International Consulting Culture and the Gig Economy

How corporate culture in the consulting industry differs between the US and Europe 

Consultants across the globe can quite often perform identical types of interactions with clients such as careful communication and expert assistance with a business challenge. Some differences abound, however, among consultants that do business within the United States and Europe. Some publications have addressed this issue, reviewing similarities and differences in office culture, salaries and work-life balance.

Contrasts Between Corporate Cultures

Many consulting firms are international in nature, whether maintaining global offices or having analysts fly out to meet worldwide clients. Some consultancies even have international exchange programs where consultants can choose an international office.

Interestingly, many firms that have U.S. offices are voted the best consultancies to work for in Europe. Such aspects as prestige, satisfaction levels, corporate culture, compensation, work-life balance, general business outlook and promotion policies were all cited as important, as reported by Consultancy.uk.

Differences, however, can be seen in the broad, overarching culture of consultant-client interaction as well as in more subtle ways. For instance, in the book, “The Handbook of Global Companies,” it mentions that countries like the United States, Canada and United Kingdom are called “first mover countries’ because of the pro-market mentality. Countries in the heart of Europe have more state influence throughout the business environment. Accordingly, consultants may have different mindsets and strategies depending on where they and where their clients reside.

An analysis by Alliances Progress, a professional services company with expertise in managing international alliances, listed distinct differences in the consulting hybrid model of United States consulting as opposed to the European style. They described the hybrid model of the U.S., for example, as including a mix of full-time and contract analysts, providing hourly rates versus project-based rates and having more generalist consultants as opposed to highly specialized experts. The European model, by contrast, has apparently not adopted the hybrid model as much and still retains a more structured image.

Regarding work-life balance issues, in a poll of British consultants, 77% stated that they work more hours than what was agreed upon in their contracts. In France, a labor agreement agreed upon in 2014 mandated that employees, included consultants from the big consulting firms, do not have to respond to any E-mails after 6pm. No such laws have been passed within the United States.

The question about differing styles of consulting firms across continents is even popular on discussion forums and online Q&A sites. Quite often, insights like every day work style, explanations of hierarchies of employee reporting structure, work hours, office culture, easy of entry/exit, salaries and sample client interaction are provided. Some sources, such as Street of Walls, even show a given time line of a typical consultant’s day in Europe.

Conclusion

It remains to be seen whether the ease of digital communication and the expansion of the gig economy may eventually have influence over all corners of the consulting world. A freelance consultant in France, for instance, may be easily able to communicate and work with a client on the other side of the world. Will a French consultant on an American gig then have to respond like an American consultant? How will that affect employee mandates within France? As white-collar workers continue to feel the impact of globalization, keeping up with international competitors may yet override any concerns of work-life balance, for better or worse.