most of face-to-face interaction. Schedule onsite time thoughtfully so that every dollar you spend produces your consultant’s and team's best work. Free your consultant (and your FTEs) to work when and where it suits them and the productivity you get will far outpace the drudgery of daily attendance checks.