COVID-19’s Effect on Consulting

Written by lewsauder

August 21, 2020

I have often discussed the many purposes for which companies use consultants. Sometimes they need a specialty skill that they do not have in-house and do not want to hire full-time. This can be an individual consultant or a team.

Other times companies will use consultants to buffer their team. For instance, if they get a surge in growth, but are not sure it is sustainable, they may hire consultants. If they determine the growth is sustainable, they can either convert the consultants to full-time employees, or hire to replace them.

This is the scenario that many companies will be in for the near future. Starting around mid-March of this year, companies began closing down populated offices and had their workers work from home. Then, as states closed their economies, companies went the next step and began a layoff rampage like never has been seen before.

As of this writing, there are more than 14 million people unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At some point companies will begin moving to growth mode. No one knows if this will be a matter of weeks or months. For some organizations it could be years.

Cautious Growth

After such a drastic downturn, companies will be very careful in hiring back staff. They may have their previous staff members in mind to rehire. Some of those people may have found other jobs by then. Companies may also assess whether they want to hire previous staff or use this as an opportunity to retool.

Either way most companies will gauge their growth cautiously and increase their staff carefully. It is very likely that they may implement the temporary consulting strategy to avoid overextending their full-time staffing commitment.

Opportunity for Consulting

Companies may approach past employees to arrange a contracting agreement. They may even want to arrange a part-time agreement. They may also work with a staffing agency to find people with specific skill sets.

These agreements are often established as a contract-to-hire plan. The consultant will work as a contractor for a period of time. This is the equivalent of a courting period for both the hiring company and the consultant. If they both decide they like each other, the company hires the consultant as a full-time employee. If not, they both go their separate ways.

This is a great way for the hiring company to try the person out without committing to the overhead of benefits. It is also much easier for a company to end a consultant’s contract than to let an employee go that does not work out.

This works well for an independent consultant in similar ways. It looks much better on a resume to have a 9-month contract position than to leave a full-time position after that long.

With that in mind, it may be a good option for any unemployed workers to consider a contract position. Some people are not comfortable with the uncertainty of contracting. When the contract is up, they will be stuck looking for a position again.

While that vulnerability exists, consulting is a great way to have continuity in your resume during a recession. It also has the opportunity of transitioning to a full-time position. Additionally, if you work through a staffing firm, they may be able to find many more opportunities to reduce the risk of multiple gaps in your resume.

Changed World

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work on a permanent basis. More companies will reduce their office real estate footprint. More people will be working remotely.

Additionally, the transition to growth will likely be slow and cautious for the foreseeable future. While states are opening up and people are returning to offices, masks and social distancing are still recommended. This will continue until – and possibly well past – an effective vaccine is developed.

Optimistic predictions see the possibility of a vaccine sometime between the end of 2020 and mid-2021. At the time of this writing, we have not even been through any clinical trials. Some treatments have been found to be effective, but they are simply treatments, not cures. Even when a vaccine is found to be effective and has general availability, many people – and companies – will continue to be cautious.

Consulting was used in the business world at an increasing rate before the pandemic hit. As we move to post-pandemic growth, consulting will very likely be used even more.

This will be an opportunity for anyone that has a key skill that companies will need. Working on a temporary contractual basis may be well outside of your comfort level. But it may be the new reality that we all will need to get accustomed to.  

Have you considered consulting as your next career step?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com 

Image courtesy of everydayplus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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