With the arrival of Covid-19 the whole world sought, and found, opportunities for new ways to work, finally making use of countless communication tools that overnight went from 'nice to have', to 'must have'. Surely there has never been such an abrupt switch of business model for so many organisations at a single time, purely for the sake of survival?
I'm determined that this post is resolutely not about the relative pros and cons of remote working, which have been covered a thousand times before, but there is no question that being forced to work remotely from others during the Covid years demonstrated quite clearly and simply that it could be done, and done well. We recognised that meaningful relationships could be established and maintained via technology, and that knowledge, wisdom and expertise can be imparted highly effectively. After all, when you're looking at a presentation on a screen, does it matter if that screen is in a boardroom or on a laptop at home? It's the same information either way. There's no denying of course that there's value and connection in a handshake and looking people in the eye, but fundamentally the knowledge transfer is the same. So as a provider of advice and consultancy it became clear that we could offer the same levels of service remotely as we could face to face, without perhaps a little of the more human touch.
During those challenging times we worked with many clients who, after the inevitable short bedding in period, vowed never to return to 'the old ways', and although some have remained true to their word, the vast majority have now reverted back to their more traditional business models of centralised office spaces and fixed operating hours, albeit with a little more flexibility built in here and there. Not a day goes by without a new article being published describing how yet another household brand is going back on its decision to normalise flexi and home working, or an opinion piece on LinkedIn refuting the benefits of staff mobility that were so loudly lauded only a couple of years ago.
But despite this, there's no denying that within most organisations the approach to work has fundamentally changed - how could it have not? - and there is an acceptance that value can be gained from alternative methods of interaction and work.
So, what has this meant for businesses like ours - consulting service providers? And how can you, our clients, really maximise the benefits?
Perhaps the most fundamental change, and benefit, for clients in this environment we now find ourselves, is that it has opened up access to knowledge, expertise, opinion and experience that would otherwise have been far outside a client's normal sphere of influence. Pre Covid, would a Board of a Singapore based organisation honestly have considered working with an independent, niche, UK based consultancy? The risks would have been deemed too high, and possibly also the perceived differential in expertise compared with more local providers too low. But with "standard operating procedure" now communicating with colleagues digitally and virtually across countries, and potentially time zones, what difference does it really make if the accent is just that little bit more different? And three years of hands on experience have now demonstrated that "expertise", in whatever facet that may be, is far more globalised than ever before - the Balkans are the new hub of tech talent for example, and the UAE is seeing huge growth in OKR implementations based on its current position as the No.1 location for entrepreneurs
So long as the Agreement is clear, and exit clauses are fair, suddenly the risk that seemed untenable 3 years ago doesn't seem so unmanageable now. And certainly not when juxtaposed against the potential rewards that come with access to global expertise and experience.
In the last week alone we've discussed either existing engagements or potential new business with clients, potential clients and partners in the UK, mainland Europe, Eastern Europe, USA, the Indian sub continent, Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. Simply unthinkable three or four years ago.
So more specifically, how do we work with our clients? The glib answer - whatever they deem to be the most convenient and effective. To simplify things however we tend to talk about three different kinds of engagement, although there is always flexibility to evolve from one to another depending upon the specific and changing needs of each relationship.
The most traditional (and rarest, since we operate with a largely international client base) is a good, old fashioned, face to face relationship, most usually in circumstances where we are geographically close and travel is neither expensive nor time consuming. All meetings, from initial discussions to workshops and subsequent training and coaching, will be conducted at the client's offices, or certainly a location of the client's choice. Standard pre-Covid operating procedure!
The second, and arguably the most cost effective and efficient method, is a hybrid model whereby we establish an initial intention to work together via online communications - Google Meet, Teams, Zoom, etc - often followed up with an initial "Orientation" presentation to the Executive Sponsor or Senior Leadership Team. This orientation provides a great, low risk and low (or no) cost opportunity to understand a little more about each party and undertake an initial piece of work that allows everyone to establish whether this is a relationship worth pursuing, both in terms of available expertise and matching cultures. With an agreement in place the next step would usually be a face to face session, incorporating introductions to help build on the fledgling working relationship and an initial workshop to start the engagement in earnest. After this point the ongoing work defines the pattern of online and face to face meetings and workshops, the latter particularly effective for significant milestones, or whenever the client sees value in doing so.
And finally there is working entirely remotely, a method that works particularly well for budget limited, long distance organisations that are looking for expertise they are perhaps unable to leverage locally, but simply can't afford the overhead of time and travel costs for the sake of deepening the human aspects of the relationship. This is an effective model, but our least favourite as they tend to be based purely on the knowledge being transferred, and provide little opportunity for strengthening the business-consultant bond. For an organisation like East Harbour Associates that prides itself on adopting the role of "trusted advisor" for clients, these can sometimes be the most challenging.
Ultimately however, client outcomes are at the centre of what we do, so you can be assured that delivering our expertise and experience in the most effective way possible to help organisations near or far master strategy is our focus.