Tips for the Nomad Consultant

The Nomad Consultant
The Nomad Consultant

This is the first of two blogs focused on what a nomad consultant should expect for business travel.

When joining a consulting firm, whether right out of college or as an experienced hire from industry, the issue of travel can be a deal breaker.  There may be family commitments or it could just not be the lifestyle you care to live.  Before joining a firm you need to determine how much travel will be required and whether you are willing to live that lifestyle.

Making that determination can be difficult.  Asking during the interview process may exclude you from consideration.  Even if a firm requires limited to no travel, asking about things like travel requirements or work hours may indicate to them that you’re more focused on the convenience of the job rather than the work itself.  Most firms will make travel expectations clear either in the job description or during the interview process.  I think it’s best to wait until they bring it up.

Not always a nomad consultant

Travel requirements vary depending on the firm, the client and the nature of the project.  Some firms focus on local clients and have virtually no travel, while others have clients all over the world, calling for 100% travel.  When you do travel, here is what you can expect.

Onsite vs. Offsite

Most consulting work is project-based.  A team of consultants is pulled together to create an end-product for the client.  This often requires that the team travel to be at the client site together.  The client may not want to have the team on site if they don’t have the space to house an entire team.  Clients also usually pay for travel expenses and may not want to incur the travel costs of bringing everyone on site.  In other instances clients like to have the team doing the work at their site.  Perhaps there is a lot of interaction required with the client’s employees or their visual presence makes it easier to justify the high cost of the project with the executives.

When clients are paying top dollar on billing rates, they like to see the consultants working.  Most firms are sensitive to work/life balance and strive to minimize the impact as much as possible.  Consulting firms regularly balance limiting their consultants’ days out of town with the client’s need for “face time”.  They may have the team travel for a short period of time – say a week or two – to gather business requirements and then have the rest of the project completed at their own local office.  If the team is distributed in many locations, a virtual team can work from home, collaborating electronically.

The flexibility to work from home or with a minimal amount of travel helps consulting firms hire and retain top performers.

Work Week for a Nomad Consultant

When travel is required, firms will often try to be flexible to make it as convenient as possible for their consultants.  Some of the traveling work week variations include:

  • Arrive late Monday, leave early Friday – Traveling Monday to arrive at the client late morning and leaving early Friday.  Longer days are often required to get the 40 (or more) required billable hours for the week.
  • Monday through Thursday – Traveling either Monday morning or Sunday night and leaving Thursday afternoon or night.  The firm may allow the consultant to work from home on Friday or require them to be in the local office.
  • Two to three days out of town, remaining time at the firm’s office or at home.
  • Forty hours Monday through Friday – Everyone’s least favorite scenario.  This requires traveling Sunday night to be there first thing Monday morning and heading home Friday night after working hours are over.

Many other variations can be developed based on scheduling factors.  When I was in business school, I was able to arrange my travel to fly on Tuesday, arriving at the client late Tuesday morning, and leave on Friday night.  I worked in our local office on Mondays.  This allowed me to take a Monday night class and a Saturday morning class.  (I also did a lot of studying in the airport and on the plane.)

Another factor to consider is when there is a mix of local and out of town team members, or people traveling from different home locations.  Some team members will arrive at 8:00 Monday morning while others arrive at noon.  Managers need to establish policies for work hours to ensure no one feels that they are shouldering more of the burden.

Travel policies for consulting can change from project to project, or week to week depending on any number of factors. It’s best to know in advance how much travel to expect and determine whether it’s the right lifestyle for you.

My next blog will discuss managing expenses and off-hours time while traveling.

Stay tuned.

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. 

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