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Knowledge Management in the Age of Remote Work

A man working on a laptop in a kitchen.

​Lax knowledge management protocols can lead to misinformation, poor team communication, missed deadlines and other project disasters. 

Unfortunately for managers, there appears to be a disconnect between employers and employees when it comes to accessing critical workplace data. 

According to CSO Insights, 83 percent of respondents stated they had problems accessing the data they needed to do their jobs. CSO Insights is the research division of Miller Heiman Group, a sales training, technology and business research firm in Tampa, Fla.

That's a big issue, especially given that 75 percent of organizations say "creating and preserving knowledge across evolving workforces is important or very important for their success over the next 12-18 months," according to Deloitte's Global 2020 Human Capital Trends study. 

"A company management that doesn't promote knowledge management also demotivates employees," said Vishal Sharma, chief technology officer at SearchUnify, an artificial intelligence (AI)-based cognitive search platform company based in Panchkula, Haryana, India. "If first- and second-line managers don't provide the latest technology to share knowledge and ensure visibility, workers end up feeling that the whole process is pointless and draining." 

Getting a Grip: What Managers Need to Know About Knowledge Management Systems 

The first step in building a solid knowledge management system is defining it.

"Knowledge management is understanding what information is telling you," said Cindy Young, founder of CJ Young Consulting LLC, a knowledge management advisory firm in Virginia Beach, Va. "For instance, think of a manager who's using a spreadsheet to capture costs and schedules. Yes, the information is there, but the knowledge management is what you need to [understand] the cost information."

Good knowledge management means workers have the information necessary to answer key company questions, like whether the manager in the above example should spend more or less money on her initiative.

"The same applies to schedules," Young said. "If the information tells you that you are ahead or behind schedule … the knowledge to be managed is the actions to take."

According to Young, who oversaw a major knowledge management initiative during her years in the U.S. Navy, the biggest challenges in creating good knowledge management systems are culture and accessibility.

"An organization needs to have a culture that supports people sharing knowledge instead of hoarding it," she said. "If this culture is backed by a knowledge-sharing mindset in performance reviews and
recognition of those who share knowledge, managers can see that knowledge management is supported throughout the company.

"Management should adopt a knowledge management mindset where it's not just small groups that dominate information flow," Young continued. "Instead, the goal should be having employees from the most junior levels to the C-suite able to access information to make educated decisions."

Understanding How Company Information Is Used

What are the key steps in creating and managing a knowledge management system, especially as more and more companies shift to a remote-work environment?

A candid look at the information sources you have and the information sources you need is a good place to start.

"When shifting to remote work for the long haul, management needs to think about all the ways in which information gets used by your business," said Christina Robbins, marketing manager at Digitech Systems, a knowledge management company in Englewood, Colo.

Common examples of knowledge-based workplace information include creating, drafting, collaborating, editing and sharing documents as part of an approval process.

"For example, while most companies have moved to online forms as part of their [job] application process, some are still using paper," Robbins said. "Once completed, this document needs to be verified, routed to a hiring manager and other interviewers, and moved into an employee file if that candidate is chosen. This gets complicated when employees can't just share or make hard copies of the original application."

How can managers solve the information-sharing problem? In remote-work situations, three types of technologies can get the job done.

  1. Capture knowledge first. Capture applications can pull together files from many locations and convert paper documents into digital files. "The best ones will even scrape data from documents for you, so you don't have to manually insert it into other applications," Robbins said.
  2. Establish cloud information management. Knowledge-based cloud services keep information organized and easy to find regardless of where employees are working. "All a staffer needs is a working Internet connection," she added.
  3. Process automation. This information-sharing software performs repetitive tasks electronically. "Process automation can route information through business processes automatically, virtually eliminating any need to pass documents hand-to-hand among remote workers," Robbins said.

Steps to a Clean and Efficient Knowledge Management Campaign

Once a company's technology tools are in place, getting team members on board is management's next priority. That task should focus on mapping out organizational knowledge—department by department.

For instance, human resources can map the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) of the organization through a common list of initiatives. That list can be shared with individual department leaders to create a single KSA data map that can be accessed throughout the organization.

"This will help when companies need to create teams or think tanks, especially in a remote environment, and is helpful since it's a one-stop shop for the information," Young said.

To motivate staffers, set up calls to share wins, losses and especially lessons learned in the gathering and organizing of key information. "Managers can create a digital status board located behind a virtual private network to protect this information, but having access to the board can help team members and management," she adds.

Management needs to tell employees early and often that a wealth of knowledge is essential for their employment.

"That means rethinking your onboarding checklist to include a thorough introduction to your internal knowledge base, how to use it, and what is open for interpretation and what isn't," said Domantas Gudeliauskas, marketing manager at Lithuania-based Zyro, an AI-powered website firm. "Everyone being on the same page will make the creation of the actual knowledge base easier, and misunderstandings less frequent." 

Take these additional steps to get your company's knowledge management in good order.

Create dependable knowledge management processes. Take a long-term and short-term approach to knowledge management, emphasizing accountability and steady data flow.

"For product development, our teams always specify project requirements," said Neal Taparia, founder of Imagine Easy Solutions, a New York City-based software company he sold to Chegg. "When a project is done, we conduct a post-mortem where we document any A/B test data and what went right and wrong." A/B testing enables employees, teams and companies to make needed changes to their user experiences while collecting data on the testing results.

"For day-to-day work, everyone in our company sends a 100-word daily e-mail about progress, challenges and questions, and copies a master inbox," Taparia added. "This way, all our progress is tracked daily. When there are questions, we can easily search the master inbox."

Taparia said existing systems like Jira, a project-tracking platform, and e-mail are good enough "as long as you have solid processes in place."

Reimagine information sharing in a remote world. Managers need to look at their company's knowledge management objectives in the age of remote work.

"Keep in mind that when transitioning to a remote-work environment, additional elements need to be incorporated to replace the physical contact no longer available," said Ajmal Dar, a global manager at Singapore-based Amazon Web Services. "One big mistake managers make is not addressing the fact that staff can no longer have an informal chat at the office. Still, knowledge sharing and fast, direct access to those with knowledge must be maintained. This can best be done via remote-communication groups such as WhatsApp or Google Hangouts."

Get feedback from the team. Having open dialogue with employees of all levels to get their views and opinions on what they need should be a management priority, as well. "This will give management a heads up on processes that will enable effective knowledge management," Dar said. "Good feedback also helps getting employees on board with new knowledge management initiatives."

Brian O'Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC's Creating Wealth and The Career Survival Guide.


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