“Don’t just come to work. Come to change.”
McKinsey’s value proposition for its team pretty much captures the essence of consulting firms. Whether it was the economic boom of the 1920s, the professional management era of the 1970s, the IT surge of the 1990s or the implementation of demonetisation in India – companies like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Ernst & Young etc have influenced nearly every aspect of business. Because of the unique ways in which these companies operate, creating workspaces specially cut out for them presents the most interesting challenges. How does one construct an environment where deals that move the world are made?
I prefer to start by finding ways to express the adage ‘come to change’ through space. I’ve tried to break down a few principles I keep in mind when designing workplaces like these.
Pride and Prestige
One of the key aspects of consulting firms is the nature of talent they attract. It’s a world where cognitive and analytical power is valued over everything else – which is why they hire the best from the most prestigious institutions. These companies even serve as launchpads for some of the most prominent CEOs across the globe. This sense of prestige dominates design. From ergonomically excellent furniture and chairs to the selection of coffee – every element that makes up these workspaces is state of the art.
Another trait of these companies is the global nature of their operations. While they may have branches across the globe, the oneness of the brand is maintained through the colour schemes and layouts. But in spite of the standardisation, there is an emphasis on adding local flavour. For instance, in India, works by celebrated artists are often featured in these spaces alongside sculpted or photographic homages to the city.
Privacy is Paramount
The one thing that clearly separates a consulting firm from the rest of the world is confidentiality. It’s a space where focus time for top-level management is precious. While the open office layout is fast catching up with most industries, for the consulting world, the traditional work structure is more conducive to productivity. Besides, communal spaces are unable to convey the sense of exclusivity and prestige we discussed above. It’s safe to say that while companies like BCG may adopt a mix of open and enclosed spaces to increase cross-team interactions, the CEO suite at a consulting firm is here to stay.
The Friday Effect
This is the most unique aspect of consulting firms. For most part of the week, team members are located at client destinations and it’s only on Fridays that they convene at the base. This mix of inter-city and even international team members makes up a vibrant ecosystem – one that other companies are trying to simulate in coworking environments. This is why most of travelling team members do not occupy permanent desks, leading to a more flexible set-up. Private meeting rooms are made abundant, allowing enough room to work out of.
Most business degree holders in these organisations are also tech graduates. It’s only natural for these workplaces to be the earliest adopters of modern office technology and automation like Microsoft’s Surface Hubs and futuristic pods equipped with everything from Bluetooth to video calling capability. These may not exactly qualify as breakthrough technology. But while most companies would treat these as attractive luxuries, for a consulting firm in the near future, these would be staples.
While the rest of the world is still grappling with technology and its impact on marketing, the consulting firms are already ahead of the curb. Closer home, some credible sources report that a certain consulting giant could soon be taking over a prominent advertising and marketing conglomerate. This marriage of data and creativity is how the consulting world is making good on its promise of ‘change’ – by changing not just the way business functions, but by leading the change itself. As Accenture’s tagline puts it, “New isn’t on the way. We’re applying it right now.”