How Important Is Client Facetime?

facetime
How Important Is Client Facetime?

“Papa was a rollin’ stone.  Wherever he laid his hat was his home.”            – The Temptations

I have a friend who works for a major technology company in the U.S.  He is in the process of moving 8 states across the country to the north-east region of the U.S.  Because he works from home, needing only the technology of a computer connected to the internet and a phone, he can live and work wherever he wants.

Isn’t modern technology wonderful?  Because of it, we can all be rolling stones.

Facetime in the modern world

Or can we?  In many industries, the answer is that it depends.

For our parents’ generation, going to work included the physical act of going.  Whether they worked in an office or a coal mine, they went to a physical location, put in their day’s work, and came home.

There are obvious occupations where, even today, working from home won’t work.  My wife is an 8th grade school teacher.  Although she does a lot of grading and lesson planning in her home office (aka, the kitchen table), she would be hard-pressed to do her job from a home office.  But anyone that does most of their work on a computer and communicates with others is a prime candidate.  Give them a computer and a phone (or Skype access) and they can often do the same thing at home.

There are still a lot of managers though, that have misgivings about the whole work from home concept.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Arguments against working from home:

Trust. First and foremost in the old-school manager’s eyes is the trust factor.  He wonders “How can I trust that you’re working if I can’t see you working?”

That’s easily overcome in many situations.  If you can design their work and performance evaluation to measure output, you can determine whether they are working hard enough for a 40-hour week.

I suppose the bigger question I would ask is why the hell did you hire someone you don’t trust?  Even in this economy with high unemployment, good employees can be hard to find, but a manager cannot compromise his or her principles by hiring untrustworthy employees.

An 8th grade teacher has a fair amount of baby-sitting as part of the job description.  There should really be no need for it for a manager in a professional environment.

Facetime. Some managers argue that they just like face-to-face communication.  They like meeting in a conference room with everyone there.  They can see their facial expressions and can read the meaning in their inflections much better.

Facetime: An expensive luxury?

This is a valid argument, but it seems like a very expensive luxury.  Considering the cost of putting everyone in office space, not to mention commuting costs in terms of time, environmental effects and hard dollars, it seems like a very costly way to get that warm fuzzy feeling.

  1. Much of today’s work is done in teams; groups of people that share their work products with each other and collaborate on a fairly consistent basis.

There are virtual teams all over the globe with people working in various countries and vastly different time zones.  With teams that work together on a consistent basis, they develop a rapport that allows them to work well together, despite their physical separation.

This may be the one valid argument against distributed teams.

Much of the work in today’s business world is project-based.  Project teams are fluid.  A project may last a few days or several months.  Because of a short duration or regularly changing personnel, it is difficult for a virtual team to develop the bonding needed to be productive.

Additionally, when a project team is co-located, impromptu conversations take place naturally which don’t occur when people only are a phone call, text message or IM away.

In Consulting, or any other professional services environment, there is another wrinkle.  The manager that is uncomfortable with “that whole work from home thing” may just be the client.

Consulting managers can argue with client managers and explain the benefits and cost savings of work from home arrangements.  But the client’s like to have face time with their consultants.  They want to see them working for these high consulting rates they’re paying.

And the intimacy of having the whole team work together in a team room provides significant benefits.  Team members overhear others discussing an issue and provide valuable feedback from their experience.  Questions get asked that wouldn’t have otherwise been asked if a team member wasn’t physically present.

And in a consulting environment, the consultants notice real client issues that may be outside of the scope of the current project.  This could result in additional work for the consulting firm.  This is a win-win situation.  The client can get an issue resolved and the consulting firm acquires additional business.

See my related post: Why Do You Want to Work From Home?

Good consultants do much more than the fixed task they are contracted to do.   Consultants should always keep their eyes and ears open for ways to help the client be more efficient and effective.  They should establish themselves as confidants and business partners.  If all they are doing is a transactional one-off job, maybe they can, and should, do it from their home office.

But if they want to become the clients trusted advisor, then face time at the client site benefits both client and consultant.

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

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and discussion items. 

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