Diary Of A Consultant in Lockdown – Can We Continue Providing Our Services In These Extraordinary Times?

Consultant

In my first role as manager, my boss recommended occasional working from home.

Some reasons were obvious:

  1. Not being exhausted from getting up at the crack of dawn to get to the office
  2. Preserving a shred of sanity by not having to immerse yourself in the great-but-oh-so-crowded London Underground network
  3. Avoiding the million interruptions I used to get at my desk (admittedly my own fault, enabling behaviours and all that…)

At the time, for me it was nothing short of a complete culture shock. I had been working in rigidly structured environments up till then, and the ‘need’ to be present at the office was deeply ingrained in my way of thinking about work.

I quickly had to admit that the benefits were great, and over the years I have had countless conversations about the possibilities and the potential of remote working.

Colleagues and friends from assorted industries with a variety of backgrounds, family members, complete random strangers I happened to talk to at networking events, all vaguely agreed it would be the way forward for many roles, at some point, in the future…

Fast forward to March 2020 and that future turned up, kicked the door open and took residence in our lives. Oh, and it locked the front door behind itself for good measure!

Suddenly, whole industries (the lucky ones that could do it!) had to quickly adopt a new approach. Offices were shut, and that was that! No meetings, no workshops, no 1-1 in the cafeteria!

If there is one thing us humans are good at, its adapting; and consultants are certainly a special breed of human when it comes to adaptability.

After an initial (probably 5 seconds) discomfort, I noticed how all my colleagues at Mosaic Island had already started thinking about how we could continue providing our services to our clients; after all, our strapline is ‘Digital Business Transformation’, it would be ironic if WE were the ones unable to transform!

The first visible change was in internal interaction (taste your own medicine …), virtual contacts proliferated and I suddenly felt ten times more connected than when I was free to go out:

Social contacts and watercooler conversations also moved online, with weekly opportunities to connect with colleagues, even people I normally would not see because of being assigned to a specific client on site.

​​​​​​​The company quiz also moved online, with everyone (not only office-based colleagues) able to participate. An unspoken challenge to have an interesting background gave a somewhat interesting insight in people’s state of mind.

From the point of view of our services, aside from considering what the lockdown meant for our existing and prospective clients, we had to address a fundamental question: can consultancy, delivery assurance and architecture managed services be offered remotely?

At Mosaic Island, we are quite distinctive in the way we approach the services we provide to our customers. We pride ourselves on not simply replicating known templates across clients and industries. We get to know our clients, truly understand what they need and then we tailor our approach, which is, in my opinion, a key component in the way we do business. In this new reality, we will have to move this relationship building exercise online. Which may not sound easy (for us or for our customers), but it is definitely feasible!

Over the past weeks, colleagues and I have participated in online meetings, delivered presentations through different videoconferencing facilities, and even conducted a demo for one of our Architecture recommended tools remotely.

One member of the Mosaic Island Team also successfully overcame some initial challenges to set up an efficient remote on-boarding process for a couple of our larger clients. Working in collaboration with the client IT services, new associates were rapidly given all relevant access. Equipment was set up and then delivered by post or courier to the associate’s place of work (most likely, their front room!).

To increase the level of ‘connectedness’, colleagues have multiplied efforts to keep in contact with clients and associates, choosing phone and video calls over emails.

Hard as I might think, I could not come up with an activity that could not be conducted remotely by means of any of the widely available collaboration tools.

While technology as such does not appear to be a barrier to remote working and collaboration, I have been reflecting on how much consideration needs to be given to the human aspect of this way of operating.

Presenting in a room gives the presenter the ability to ‘read’ the audience. Body language can be interpreted to assess the level of engagement, which in turn gives you the opportunity to adjust to ensure participation and understanding. A remote meeting is frequently attended by people who will individually choose whether to utilise the video function, to have their camera switched off, or to simply ‘phone in’. The onus is on the presenter to redouble efforts to ensure the audience is engaged and that no one is forgotten or excluded.

I found that having a list of the participants and having a very high-tech paper and pencil on my desk where I can note who is contributing with questions/comments helps me to identify whether there is someone I need to make a bit more effort to reach out to.

I have also noticed that suggesting that people post questions on the ‘chat’ section of most videoconferencing software helps those of us who are a bit more uncomfortable with this way of communicating, as they can participate without going too far out of their comfort zone.

We must not forget that most people are not used to working this way. A carefully crafted reminder of remote meeting etiquette sent along with the invitation can go a long way in ensuring everyone gets the most out of the experience.

At Mosaic Island we frequently conduct client workshops. They can happen at different stages of any engagement and they are a very useful way to collectively ensure we stay on the same page, as well as giving our consultants a unique opportunity to help our clients in providing information, refining concepts or framing problems. They generally involve whiteboards, post its, flipcharts and colourful pens (all indispensable tools for a self-respecting consultant 😉 )

These events can also relatively easily move online. Once again, we can make technology work for us by utilising one of the many online facilitation/workshop tools. Most offer templates for brainstorming, mind-mapping, root cause analysis etc., there are free features and a variety of subscription plans to suit different scenarios and pockets. In the worst case, I have facilitated remote workshops with a videoconferencing tool and an online whiteboard (I do like my whiteboards!).

Over the past weeks I have concluded that at Mosaic Island we are perfectly placed to continue supporting our clients and providing our services in our unique way. There will need to be learning from our part, and certainly a heightened degree of sensitivity when dealing with people. There is a sad reality around us and no amount of videocalls and virtual post-its will make it go away.

Having said this, I know we are at heart an organisation that brings positive energy to our clients through the work that we do. We are all enthusiasts (each in our own unique way and field of speciality) who take pride in a job well done and in ensuring our clients gets the best we can offer.

It is somewhat reassuring for me to be able to see that I can continue contributing in my own way even in these challenging times by supporting existing and new clients. We are open for business, and we are here to help!