Consulting during COVID-19

As my 2020 working year comes to its end, I have found myself reflecting on the differences of consulting during COVID-19.

The coronavirus plunged the world into remote and online working faster and more comprehensively than any of us could have imagined. But for me, freelance-working-from-home and covid-working-from-home looked pretty much the same on the surface (particularly the last three months of freelance-working-from-home with-a-broken-leg).

But there were some key differences in my workload. There was a lot more of it, for starters – both due to worry completely taking the place of creativity from March, and from my increased inclination to say ‘yes’ to more jobs in a depleted and more uncertain economy.

I count myself extraordinarily lucky that this work was still available – including with more interstate clients than before – as well as for the digital platforms that made it all possible.

It also provided me with a fascinating opportunity track the preoccupations of our sector through the types of work I have been asked to undertake over the past nine months.

In March, we could all feel the collective shock and panic that rippled across our industry – not just from the emerging awareness of COVID-19, but the impact of summer’s bushfires and recovery efforts, and four-year Australia Council funding announcements (and disappointments). This saw me have my first weeks of no work at all since I returned to freelancing three years ago, and a huge increase in my pro-bono support.

From April, this morphed into more focused financial panic, with requests pouring in for help with funding applications. Then, as the sector discovered that its new normal was difficult in unexpected ways, clients began to need more online meeting and digital workplace advice.

By mid-year, it was time to put the house in order – with lots of requests for organisational policies and procedures. And from there, the sector started to imagine a new new normal – thinking about what workplaces, delivery platforms and programs could look like once we are all able to return to our offices for a new (and hopefully more accessible) hybrid future. At one stage, I had seven different Strategic Plans and/or COVID Recover Plans on the go at the same time.

Unsurprisingly, the barometer has swung back towards budgets for the final few months of the year, as organisations find themselves with unexpected JobKeeper surpluses but more future funding uncertainty, finally have time to roll out individual giving and philanthropy plans, or leap to take advantage of RISE or other industry stimulus measures (that have finally been rolled out).

It’s been a long, hard and challenging year, but one in which I have been continually gobsmacked and grateful for the strength, resilience, collegiality and compassion of Australia’s arts and cultural sector. Take care of yourselves and each other. Here’s to a more hopeful new year.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance.

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