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Knowledge management in the hybrid work era: 4 key insights

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Amidst the continuous global disruption of the last 2 years, businesses across many sectors—from high-tech to finance to e-commerce and more—have actually been thriving. They’re tenaciously pursuing their most important strategic goals while continuously adapting to high-velocity change, including a widespread shift to hybrid and remote-first working models.

That means these companies are also grappling with a fundamental question: How will people find the information they need to be successful when they no longer all work together in the same location?

Indeed, we’ve seen a “knowledge crisis” unfolding in the business world. Organizational IQ—the invaluable intelligence about products, processes, customers, and other data that gets built up over time—has long depended on traditional in-person operations. Everyone from the C suite to sales to customer service needs this information to be successful, but it’s harder to tap into with the shift to hybrid and remote work. As the workforce left the traditional office and dispersed, so did the collective brain trust that keeps many organizations running smoothly.

Companies must keep knowledge flowing across people, processes, and tools, even when they’re spread across disparate physical locations and time zones. In fact, 76% of respondents in the recently published 2022 Knowledge Management Survey reported a greater need for employee training on knowledge management systems as a substitute for immediate access to in-office expertise. The survey, conducted by Benchmark Portal and sponsored by KMS Lighthouse, included responses from more than 1,000 professionals working in organizations of all sizes and across virtually every industry.

While that was the top COVID-19-related impact on knowledge management operations in the survey, it was not the only one. More than half (55%) of organizations are now relying more heavily on remote employees in their call centers and elsewhere in their operations; meanwhile, 45% are increasingly emphasizing self-service support channels to help manage rising call volumes.

All of this points to a new reality: A robust knowledge management system is becoming the central nervous system of today’s hybrid and remote-first companies. A modern organization trying to function without a modern knowledge management system is sort of like a human being trying to function without a brain.

Many companies discovered this first-hand in 2020 and 2021, as they scrambled to keep people and information connected—and keep customers happy: 73% of the KM survey respondents adopted new knowledge management system software during that previous 18 months.

These needs were particularly urgent for call center personnel and other customer-facing employees; the front-line professionals have long sat side-by-side in contact centers and benefited from expertise that was—literally, in some cases—an arm’s length away.

When call center professionals—similar to so many of their colleagues in other business functions—began working from home, that expertise was no longer as readily available. This creates significant challenges for everything from onboarding new employees to resolving customer issues in a timely manner.

It takes companies nearly a month (3.7 weeks) on average to train a new agent to a good level of proficiencydefined by their ability to work well on their own. And it can take as long as 26 weeks, with a lot of variability in onboarding time across industries. As a result, organizations looked to add new KM practices to compensate for the remote/WFH paradigm. In addition to deploying new KM software tools, survey respondents added:

  • Documentation (printed or electronic manuals): 48%
  • Regular meetings for knowledge sharing: 60%
  • “KM champions”/subject matter experts: 20%

This represents a good start, but there’s more work to be done, Companies are in the midst of improving their processes and tools for long-term hybrid and remote-first work, and a top-notch knowledge management platform is crucial to this endeavorthe brain or central nervous system that helps people realize their full potential, regardless of where they work.

With that in mind, the KM survey reveals four important insights about this overarching trend.

  1. Forward-thinking organizations cycle from adoption to optimization

When you see that 76% of survey respondents have already implemented new KM software, you might think: Great, they’ve already solved the problem! But that’s not entirely true: many of these companies deployed in a rush to support WFH operations.

Technology rollouts in general tend to be cyclical in nature; that holds doubly true here. The ad-hoc nature of initial KM software rollouts means that companies need to fine-tune and optimize. 57% of survey respondents said they’re planning a major upgrade of an existing KM system, and 36% said they will implement a new KM system.

Those initiatives are widely aimed at improving remote employee onboarding and training (69%) and remote employee access to information (71%). Hybrid/remote organizations are looking to KM systems to function as an “internal Google” that gives employees fingertip access to important data and services. This is an area with considerable untapped potential. While 64% of respondents reported that their current system is effective when customer-facing employees search documentation or the KMS, just 9% would describe it as “very effective.”

  1. AI/ML brings the missing “wow” factor to KM.

For search and other services, machine learning and other AI disciplines will finally emerge to deliver on some of the unfilled promises of KM solutions to this point.

For all the buzz around technologies such as intelligent search or intelligent chatbots, the survey found that most companies have yet to implement AI/ML as part of their KM strategy. Just 16% said they already have it in use today.

That’s about to change: 46% said they plan to implement AI for knowledge management within the next 6 months, and 28% will do so within a year.

Moreover, 59% of organizations said that they’re looking to add virtual assistants in their next fiscal year’s budget to help improve customer experience. This is part of an overall pattern of expanding customer service capabilities, with more companies prioritizing features like automated call routing, omni-channel support, and self-service capabilities.

  1. Call center success inspires enterprise-wide KMS rollout.

While KM initiatives often naturally start in call center operations, more companies will build on the initial wins in customer experience and extend them throughout the enterprise.

That’s because the fundamental advantages of a top-notch KMS can benefit virtually every line of business, especially in the hybrid/remote era. Optimizing remote employee onboarding and training is a priority for any department, as is ensuring seamless 24/7 access to information, regardless of location.

A modern KMS helps eliminate data silos and ensure information flows to where it’s needed for people and teams to meet their goals. A top-notch KMS is becoming a mission-critical enterprise app, not just a contact center tool.

  1. Customers—not costs—drive KM strategies.

High-performing organizations focus on the top line, not just the bottom line. That’s why customer experience improvements—not cost reductions—are the primary driver of new customer service technology adoption.

On a sliding scale, survey respondents leaned considerably (70%) toward improving customer experience as their top motivation.

That’s as it should be—and why knowledge management systems are so integral to success. KM is about giving people the information and tools they need to achieve their full potential—and when you’ve done that, your customers will surely notice.

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