“I think the thing is, if the consulting firms – or any company – tell their employees that the rules are different now, but not everyone is following the new rules, the right people will find themselves overwhelmed. There are unintended consequences with every attempt at positive change [in working conditions]. “
Mr. Williams, along with senior executives from Deloitte, Accenture and KPMG, have previously said The Australian Financial Review that although there are now more opportunities to work flexibly in consulting, the role continues to have a heavy workload driven by client-imposed deadlines.
The top five consulting firms – Accenture, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – all offer staff the flexibility to work flexibly in terms of location and hours. However, the ability of client-facing consultants to take advantage of these conditions is highly dependent on team leadership, type of project, and client.
100-part remote control “not optimal”
Louise May, head of strategy and advisory activities at Accenture Australia, said the optimal range for remote work is between 25 and 75 percent of the time.
“I think 100% virtual, most people would say, is not part of that optimal answer. This hybrid concept is really important. So between 25 and 75% virtual, ”she said.
“I have experienced this myself when we have to be 100% virtual: we have missed those productive points where we can come together around a whiteboard and collaborate. So I think everyone has agreed that a hybrid is going to be the optimal answer in the long run. “
She also agreed with Mr. Williams that consultants would miss out on learning and networking opportunities by working remotely too often.
“I have the impression that we need this hybrid between telecommuting and face-to-face. As a youngster, I learned a lot about interacting with clients and problem solving by actually observing others. It’s a bit difficult to do in the virtual world, ”she said.
“So I think watching other people, learning from others in meetings is a really important part of your development. Even being in the office and having the ability to observe and learn is a very important part of your personal development.
Ms May said there would always be an element of give and take when it comes to flexibility of work and customer deadlines.
“My advice to people is that, first of all, if you are looking for flexibility, you have to know what is important to you personally. And you have to be able to prioritize the things that are really important to you, ”she said.
“So for example, for working parents, it often means leaving at five in order to be able to pick up their children from daycare. But implicitly, there’s the idea that they might go back to work once the kids are in bed and do a little more work. “
“Trust is important”
Clare Harding, director of strategy at Deloitte, said that while working remotely wouldn’t directly affect promotions, a consultant would still need to have developed the right skills and abilities to progress in the business.
“I don’t agree that working flexibly, like different hours or in different locations, hinders your career development. We have many examples of professionals who are successful because they are able to work flexibly, ”she said.
But she also warned that firm executives still expected consultants to “regularly connect in person with their clients and team members as part of their work schedules.”
“[To] to be successful, you must build strong and meaningful relationships with clients and co-workers. It is not possible to do this only on virtual platforms like Zoom or Teams. We therefore expect our employees to regularly connect in person with their customers and team members as part of their work schedules, ”she said.
“Anyone who works in our company is responsible for their own career. At the same time, they have a coach and a counseling partner, who work with them to make sure they have access to the kind of experiences they need to get the proper training and learning, and to work on them. good customer opportunities in order to progress. . “
Flexible work ‘no proof’ hinders career
KPMG partner Carmen Bekker said full-time remote work would not affect the career progression of the firm’s consultants.
“I haven’t seen any evidence of it. In fact, many members of my team have and will get promotions when they haven’t been in the office for a year, ”she said.
Ms Bekker also provided examples of a consultant in her 100-person branding and marketing consulting team who was promoted while working remotely.
“For example, one of my team members works on a farm. She works remotely most of the time and comes to the office once a month to see people face to face. She traveled to see her clients, but the work was largely remote. She is a fantastic performer and saw no slowing down in her [career] trajectory because of her workplace, ”said Ms Bekker.
“Another member of my team, a very senior member, takes paternity leave one day a week every week. To enable him to meet client needs and have his day off, we have put a team around him and projects to ensure client deliverables are being met. He was recently promoted on July 1.
She said COVID-19 has led to a permanent change in firm and client attitudes towards flexible working.
“If you had asked me that in 2018, in 2019 itself, I would have said that absolutely everything has to be face-to-face. But now I think that’s not the norm anymore. I think that has changed, ”she said.
“There are situations where, of course, everyone has to be on site for a deliverable. Customers, consultants, etc. And there are situations where everyone is distant and there are hybrids. So I don’t know if we can do black and white on this any more. “