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The big opportunity for knowledge management

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In July 2021, we undertook an extensive research study for two clients regarding remote and hybrid working. At first, I was a little reluctant to take the project on, as it seemed as if that topic has been discussed to death. Remote working has been analyzed and debated widely for the past 18 months to explore this novel situation of having to make do and rallying together under the spirit of the pandemic blitz. But what we discovered is that we have only just scratched the surface of this topic. And as the hope of normality returns, we need to take a closer look at the changed working dynamic and, even more specifically, how this shift impacts knowledge work. That was the eventual purpose of our study.

It may well be stating the obvious, but we will not be returning to the old ways of working, even though some of us, myself included (as it turns out, I am in the minority), would like to. We all know there will be less travel, more working from home, and that a seismic shift is underway regarding employee–employer relationships. The new normal will significantly improve the old for some; for others, it will be a setback. But one area that seems to have garnered little attention is the gritty reality of the challenge of finding information, and gaining and sharing knowledge to enable us to make informed decisions. Endless Zoom meetings just don’t cut it. We get by, we do the best we can, but for knowledge workers, in particular, there are severe and often unacknowledged challenges ahead.

Changing knowledge access

Before becoming an industry analyst, I trained as an analytical psychotherapist. By far, the most challenging part of that training was taking part in 2-hour experiential workshops. Six-to-eight of us would sit in a circle in complete silence; it was, quite frankly, a living hell. But what it did was teach me how to read and feel the dynamic of the room, to understand the current state of both myself and others who were in the room. Until you try it, and I don’t recommend you do so, it’s hard to imagine just how challenging yet ultimately enlightening such an experience is. This room- and person-reading is what we all do naturally in meetings and the workplace. That room-reading cannot easily be replicated in a Zoom meeting, as much of our ability to read the room is lost, as my daughter’s elementary school teacher can vigorously attest.

Yet as a lapsed psychotherapist, I am fascinated by how this all plays out in disconnected, remote, and hybrid working environments. Part of the survey work we undertook touched on this, and we will share the results publicly as best we can in the next month or two. At a basic level, how we find relevant knowledge remotely, consider it, and use it to inform work decisions has and will continue to change. When we were all in the same office, we could ignore the pitiful enterprise search engines and intranets; we could work around the cluttered and chaotic knowledgebases and go and ask the right person the right question. The answers that person would give us included much more than the words they used; we naturally read their responses and, in turn, responded through our follow-up actions.

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