Mass Observation is the name of a social research writing project about everyday life in Britain, capturing the experiences, thoughts and opinions of everyday people. It originated shortly before the Second World War and provides an excellent source of information about day-to-day life in a time of turbulence.
In June last year, CMCE launched a similar project (called Moneta, after the goddess of memory) to capture the everyday observations and reflections of management consultants on the impact of the virus and the measures to mitigate its spreading on their work. Participants were invited to contribute anonymously.
Those who responded were either sole practitioners or worked for small practices, so were not a representative sample. Of these, during normal times the majority had a lot of client face-to-face contact, while for those with international practices, accustomed to remote engagement, there was little change in the nature of their client contact.
The reaction of consultancy clients reflects the experience in the economy as a whole. Projects have been put back and brought forward; there has been a focus on both survival and strategic development; in the latter case considering new business models. I imagine that whether the focus is on survival or development is a function of the client’s business sector, but this is not something on which we collected data.
In their diary entries participants were asked to note the effect of the COVID crisis on their work as a management consultant. For some consultants their work has dried up, in one case leading to a fundamental career reappraisal. All have had to become used to (an increased use of) online meetings and identifying effective techniques at handling these well. The ease of engaging people online has led to greater levels of consultation in executing some projects.
The use of online communication will undoubtedly remain higher than pre-COVID when face-to-face meetings become again possible. However, the value of face-to-face meetings, in creating social cohesion and providing energy in an interaction, has become more apparent.
When we launched this project, we wondered whether there would be some profound insights that we could draw. In fact, based on this research the COVID experience for management consultants has not been significantly different than it has been for everyone else!