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Knowledge Management Remains a Great Challenge for Many Organizations

May 13, 2020 Knowledge and Findability
By Dom Nicastro

Most organizations have yet to fall into the strategic phase of knowledge management. According to the TSIA State of Knowledge Management 2019 report only 4% of organizations are in the strategic phase, a drop from 8% from the year before. Most fall in the “instantiation phase.” And that was before COVID-19 made an already distributed workforce even more distributed at many organizations. “It presents us with a huge opportunity, a chance to reflect on purpose,” said Alister Webb, owner and consultant at Innosis and author of Designing Collaboration: An Essential Handbook for Today's Digital Workplace. “A clear, driving purpose, ensuring that the remote working tools we must now use are applied sensibly to that purpose, rather than just be available. It’s not an optional conversation to have if we have the time. It's urgent.”

One Practitioner's Knowledge Management Efforts

Practitioners like Laura Pike Seeley are always thinking about managing knowledge across their organizations. Pike Seeley is a knowledge manager for HKS Inc., a global architectural firm. Her knowledge management team works with internal comms, MarCom, Research and a health practice primarily. In recent weeks, the organization has implemented multiple ways to manage knowledge and communications across its enterprise:

  • A benefits guide to highlight information relevant to COVID-19.
  • Internal thought leadership posts written by thought leaders for an internal audience, such as how to manage mental health during this crisis.
  • A guide to discussing the current crisis with clients, including email templates and talking points.
  • A guide on how to approach site visits for its Construction Services team that does site visits. No one is required to do a site visit in person, but since construction is considered essential they can if they want.
  • And even a Yammer group for people to discuss their furry pet coworkers.

It also has an internal site dedicated to COVID-19 resources that is for all employees. “We are sharing reputable sources, select news articles, knowledge documents and surfacing relevant ‘stories’ from our external website,” Pike Seeley said. “These stories are basically blog posts that show our clients and the media how our firm is trying to lead with knowledge in response to the crisis.” 

Related Article: The State of Knowledge Management in 2020

‘Digital Workplace’ Email, Collaboration Connections

The HKS knowledge teams also send a “Digital Workplace” weekly email created by internal communications. Through this email, the Research team sends out a weekly survey on the work from home experiences. “We have a robust commercial practice,” Pike Seeley said, “so this data could be helpful for our firm going forward.”

Yammer groups are dedicated to keeping people connected. Groups include a work from home group, a working parents group, a mental health group and the pet one mentioned earlier. “We’ve asked people to share their work from home set-ups,” Pike Seeley said. “I know that some teams have regular digital lunch meetings to socialize. Zoom virtual backgrounds are a big deal right now.” It also has a Microsoft Team dedicated to COVID-19 knowledge sharing.

HKS also has a large health practice. Clients have placed inquiries to designers about triage, securing entrances, turning storage rooms into isolation rooms, infection control, etc. The document library that lies behind a Yammer group is where the health practice is now organizing any files and materials related to the topic. “Later on they will be incorporated into our larger knowledge repositories,” Pike Seeley said, “but for now timeliness and ease of use are priorities.”

Knowledge Management Is Still Knowledge Management

When it comes to knowledge management in the workplace, the same principles that should have guided organizations before the COVID-19 pandemic should apply now, according to Andrew Bishop, digital workplace sales consultant with intranet SaaS provider Unily. “As remote working has become the default,” he said, “the same knowledge management principles that we've had in place for when workers operate in a workplace, separated perhaps by different pods or being on the different floor, still apply. The difference of course [is] that the workers are now ensconced in their homes.”

Your organization, for example, should ensure that content and knowledge is being stored in shared, searchable repositories which are accessible by all team members. This would apply to both unstructured content — documents, file notes, media, blogs, news, etc — and structured content (i.e. data), according to Bishop. “For the unstructured content, there are really good cloud-based tools that every organization should be using. I'm referring here to intranets, digital workplaces, collaboration platforms and the like.”

Related Article: Where Employee Experience Fits in the Digital Workplace

Blending Usability, Knowledge

A related challenge is that there are many tools and platforms that the typical knowledge worker needs to use in any given day, according to Bishop. Organizations need to be giving thought, he said, to their digital strategy and how they can best blend the tools available, and those that are coming, to provide front-end experiences that are usable for knowledge workers. At the same time, these tools need to provide a source of integrated, accessible knowledge at the back end. “As we have all experienced, there's been a massive shift toward knowledge being shared informally via voice and video,” Bishop said. “We're seeing a lot more willingness to record meetings, which is a good step toward knowledge capture. However, to make this capture really effective, we need to also look to leveraging transcription tools to make the ideas and decisions of those recorded meetings quickly discoverable via search tools.”

Team Members Deserve a Say

To help the process, we involved our team members in the selection of the tools, Webb said. “Unless team members across co-dependent teams are all involved in tool choices, based on an articulated, compelling business need, remote team-working will be chaotic,” he said. “Different teams, and even individuals within teams, are using different tools for different reasons, potentially working way less efficiently than they were before.”

Organizations should have been doing this anyway, but the circumstances today put a high priority and emphasis on it. “This, not the sudden availability of digital workday tools,” Webb said, “is the critical success factor that many organizations will find to be the difference between success and failure in the post-COVID-19 world.”

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