West Monroe's Tom Hulsebosch on the future of consulting work

31 March 2021 Consulting.us 4 min. read
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Tom Hulsebosch, senior partner and Chicago office lead at West Monroe, explains what it's been like to move into a new, state-of-the-art office at a time when the the concept of a physical workplace is under the microscope.

Designs for the a new 208,000 square foot West Monroe Chicago office – with cutting-edge tech, sustainability, and spaces for innovation, collaboration, and recreation – were already being finalized in 2019. The lease officially began in October 2020, and the team started coming in earlier this year when restrictions eased.

Many employers, having witnessed the viability of the virtual office during the pandemic, have been examining the possibility of a permanent switch to remote work. West Monroe, however, has charged ahead with its plans to build a workspace for the future.West Monroe's Tom Hulsebosch on the future of consulting work“Remote work has helped us maintain continuity of service and operations, but we consider that to be part of the future, not the future,” noted Hulsebosch, who leads the Chicago office and the firm’s energy & utility practice.

“As we move beyond the pandemic, people may use the office differently, but it will remain the heart of our culture, where we come together and create value for our people and clients.” Indeed, a core learning from the pandemic is that many employees value the workplace as a space to focus, collaborate, and connect with colleagues.

Prolonged remote working ignited conversations about employee mental health last year, as many workers suffered the effects of isolation and pandemic-related stress. In this regard, having an office is important to keep employees engaged and happy. On the flipside, every employee is different, and has unique needs.

“Some people get energy by themselves, while others get their energy by being around others. Some have had the benefit of a quiet apartment, while others have been working in homes with constant distractions,” noted Hulsebosch. So reverting back to the old five-day office structure might not be the best way forward either. 

“Our people are used to being empowered to work where they feel most comfortable. Even when the pandemic is behind us, I see a more flexible, hybrid model remaining a part of the way we work.”

The next question is what a hybrid model would look like. “How will we maintain high levels of engagement and fulfillment when some people are working in the office, some at the client, and some in other locations? That’s our challenge as we think about our workplace of the future.”

Part of the adjustment is purely physical. Hulsebosch explains how the return to office for West Monroe has unfolded along clear safety measures: distant workstations; one-way corridors; limits on elevator usage, and several other protocols. This will likely be a reality at least until herd immunity is achieved

The future of consulting

Then there is the possibly tougher adjustment of adapting professional styles. One advantage for the  consulting industry as a whole is that office working was never necessarily a central expectation. “Our consultants traditionally performed much of their work at client sites, typically returning to the office on Fridays.”  

The problem is that on-site working is no longer a reality either. “Make no mistake: The 100% virtual environment has been more difficult when creating new relationships and connecting with our clients. Our type of consulting is more difficult, and we are not working less, but more, to get the same results” 

While a complete transition to working from home can be ruled out, Hulsebosch points out how the hybrid model can bring myriad opportunities – particularly for the consulting industry. “The consulting profession is well-positioned to drive digital faster, but now we will do it in a way that is more humane for our people because we have learned how to do the same caliber of work, even when we are working remotely.”

And visions of the future look promising. “The goal now is to transform that work to a single screen—making companies less dependent on physical presence. That is what our digital product studio is doing—helping clients envision new ways to do their work with a single pane of glass.”