Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the workforce has entered a new era — the era of remote work. Many businesses have switched from working in the office to working from home. Although some companies have had a work-from-home protocol in place even before the pandemic hit, for most other businesses, working in the office was the normal practice. However, the threat of the virus has forced businesses to adapt to the new normal.
Because the change was so sudden, moving from the office to remote work has had its fair share of challenges. With businesses having their workforce scattered, getting everyone on the same page as they started working in the new set-up took some doing. This is where having an effective knowledge management strategy proves its worth.
Before we delve into the importance of knowledge management tools when it comes to remote work, let us first discuss what knowledge management is.
According to Tom Davenport, an employee of Ernst and Young in the 1990s, knowledge management is “the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” The concept of knowledge management was birthed in the management consulting sphere. They discovered that the intranet, an in-house subset of the internet, was a useful tool for accessing and sharing data across an organization, and that by building tools such as dashboards and databases, they realized they had come up with a marketable product that would benefit different organizations; especially large companies that were complex and dispersed.
Knowledge management is one of the few initiatives that truly changed how organizations operated.
Types of Knowledge
There are two core types of knowledge in the knowledge management sphere. Differentiating the two is important when building a knowledge management system since the different types of knowledge need different ways of sharing to employees.
This is knowledge that appears as formal, documented information. This knowledge is easy to document in writing and therefore easier to share. It is sometimes referred to as “know what.”
This type of knowledge would include manuals, written instructions, reports, powerpoint presentations, and the like. This is traditionally what companies will have as part of their knowledge management strategy. In a knowledge management system, this type of information is easy to store, retrieve, and share.
The challenge of this type of knowledge is maintenance and storage. An organization needs to have explicit knowledge stored in a way that makes it easily retrievable or searchable. This also requires maintenance as it evolves. Processes could be streamlined or obsoleted, new steps added and old ones replaced. This requires updating the written process so that everyone has the same knowledge across the organization.
Tacit knowledge on the other hand is what some people call “know-how.” This is knowledge that is intuitive, not easy to codify or define, and is based on one’s experiences. This type of knowledge is personal in nature and is rooted more in action and commitment.
Imagine trying to teach someone how to balance on a tightrope through written instruction rather than actually showing them and having them practice the activity.
Or telling someone how to ride a bike by giving step by step instructions without the benefit of getting on a bike and learning to balance first.
Tacit knowledge is contextual and therefore is a challenge when it comes to capturing it in a document. However many experts believe this type of knowledge is more valuable than explicit knowledge. An engineer with years of work under his belt will troubleshoot problems based on his knowledge and intuition gained from years of practice. Whereas someone new to the field will go about it differently and will rely heavily on the textbook knowledge they gained.
Knowledge Management Systems
Knowledge management systems are IT systems used to store and retrieve knowledge. Knowledge bases, like Slab, are examples of knowledge systems. A good knowledge base will allow you to create, organize, store, and retrieve knowledge easily regardless of your tech-savviness.
Another knowledge management system is your Customer Relationship Management System or CRM. This knowledge management system type is designed to keep track of all customer interactions. This is an important tool in keeping customer satisfaction rates high.
Working from home, especially for companies that do not have a set system in place, is a daunting ordeal. For companies that have a scattered workforce — those whose various lines of businesses operate on different time zones, for example — getting immediate answers to queries can sometimes be near impossible.
Why are knowledge management systems important for remote work?
When an organization does not have a knowledge management system in place, and instead has an outdated tool they use to store material, this cripples productivity. People will be contacting SMEs and these SMEs will have to answer repeated questions on top of doing their own work.
The pressure doubles when employees work remotely. Gone are the perks of a quick shoulder tap, or a short drop into a colleague’s office for questions. Also, when there is no effective tool in place, employees will have no choice but to once again flood SMEs with DMs and emails which will impact productivity.
Remote work only works well when employees can collaborate more efficiently, when knowledge transfer is seamless, and retrieval is as quick and painless as possible. Productivity will fail if employees do not have access to critical, current, and accurate knowledge.
With a good and efficient knowledge management system, employees have access to data that they need to do their jobs without having to burden SMEs with their questions. And knowledge sharing will also be easier with an effective platform in place. Keeping all the pertinent data current and updated will ensure that employees have accurate information. All of this will ensure that productivity will remain high despite the workforce being scattered across time zones.
This means that the company will keep doing well and that very little is lost in the shuffle of switching from office-based work to home-based work. It will also mean increased operational efficiency, a happier workforce, and happier customers.