Many of us who were lucky enough to remain employed over the last two years received a crash course in working from home. Remote work offers obvious benefits, especially for those with long commutes or disruptive cubemates. But some activities are more complicated when virtual. For instance, it can be harder to collaborate and access information. Exchanges that happen naturally in an office must be orchestrated, and it takes more effort to find and connect with people and answers.
APQC’s Fixing Process and Knowledge Productivity Problems research confirms certain inefficiencies in virtual work related to the exchange of knowledge. Compared to in-office peers, the median virtual knowledge worker spends:
- 0.7 more hours/week looking for or requesting information they need to get their jobs done
- 1.3 more hours/week managing and responding to internal communications
These findings align with earlier research performed by APQC and others on virtual collaboration. Employees who can’t turn to a colleague to ask a question or figure out where a file is stored spend more time poking around for information. This is particularly true during periods of crisis and rapid change, when guidance is updated more frequently. Virtual employees also feel pressure to be immediately responsive on digital communication channels to demonstrate that they are “really working.” The result is an uptick in wheel-spinning and distractions, which take away from time for deep thinking and productive activity.
Virtual and Hybrid Work Drives Knowledge Management Demand
Knowledge management (KM) has the potential to streamline collaboration and make it easier for employees to find information, expertise, and answers. So, it makes sense that, if remote knowledge workers waste more time seeking and exchanging information, they would be particularly eager for better KM. The data proves this out.
Virtual employees are more likely to say that a range of new or improved KM activities would make them more productive. Many would like their organizations to do a better job documenting critical knowledge, facilitating search and discovery, and helping them connect with experts and likeminded colleagues.
Interestingly, employees who work a hybrid schedule—with some days in the office and some at home—are as interested in most KM improvements as their fully virtual peers are. It appears that even partial inhabitants of the digital workplace want better documented and more easily accessible knowledge for when they’re not face-to-face.
What KM Can Do to Support Remote & Hybrid Work
Respondents to APQC’s 2021-2022 KM Trends survey view helping their organizations adjust to more remote and hybrid work as the No. 1 opportunity for KM teams to embrace right now. But how can KM capitalize on the demands and fervor of virtual workers to increase KM investment and adoption? Here are a few suggestions.
- Reposition the KM mission and goals to support digital work. Business priorities have changed a lot over the past two years. Now is a good time to assess your KM strategy and ensure it is aligned with post-pandemic needs. It also may make sense to solicit feedback from business stakeholders and end users to ensure KM understands their biggest pain points. APQC has seen many organizations refocus their KM strategies on digital knowledge flow, especially the use of machine learning and AI to support search and contextual recommendations. That might not be the right direction for you, but don’t continue down the same path on auto-pilot without doing a check-in.
- Make sure you’re prioritizing the right knowledge. As part of strategy reassessment, it’s worth revisiting your knowledge maps or audits to look for new or worsening gaps and bottlenecks. The knowledge most critical to the business, or most at risk, may have shifted. And with more people working virtually, knowledge that used to transfer spontaneously from more to less experienced staff may need to be codified and made centrally accessible.
- Integrate KM into existing digital workplace applications. Some KM programs are fully embedded in platforms like Microsoft 365, Slack, and Google Workspace. But if you are delivering knowledge and expertise through older or niche technology that is siloed off from where most work is happening, it may be time to migrate. This move can be painful, especially for long-standing KM programs with highly customized tools. But in most cases, putting knowledge in the flow of work is more important than bells and whistles. If you need to maintain separate systems (and there are lots of good reasons to do so, especially for technical or high-security information), make sure you build APIs or direct links to where the action is.
- Redesign KM processes and trainings. When the pandemic hit, a lot of KM teams took traditionally face-to-face activities and transitioned them wholesale to Teams and Zoom. But good in-person and virtual events are designed differently. Online interaction often works better with shorter sprints and a mix of facilitation and self-service learning and reflection. Some exercises don’t translate well from one realm to the other. If your organization is going to support virtual work going forward, it makes sense to rethink knowledge elicitation interviews, lessons learned capture sessions, community of practice meetings, and KM trainings so that they are optimized for online or hybrid delivery.
- Build KM communications and rewards into the digital ecosystem. The digital workplace has vastly increased the amount of “dings and pings” that employees wade through every day. It’s easy for KM messaging to get lost in all that noise, especially if the communications strategy is limited to email or blanket intranet announcements. KM teams may need to get craftier in how they reach their target audiences—for example, by asking managers and local advocates to drop relevant messaging into online meetings, teams, and discussion threads. KM can also take advantage of the virtual environment by rewarding KM participants via gamification features like digital badges and leaderboards.
How else can KM take advantage of the shift to virtual work to get employees to contribute, access, and reuse knowledge? Post your thoughts below.
If you’d like to learn more about virtual work’s impact on productivity and knowledge management, see: