When the world started working from home overnight, there were a lot of obvious ways for employers to improve the quality of life of their employees. Flexible hours, at-home office equipment, virtual happy hours, and branded loungewear were among the immediate benefits shared with employees as we kickstarted our remote lives. But as the novelty of tie-dye sweatpants wears off and the reality of our current and future workplace environments sets in, it’s imperative that leaders take a look at their technological foundation and ask “do we have everything we need to be successful?”

How Knowledge Management Impacts Remote Workforces

We’ve already detailed what we believe to be the critical elements of a remote work tech stack (video conferencing, team communication + messaging, and knowledge management), but we recognize that for teams that didn’t have these tools in place prior to worldwide stay-at-home orders, getting them in place does take work. And at a time when technology budgets are under more scrutiny than ever, proving out a need for new tools is crucial. 

The need for video conferencing and chat tools are obvious when in-person meetings and passive lunch table conversations are no longer possible—this was seen early on in our transition to remote work. Okta’s 2020 Business @ Work (From Home) report noted a 110% MoM growth from February to March for Zoom, and a 19% growth for Slack, showing just how quickly these tools became the backbone of our workplaces. But the need for remote collaboration tools was actually growing in prevalence before the pandemic really hit much of the world—in early February of this year, Forbes reported the growing importance of frictionless collaboration in the workplace as employees have come to expect flexibility outside of traditional office settings.


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The state of knowledge management, collaboration, what matters, and what to do about it


Knowledge management’s impact on remote workforces

This applies to the need for knowledge management as well–though the “symptoms” of a lack of KM might not be as obvious as the inability to hold meetings remotely without a video conferencing tool. The implications of not having a KM tool and a culture of knowledge sharing can seriously undermine a team’s ability to collaborate effectively and efficiently. Here are some surprising indications that your team is in need of a knowledge-sharing intervention: 

Gen Z employee unhappiness and eventual churn 

Though many are quick to call anyone under the age of 40 a millennial, the oldest members of Generation Z have actually already entered the workforce (it’s important to note that some scales count Gen Z as beginning in 1995 while others say it began in 1997, meaning the eldest members will be in their mid-20s this year). When Gen Z enters the workplace, they expect that technology is in place to not only make their day-to-day possible, but to help them focus on their most meaningful work. A ServiceNow study of Gen Z employees found that 42% of them said they’d leave a job that required them to spend too much time on administrative tasks, illustrating a generation eager to deliver high-value work without much patience for navigating clunky legacy systems.

In our recent survey of Guru users who have enacted a company-wide knowledge management program, 45% reported that one of the biggest challenges for newly hired employees before Guru was finding the right information in various systems, a challenge that Gen Z employees, who likely make up a significant portion of new hires across many companies, are going to have little tolerance for.

Additionally, 43% of respondents said that Guru has helped them spend more time on strategic planning, indicating that KM can help employees shift their focus from administrative to more meaningful work. 93% of respondents note that Guru has had an impact on employee engagement and happiness, suggesting that a culture of knowledge sharing that supports high-value work can have a huge impact on morale. 

Overall employee burnout and poor work/life balance 

It’s not just Gen Z employees who feel the consequences of a lack of KM across a company—more tenured employees, especially those that have become Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), are highly susceptible to burnout in an environment that doesn’t prioritize knowledge sharing. Gallup reports that the #2 cause of employee burnout is an unmanageable workload—meaning that keeping high-value employees focused on only their most impactful work is of the utmost importance.

Bad Knowledge Management

Oftentimes, SMEs are the team members who have been at companies for years; on fast-growing teams, they’ve likely held multiple positions, and at startups, they likely have seen several iterations of product development. They by default become the “go-to” person when your team can’t find the information they need, whether it’s a detailed product question or confusion about an administrative process. These constant “shoulder taps” might seem harmless, but can add up significantly over time to and contribute significantly to the unmanageable workload of SMEs, who have to answer these questions on top of conducting their normal work. 

KM can play a key role in helping your SMEs avoid burnout by getting their time back, and letting the rest of your team be more self-sufficient. 98% of surveyed customers using Guru across their organization said that Guru has had an impact on the time their team spends answering repeat questions, and 99% said that Guru has impacted the time their team spends looking for information. 19% even said that Guru helped their team spend more time on outside of work activities, showing that KM can lead to better work-life balance. When both knowledge sharers and knowledge seekers have an understanding of your team’s knowledge-sharing culture, their propensity to avoid burnout is much higher. 

Meeting overload and the struggle of moving to asynchronous communication

“This meeting could’ve been an email”-jokes aside, meeting fatigue became a lot more obvious when they all started happening over screens. But even months ago, forward-thinkers understood the importance of reducing in-person meetings and giving their team the ability to collaborate asynchronously. In fact, Gartner predicts that in-person meetings will drop from 60% to 25% by 2024, and that companies with a thoughtful approach to a “nomadic” work style will have access to better talent than those who lag behind (not surprising, especially now). 

CNBC highlighted Basecamp CEO Jason Fried’s policy of no in-person meetings, which is how their historically hybrid team avoids favoritism towards in-office employees. Instead, they favor written documentation, which they then distribute to all of their employees in the same way. Having standing policies and procedures for how information is democratized is essential to making sure a workplace with fewer meetings is successful. 

Another critical element to a culture of fewer in-person conversations is a better system for sharing “passive knowledge,” according to MIT Sloan. While they encourage newly remote teams to think about including “nice to know” information in “need to know” communications, we also suggest rolling out a broader culture of collaborative knowledge sharing—where meetings and one-to-one chats aren’t the end-all, be-all of truthful communication. 

Scaling back meetings requires accessible knowledge

In order to successfully scale back meetings, it’s crucial that your team understands where and how they’ll receive information, and trusts that it’s accurate when they do. Of surveyed customers using Guru company-wide, 97% said that the ability to know that information is actively kept up-to-date by an expert is important to successfully enable their team. When teams feel that they have an effective channel for sharing and verifying integral information, it’s a lot easier to hit “delete” on that calendar hold. 

The way forward with asynchronous work

We’re at a unique point in time where streamlined communication and collaboration are more urgent than ever—and their absence is felt more acutely than ever, too. As your team prepares for success today and beyond, it’s important to remember that remote work, and the requirements that come with it, are here to stay, and have been coming for quite some time. By putting tools and processes in place today that help your team work more collaboratively, asynchronously, and purposefully, you can enable your team to truly do their best work from anywhere, at any time. 

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