Survey: The New Normal for Management Consultants
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The COVID-19 pandemic threw the entire world into chaos, forcing some businesses to make deep cuts to staffing and other expenses. Suffice it to say, outside contractors felt the pain as well, including management consultants. These companies and their employees were also impacted by stay-at-home orders and the subsequent shift to remote working, the closing of schools, and the cancellation of work trips and conferences.
To adapt to these changing times, consulting firms and their employees quickly pivoted. Businesses embraced collaboration tools and technologies and evolved processes and procedures to be just as effective remotely as they were in their offices. Some industries proved they could prosper despite these unprecedented times, while others have struggled to survive.
With only a few weeks left in 2020, GLG conducted a study to understand the impact of the global pandemic on the management consulting industry in the U.S. We looked to get a sense of how consultancies adapted and evolved in 2020 and how the industry would evolve long term.
Looking Beyond COVID-19
Although COVID-19 still dominates our lives, it would appear many consulting clients are looking beyond the pandemic itself. Most of our survey respondents had at least a small amount of their current work related to COVID-19 or its impacts. But of the three-quarters of respondents who had some work related to the pandemic, 53% said it accounted for less than a quarter of their current work.
GLG received an array of responses for the type of work our consultant population was expecting to engage with in 2021. The top three projects were strategy work (76% of respondents), transactional due diligence work (60%), and transformation work (54%). (Note: respondents could select multiple responses.)
Staying Grounded Until Further Notice
Corporate travel has suffered deeply due to the pandemic. According to research cited by GLG network member Peter McFadden, former Head of Strategic Partnerships at Expedia Group, tickets issued by corporate travel management companies were down 85.7% year over year from 2019. The majority of consultants, 53%, told GLG they expected to remain grounded until at least late 2021, with 43% not expecting to reach new normal levels until 2022 or later. Only 4% of respondents expected a quick return to “new normal” business travel next year.
The pandemic is likely to permanently change how consultants interact with clients. Our respondents said they expect to move away from always being on-site with a client to more of a hybrid approach. Over a quarter of the surveyed consultants said they felt that post-COVID, there would be little to no on-site client work. Half said it would be more of an even balance between on-site and remote work. Only 2% said their company would get back to pre-COVID levels of in-person client work.
The lack of face time with clients was perceived by 44% of our respondents as negative or extremely negative, while another 44% said they felt neutral about it. While neutral is not necessarily a bad thing, especially given all that 2020 has brought, it does show that advancing client relationships is not always easy virtually. Still, these hard times have given agencies cause for trying out new collaboration technologies. Many respondents pointed to the use of virtual whiteboards and virtual breakout rooms, as well as the hosting of topical or educational sessions, as ways they continued to engage clients.
The pandemic has also given consultants a chance to get more personal with clients. One respondent told GLG, “One small thing our team has tried to do is be open about sharing our home life with clients. I’ve seen directors bring their kids in to say hi, or a quick show-and-tell [about their] pets. Things like that are what make these unusual times more relatable and easier to get through.”
Winners and Losers
The consultants we surveyed said they believe some industries are poised to grow following the pandemic. Not surprisingly, given the role it played in 2020, the tech sector and some specific technologies are at the top of most respondents’ lists. When asked to name up to three sectors or technologies poised to grow, their top answers were technology as a sector, remote working and collaboration tools, software as a service, and healthcare, including telemedicine and digital health.
When asked which sector would take the longest to rebound, 61% of respondents named travel/hospitality/transportation. Given their earlier responses about business travel, this is not surprising. Fortunately, no other industries came close to receiving many responses, with the next closest being the retail sector at only 9%.
The New Office
With the need to work remotely for many months, people have gotten creative with their new office setups. GLG uncovered some interesting places that consultants have found themselves working this year, such as sailboats in the Caribbean, remote islands off Maine, South America, Greece, and cabins in the woods. Of course, there are those less glamorous places to work in order to accommodate sometimes-crowded homes, such as “a Walmart parking lot” or “with my 4-year-old daughters at the kitchen table while they concentrated on their lessons in ABCmouse.” One respondent even claimed to have worked from the bathtub.
Adapting to the New Normal
COVID has caused consultants, like many professionals, to have to react and adapt quickly to continue to meet client needs while also surviving these chaotic times. Despite it all, and the expectation that it will be many more months until any type of new normal returns, consultants are not idling at home but continuing to build relationships and delivering on critical projects for clients even if it isn’t in the way management consultants have historically done business.
To download the complete results of GLG’s Impact of COVID-19 on Consulting survey, click here.