The Anthropological Consultant

Anthropology is one of the most versatile fields one can enter. Unfortunately, it has been repeatedly called one of the worst degrees to invest in due to a lack of understanding of its strengths. In this article, I’m going to explain how anthropological consultants could be helping today’s COVID-19 businesses manage their work from home transition like never before.

First, let’s step back and look at what anthropologists are good at.

anthropology and culture

Anthropology is the study of human cultures. Cultural anthropology studies living human cultures, while archaeology studies past human cultures.

How could this benefit a COVID-19 world? And how could it benefit business owners?

Today, our culture is shifting, not just individually from mask wearing and standing in line to go into a grocery store, but also from a vast change in the work-from-home cultural norms.

Suddenly, businesses that have traditionally offered only in-person employment have been forced to allow their employees to work from home in order to stay safe during the pandemic. And, overwhelmingly, their employees are loving it.

Many companies work hard at creating a company culture that is welcoming, engaging, and unique. How does a company maintain a culture when their employees are scattered across the city, across the region, and across the world?

enter the anthropological consultant

Anthropologists are experts at understanding the fabric of culture. They don’t just study and document culture. They understand how culture works, whether it be their own or others. Anthropologists are trained to remove their own biases in order to become a tabula rasa, the ability to see, hear, and understand without the influence of one’s own assumptions.

Anthropological consultants have been used for years in companies like Zappos and General Motors in order to support sales in different markets (read: different cultures) around the world.

But to believe that anthropologists would only be useful in selling to other markets would be missing out on their true potential in a COVID-19 world.

Many entrepreneurs and business owners are in a panic because they suddenly lack the daily in person contact with their employees that put them in the driver’s seat of reinforcing company culture. They feel out of control of their company culture. This is where an anthropological consultant could shine.

Anthropologists are trained to understand culture. An anthropological consultant can enter a company, study its messaging, its employees, its methods of communication, the very fabric of that culture, and understand it immediately. An anthropological consultant can then formalize and translate it, even when many of the company traditions were built in person and its staff is now primarily working from home.

building a work from home culture

So what are some solutions that an anthropological consultant might provide to an entrepreneur or business owner who is feeling like their company culture is suddenly out of their hands?

This is something that I did with one of my own entrepreneur clients at the beginning of COVID-19. They are an event company, and wanted to continue to engage with their target market — couples — by offering virtual events.

How could we bring a dinner and a show to the customer even though we couldn’t do it in person? As an anthropologist, I understood that what was lost between an in person and virtual event wasn’t the food and music, but an experience, and a physical one at that. And so myself and my client bridged that gap by creating a physical kit that was sent to every customer who signed up for tickets to the show. Higher paying customers also received an additional pre-show session with a chef in order to make a special meal.

Inside the kits were things like candles, snacks, and other things that would make the night feel that much more special, replicating in a small way the change of scenery of leaving our homes in order to change our physical states and feel like we can focus on our partners.

An anthropologist understands the moving parts that help form a culture, and how to replicate them in a work-from-home environment. In addition to a physical kit for employees, an anthropological consultant might also suggest regular company meetings, employee contests, and other forms of engagement in order to continue to weave a fabric of culture and support into the foundation of the company, even through working remote.

Finally, there are tools available to small business owners and entrepreneurs that can help facilitate an in person in office environments. Despite not being in the office, tools like Moot or Visual Office offer the feeling of understanding where and when your coworkers are working, which help replace that loss of the in person office flow.

If you are a business owner and you feel unsure about the future of your company culture, I highly suggest hiring an anthropological consultant to support your work from home transition, so you can confidently move forward even after the pandemic has passed.

If you are an anthropologist and an entrepreneur, it may be time to reach out to fellow business owners in order to support them using the superpowers you gained in your training.