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Why virtual collaboration needs knowledge management

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many organizations quickly deployed new or upgraded virtual collaboration tools to help employees work remotely. In this mad dash to provide people with the right platforms, most turned to their IT teams to design an approach, select vendors, train users, roll out tools, and handle any questions and concerns that arose. It’s easy to understand why so many organizations chose this route—after all, asking technology experts to handle a technologyenabled process seemed like a natural fit. But more than a year later, the drawbacks of IT-led virtual collaboration strategies have become painfully clear.

IT leaders know how tools work and fit together, but they don’t always understand how end users interact with technology or the support required to fully engage them. These gaps are evident in APQC’s “Virtual Collaboration: Rules of the Road” research, which explored the virtual work experience of more than 800 professionals. Organizations that involve people-focused functions such as knowledge management, human resources (HR), and learning in managing their virtual collaboration strategies are more likely to set and communicate the kind of norms employees are clamoring for. They are also better at transitioning complex, relationship-focused work into virtual settings—which helps ensure employees continue to connect and exchange critical knowledge, regardless of location.

Who owns virtual collaboration?

If your organization has IT in charge of virtual collaboration, you’re certainly not alone. APQC’s research found that IT, information services, or the CIO office is the primary owner of virtual collaboration in nearly two out of three organizations. In the remaining third, ownership is fragmented among various other groups:

♦ 9% have knowledge management (KM) in charge.

♦ 7% have organizational learning or HR in charge.

♦ 11% have a different group in charge (often senior leadership or a partnership across multiple groups).

♦ 11% say that “no one” owns the virtual collaboration strategy.

When APQC asked survey respondents about their experiences collaborating virtually in their organizations, the overarching theme was anarchy. Many people are using virtual collaboration tools with minimal guidance, rules, and norms. Of course, that makes sense in organizations with no one in charge of virtual collaboration—but it’s also the case in most organizations where IT owns the virtual collaboration strategy. 

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