Knowledge Loss in the Digital Workplace

It was a critical project for the company. A group of twelve employees and two middle management people were working on it. It lasted about six months and brought together marketing, finance, administration and HR. The team used Slack, Office365, Monday for the project schedule and the corporate Knowledge Base. For some aspects of the project a Trello board was used by some members. Due to the pandemic, the team worked remotely, a few came and went from the office. Microsoft Teams was the video tool of choice and SharePoint was another tool used along with OneDrive. At the end of the project a review was written. The Trello board was deleted as it was on the marketing department’s list of tools. The Monday schedule was also deleted and the account closed. Most documents were placed in the Knowledge Base. But not all and not the final review, even though the project was a success.

This is a fairly common situation across many organisations, large and small. The project experience the creation of both implicit and explicit knowledge but also generated a lot of tacit knowledge, knowing the things you don’t know, but is a huge aspect of an organization’s knowledge. One that is often misunderstood and rarely tapped into.

One of the challenges as a result of the pandemic and so many employees working from home is the use of non-corporate apps, or that may paid for and used within the company, but are outside the Information Management and IT infrastructure. Tools like Trello, Slack, Monday etc. When employees find that a company supplied app doesn’t work for them, they will find work-arounds. This happens even in the military. In the 2003 Iraq war, the American generals were sending troops into Falujah. The troops were told what their weaponry and materiel should be over the communications system. The army and Marines reviewed the list, decided it wouldn’t work and created their own communications system to tell the soldiers what to use. The commands list wouldn’t have worked.

This loss of key knowledge isn’t going away anytime soon and unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix either. You can try to impose tighter policies and procedural guidelines, but they tend to create more onerous ways of working and will frustrate the desired result.

One way to address the issue is to foster stronger working relationships between the IM and IT teams and other departments. Conducting an audit on an annual basis of apps that are being used also helps. This isn’t just reviewing an IT asset management app or checking Active Directory. Whoever is conducting the audit should talk with finance and get the credit card statements of various departments if they use them and reviewing budgets. This is often where you will find the third party apps that teams will use.

Instead of stopping their use and clamping down, whoever is responsible for information and knowledge management should meet with those teams and departments to understand how and why they use them. This can help set strategy and ensure workers feel engaged and part of the solution. We still see companies roll out ERP solutions and plug-ins to ERP’s and other platforms with little to know discussion with those who will be using the tools. Consulting firms hired to develop the apps are often restricted by budgets in how much time they get to spend understanding the needs of the end-user and are often forced to deal with permissions and access rights rather than the UX/UI components or understanding the workflow and how it will impact other aspects of the organisation. This can contribute to budgets being blown and employees not adopting a new app or solution.

Critical to maintaining healthy knowledge management within the digital workspace is understanding human behaviours when it comes to technology and information. Humans do strange and unexpected things.

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