The Consultant Life: On-site and Off-site Experiences
January 22, 2020 in The Consulting Experience
By Louise Chan, Alexandra Flagg
Each month of 2020, we’ll provide insight into what life is like as a consultant by discussing what skills and experiences make this career unique and interesting. As consultants, we aim to be flexible and adaptive to our client’s needs; sometimes, that means using a client’s worksite as a daily workspace instead of our own home office in Shirlington, Virginia. While some consultants may have preferences or more practical experiences in one situation over the other, on-site and off-site assignments can be both rewarding and challenging in their own ways.
Working on-site definitely has its advantages, and one of the biggest is that the physical proximity of working so close to the client allows you to build a stronger, face-to-face relationship, and faster. Another benefit of working physically nearby is that you are able to respond to client requests and adapt to the client’s changing needs faster, if not immediately – this can be so helpful on projects that are ambiguous or constantly evolving. It also allows you to learn about the client’s organization better, as you have the opportunity to directly interact with employees of the client organization while you are immersed in their organizational culture and work environment. Working on-site also means being closer to the resources you may need, as they usually are more readily accessible (e.g., working inside firewalls).
In our experience, on-site assignments also reinforce the value we place on simplicity and efficiency. An off-site desk at the home office can be personalized and stocked with every possible office supply to meet your needs. But when at client site, you might have to share a desk with others or hop from desk to desk. In these situations, packing only the essentials is crucial; you are working from a temporary location and may be travelling from one office to another in the course of a day, so you never want to overload what your shoulders can actually carry! Similarly, on-site assignments require you to manage and use your time wisely and efficiently. Sometimes, you are assigned to work at a client site but may also have obligations to your organization (e.g., training, participating in interviews, helping with a proposal). In cases like these, you have to be intentional in prioritizing the on-site client work, while also balancing internal initiatives and individual development opportunities.
On-site work can also be a welcomed developmental challenge for a consultant. You definitely learn how to represent your own company’s culture, while also managing and respecting the client’s culture – and if your assignment has you working closely with another consulting firm, you may have to learn to navigate a third organizational environment as well. All of this can be a little complicated, but provides a great opportunity to learn how to flex your approach and adapt to different environments.
To clarify, when we discuss off-site work, we are referring to work done at the home office – that is, your company’s main site (working from your actual home is another blog post entirely!)
Working primarily from the home office tends to allow for more flexibility in work schedule. A client may have specific on-site hours required, depending on the contract and culture, but off-site work often means your schedule may be more open and autonomous. Being at the office also gives you the ability to be more involved in your own company activities and community and immerse yourself in the mission and values of the company.
One perk of working off-site is the greater access to daytime company events, which you may be unable to partake in if you were working on client site. Learning sessions and social gatherings with coworkers are generally more accessible when your desk is located right by everyone else’s. Being in the home office provides more face-to-face interactions with employees of your own company, which helps in making connections and forming colleague relationships. Likewise, it allows for in-person meetings – even in this world of constant communication and advanced tools for virtual meetings, in-person meetings are often a lot easier when discussing ideas and brainstorming. Moreover, working in the home office means more exposure to company initiatives, whether that is opportunities for business development or exposure to different projects that others are involved in. Overall, it provides you with a more holistic view of your own company.
While some consultants may have preferences between on- and off-site assignments, neither option is inherently better than the other. Each project and client is unique and the decisions as to where and how consultants work is based upon the needs of the client organization and the nature of the project.
Have you ever worked on-site with a client? Share your on-site or off-site client experiences with us on LinkedIn!