2020 brought many changes and challenges for us all, we had to quickly adapt our training portfolio to online delivery rather than face to face. We also had to revisit our consulting services, something which traditionally focuses on personal interaction.
When running a diagnostic, we pride ourselves on really getting under the skin of an organisation, to fully understand how an organisation works and to gain insight into its quirks and culture. Initially I had some reservations about how we would manage this while working remotely, consulting is very much relationship based, expertise, credibility, working with integrity generates trust and is essential to delivering the excellence we pride ourselves on. How would our clients feel about virtual consulting, would they perceive the same value if they couldn’t see us on-site?
Despite travel restrictions and lockdowns around the globe, the need for our consulting services continued. We knew we needed to embrace agility in our approach, to ensure we continued to provide the same quality service, and with sensitivity to the pressures COVID-19 brought to the aviation industry.
Instead of viewing physical distance as an impediment we focused on how to adapt to make our consulting service work virtually. The resulting transition to virtual was surprisingly painless, and even brought some benefits.
Towards the later end of 2020 we worked with a client for whom we had completed a Safety Management Diagnostic the previous year; we were asked to deliver a 2nd diagnostic, to measure their progress and make recommendations, this time the diagnostic was fulfilled virtually.
We’d gained a good understanding of the company culture and processes during the first diagnostic; we knew many of the people, we’d already built rapport and the virtual delivery was the biggest perceived challenge.
As part of the diagnostic we held interviews with a range of people across the organisation, this time the interviews were conducted virtually rather than face to face. Thankfully organisations are now accustomed to working virtually, wherever possible, so many of the barriers people had a year ago, were overcome due the working changes brought about by COVID-19.
We found the team were comfortable using virtual platforms, in both the one on one interviews and the larger focus groups. As consultants we had to work slightly harder to read the room, to read body language and facial expressions and ensure the quieter participants weren’t overlooked. In some focus groups some people were working alone from home, some together, socially distanced, in a conference room. Our depth of experience served us well in adapting quickly and communicating effectively whilst facilitating open discussion, all delivered on virtual platforms.
One of the unexpected benefits we found with online consulting was that some of the one to one interviews worked better virtually, without the distractions of being in the same room delegates were able to focus more easily, and quieter delegates tended to open-up more. Working virtually also meant we were able to be more flexible with scheduled interview times, this proved to be of particular benefit for senior management clients with busy diaries and changing priorities.
Clients may work from a variety of technical platforms, as consultants we swiftly became adept to working with Webex, Teams, Zoom, whatever the client’s platform of choice, we worked around it.
The perceived concerns about delivering our consulting services virtually have proven to be unfounded. Although technology can’t replace the face-to-face experience in full, with an experienced consultant being agile, adaptable and finding solutions to potential problems, virtual consulting has proved to be beneficial to clients; saving them time, and, with no travel or accommodation costs, saving them money, as well as offering more flexibility. With the benefits of ever-improving technological solutions, and users becoming ever more adept, virtual consulting is here to stay.