How consultants can stay connected in the new hybrid world

4 questions to assess your consulting firm’s connectivity and collaboration needs

by the AT&T Business Editorial Team

Before COVID-19 encircled the globe, consultants spent their lives … encircling the globe. They would typically hit the airport Monday, meet face-to-face with customers all week, then fly home on Friday.

When the pandemic hit, however, consultants were grounded. They had to devise a new way to work, so they turned to collaboration tools to continue talking to their clients around the world.

In this new work landscape, most consulting firms have adopted not just one collaboration tool, but sometimes three or four. Consultants and clients alike must scramble to learn all these tools proficiently in a short period of time. And when the tools are updated, more training is required.

The challenges don’t stop there. If you record a meeting using a collaboration tool, where do you store that large file, and how long can you access it? Now, consulting firms need to master content management, too.

These are some of the connectivity and collaboration challenges facing consulting firms. Let’s look at how to address them.

Hybrid work: the big picture

GlobalData, a data analytics and consulting company based in London, surveyed employers in the professional services sector (services that typically bill by the hour) on the future of their work. Survey participants were asked what they expected their work environment to look like in the next 24 months.

Here’s what they found:

  • Up to 60% of respondents expect a hybrid future, with a mix of remote and in-office work
  • 31% of respondents predict the majority of employees will work from home
  • 24% of respondents predict that teams will come to the office on select days for group meetings

This shift to a hybrid work model brings challenges. If you want to know whether your firm’s network architecture measures up to the task, here are four key questions to ask.

Question #1: Who’s connecting from where?

In your consulting firm, one size of connectivity does not fit all. Different roles require different connectivity tools.

  • Principals and partners — They need connectivity with the greatest bandwidth and lowest latency. Principals and partners need all the bells and whistles. (They were some of the first to adopt 5G phones.)
  • Professional staff — Your firm’s billable staff. They are using digital tools at home, mobile, or in office,  and they are running collaboration sessions with clients. After recording these sessions using collaboration tools, they need to know where to store these large files and also understand the unique permissions of each platform. Suddenly, professional staff members need to be experts in content management and its inherent cybersecurity risks.
  • Back office — These are your support teams, including IT staff, human resources, and accounting. During the pandemic, many back-office workers pushed to work in the office to support principals and partners, but they also needed the flexibility to work from home. Unfortunately, home networks rarely offer the speeds or reliability of corporate networks, often resulting in bandwidth or latency issues. Poor connectivity can mean that back-office staff can’t run reports quickly or that employees can’t enter their time. Unreliable connectivity also reflects poorly on the firm’s brand.
  • Call center — Employees in both home and office settings need voice and collaboration tools that support strong, stable voice quality.

Question #2: How robust is my networking and connectivity?

Reliable, high-speed connectivity is the glue that holds your distributed workforce together. Connectivity issues, voice quality, and video buffering are top pain points when supporting remote workers. The increase in remote working and an accelerated move toward cloud transformation mean connectivity and network services need to adapt to a work-from-anywhere model. A single, unified, and centrally administered platform that can enable faster and efficient communications is key for the new hybrid model. 

Can your network give you all you need to help your clients—without technical headaches or hiccups?

Question #3: What’s the status of my cloud migration?

The shift to remote work has further accelerated movement to the cloud, with cloud spending during the early part of 2020 increasing dramatically. The top four cloud service providers alone were projected to bring in more than $115 billion in 2021, according to the GlobalData study.

Cloud solutions are well-suited for a dispersed network, and they also help consulting firms with ease of deployment, scalability, and cost effectiveness. The GlobalData study, however, found that many professional services firms aren’t even halfway along in their migration to the cloud. Furthermore, those polled preferred a hybrid cloud, which introduces additional challenges.

Many of the pandemic-driven cloud migrations that took place in 2020 were so rapid-fire in nature that some management and security elements were left out of the equation, the study said. Enterprises are working through corrections, addressing gaps, and considering new vendors to close gaps and better orchestrate these environments.

Question #4: How confident are you in your cyberdefenses?

Security is an acute pain point. In a 2021 GlobalData survey of 205 enterprises, 37% ranked cybersecurity in their top three challenges.

When companies worldwide pivoted to the new hybrid work model, many key security elements such as anti-malware, multi-level authentication, and endpoint protection didn’t always happen. The distributed workforce and its growing number of connected devices significantly increases the risk for cyberattacks. The number of ransomware attacks rose by 150% in 2020, according to research from firewall vendor SonicWall.

As IT departments extend the concept of the secure, trusted network from the corporate premises to the network edge, whether this may be the home office or other remote locations, solutions based on the principles of secure access service edge (SASE) and zero trust are a big part of The Future of Work discussion.

As you take inventory of the architecture of your network and how you defend it, consider if you have:

  • Anti-malware
  • Endpoint protection
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Identity access management
  • Security for assets running across multiple cloud environments
  • Secure access service edge (SASE)
  • Threat detection and response
  • Educated employees who know and follow best practices

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start. After you assess what defenses you have in place—and those that you should have, but don’t yet—there are other things to consider.

  • How automated is your cybersecurity?
  • Is your cybersecurity artificially intelligent and powered by machine learning?
  • What’s the quality and quantity of threat intelligence enabling your solutions?
  • Do you have an in-house cybersecurity team?
  • Are the solutions you use unified and coordinated, or are they patchwork?

Addressing the challenges

Your answers, of course, will depend on your company. What your firm needs to shore up the challenging parts of your network will be different from the particular needs of another.

Whether you engage consultants or meet with several solution providers to find out what they have to say, be wary of those who pitch a one-size-fits-all approach.

Look for providers who listen to you, take the time to examine and understand your network, and want to craft a set of modern solutions around your unique situation.

Providers who can offer a full breadth of portfolios, from cloud to connectivity to cybersecurity to consulting, can be a powerful, convenient resource. And those who partner with other best-in-class providers have the capability to fortify your network’s weak points and enhance its strong points with high-performance, industry-best solutions.

Why AT&T Business for Professional Services

Technology is complex. Transformation is fast. It can be difficult to know you’re making the right connectivity choices for your consulting firm. With experience across all professional services, we bring a rich understanding of your firm’s demands—no matter its size—to help deliver the right insights, guidance, and solutions.

Find out how AT&T Voice and Collaboration solutions can help your firm stay agile and connected.