Consulting in 2020 – a few hard lessons learned

2021 is finally here! I’m excited to be back online writing and sharing ideas with my fellow consultant friends and colleagues. We are stepping into the New Year with months of lessons learned from coping with quarantine, handling travel restrictions, offering services remotely, and becoming a Zoom expert…to just name a few. No doubt many of us have likely also faced layoffs, furloughs, pay reductions, or extended bench times. I’m eager to chat with you and hear about your lessons learned and hope that my topic picks are of interest and lend to further discussion between us all. Let’s start 2021 with todays blog entry, my summary of a few lessons learned from 2020.

Lesson #1 – Zoom Meeting Etiquette

These may not be in the right order for everyone, but I would say this is exactly the order of lessons I needed to tackle. No doubt the first thing was figuring out Zoom. I wasn’t always ready for that damn camera to turn on! Started many of meetings in March having to duck and run for baseball hat. After a week or so I realized I had book shelfs filled with all kinds of crap in the background, including perhaps some inappropriate “artsy” items. Someone had to show me how to change/fade my background. Some funny comments for sure…lessons learned that resulted in dressing the minute I get up and plane white digital back drop.

Lesson #2 – Transitioning to Virtual Remote Work Model

As consultants, our services are typically offered onsite with direct interactions with our customers. Concerns of impact to quality of deliverables, timeliness of project work, and reduction of customer satisfaction were all on my mind. Without the normal interaction of customers, how would I be confident that I continued to exceed expectations with my client? With the immediate set up of virtual platforms I realized our customers were also adjusting at the same time. Normal conference rooms gatherings and customer calls were just as effective via Teams, Webinar, Zoom, and other online tools. Consultants were stepping up to the idea of chat, instant messaging, and pop up meetings to improve communication. To my relief, I found these changes ended up improving quality, timeliness, and communication…both internally and externally. I expect many of these new “habits” will continue well into 2021.

Lesson #3 – Tackling State Travel Restrictions

While I mentioned most of us were off road, I still had a booming go-live business, and customers were moving forward with their EHR installs. While we did offer a 100% virtual support model, many customers wanted a hybrid of onsite and remote resources. One of the biggest challenges was state travel requirements and restrictions. Almost daily, states would add/remove travel restrictions creating significant work to our recruiters and managers. We couldn’t send people to certain states that lived in “high risk” states for months. Even customers would add restrictions in addition to state requirements including testing, no one living in NYC or LA, and other limitations never managed before. After several adjustments to process, we learned how to tackle these limitations effectively…and most importantly, safely. My first travel in 9 months required pre-flight and arrival testing so I could return to MA after a couple days in Florida. There will continue to be restrictions well into 2021, and lessons learned here will no doubt continue for months to come.

Lesson #4 – Personal and Work Balance during a Pandemic

With no place to go, and nothing else to do, I found myself sitting at my work computer for 12 to 14 hours a day. Given the transformation of how we do our business, there was always plenty to do. However, it didn’t take long before I started to realize I wasn’t exercising, cooking good meals, cleaning, spending time with my husband, or doing much of anything for myself and family. In general, I was using work as an escape from the reality of quarantine, fears of Covid, and boredom of being off the road. I quickly created a a more regular routine in order to tackle this. Daily walks, lunch breaks, and evening online social hours became a norm. One friend started hosting a weekly zoom trivia night in late March, and still offers it some 9 months later. We started baking as a hobby and a major reorganization of storage and closets. For the most part, this routine continues today.

Lesson #5 – Staying out of Politics

2020 was a hard year to stay out of politics. We were faced with debates on Covid response management, the Presidential election, Black Lives Matter, riots, protests, looting…did I miss anything? Everyone had an opinion. Social media became a source of news for many, while the actual news ended up dividing many of us. The emotional stress and dealings of Covid was hard enough on its own, then add all these other events and issues. Early on I learned that my opinion did not align with many at work internally or externally. Comments meant to be “small talk” were inadvertently creating tension and distrust. I great mentor of mine years ago told me to always read the local paper where I was going before meeting with the client. Not traveling, I forgot these words of wisdom for a while…now I’m back to this great habit. So many other small talk items to read about and discuss include weather, sports, local events, customer successes, and so on.

What were some of your top lessons learned from 2020? Share your comments below.

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