There is no denying that remote and hybrid work is changing the way we work. For many organisations, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid evolution of technologies enabling communication and collaboration. For the most part, the technologies existed already, but they were slowly gaining ground in organisations. The pandemic forced a rapid adoption process, which in turn resulted in added confusion.
The majority of the new tools are user-friendly. On their own, they do not require training per se. Even the more advanced virtual collaboration tools like Miro, SpatialChat or metaverse environments can be used with minimal guidance. The only caveat is that unless these new tools are used regularly and embedded in daily routines, there is a small re-learning curve.
Knowledge Management is all about “collecting and connecting”
Document repositories are tools to “collect knowledge” and connect people. A collaboration platform will typically combine collecting and connecting. The challenge comes in when employees find multiple tools available both for connecting and collecting, becoming unsure about where different aspects of work need to take place. Here are some important things to consider when choosing a tool.
Who is your audience: Who needs to know; Who could be interested?
- Team, working group/task force or separate organisational unit – consider Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Google Teams, or Skype group chats allowing team members to interact more easily on a daily basis without the need for formal emails. Working jointly on a document using Microsoft or Google docs and drives may be a good way for a working group/task force to exchange information and get things done faster.
- Interest group or Community of Practice (CoP) – similar to the above, platforms such as Yammer, which are set up for a particular interest group or a CoP, would provide space for collaboration, however make sure these are well-moderated. CoPs are a focus of KM practice, but not all organisations have CoPs or are large enough to have internal CoPs, and a lot of knowledge is transferred outside of a CoP framework.
- All company – a combination of the above may work, but be sure to consider the needs of different units and groups to avoid losing interest and achieve zero collaboration.
What is the purpose / message: Inform; Discuss; Exchange
- Inform/update, hopefully with an opportunity to ask questions – we are certain you participated in many such meetings using mostly one-way communication. For this purpose, Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings are typically used. If you are the one organising and/or facilitating such meetings, make sure you provide space for participants to ask questions and share their views and opinions on what is being said, not only in the end but throughout the meeting, otherwise you risk losing their complete attention.
- Discuss to build common understanding and/or consensus, make decisions – if you are gathered to discuss project progress, agree on next steps, make decisions, or agree on a common understanding of KM in your organisation, for example, then you need a structured approach with plenty of room for expressing opinions and proposing solutions. While a simple online or hybrid meeting approach may work just fine, try to think of more creative ways to do this.
- Brainstorm/Generate Ideas – if you are looking for ideas for a new project or programme, its extension or expansion, then choose the most collaborative tool for idea generation to encourage creativity. If done fully remotely, use tools such as SpatialChat, Miro or Padlet, or even a Zoom meeting with a whiteboard which would allow participants to visualise their ideas (write, draw, etc. – have no restrictions on the format). If you opt for a hybrid approach and have people in the same room, make sure they are not stuck to their screens interacting with colleagues online and not talking to each other! Organise them into groups using a World Cafe or Gallery Walk approach to brainstorm, and then bring everyone together, online and in-person, to share their ideas.
- Draw lessons learned, exchange knowledge – at the end of the project, or during mid-term review or team retreat, you may be looking to reflect on the progress and achievements, and draw lessons learned. You might want to apply some of the approaches used for idea generation but instead of looking at the future, reflect on the past. Try regular knowledge jam sessions or deep-dives, and ensure good moderation and facilitation to encourage and maintain a high level of participation and engagement. Build trust from the beginning to encourage knowledge sharing. A well-moderated Yammer group where an interest group or a CoP can interact may be useful to exchange knowledge over a period of time. It is also important that the practice of drawing lessons learned and knowledge exchange is adopted as a regular practice as it will result in many benefits to the organisation and the team. See our blog post In Order to Learn, Pause to Reflect Regularly on the importance of this practice.
- Team building/social gathering – while the approach here may be much less structured, be considerate of the tool you choose so it does not become an Inform/Update meeting. Interactive and collaborative tools may work well with an addition of games, quizzes and some free space to discuss, brainstorm and simply get to know each other.
The choice of a communication and collaboration tool should not be the cause of confusion. Whichever tool you opt for, make sure that it works for you and your team. Discuss preferences and review the choice of tools on a regular basis, for example during update meetings or reflective exercises. Ask your team to suggest alternatives. Team members may have worked with and can recommend a tool from their previous workplace and will be able to act as champions, as well as mentors to their colleagues, during the rollout of the new tool.
Challenges when choosing a tool
When introducing or switching to a new tool, you will face a number of challenges, at both organisational and project or team level. These include resistance – every change is faced with a degree of resistance, which is the most common and difficult challenge to overcome – and the time needed to learn and adjust.
- Resistance: Introduction of a new tool may be daunting. You will be sure to face resistance to some degree, but do not panic. Sticking to the old ways (and tools) that no longer work and/or serve your needs will sooner or later affect your organisational performance. When introducing a new tool to your teams, mention all the amazing benefits it will provide before you mention the learning process. If you asked for feedback and recommendations on the new tool, then it is likely to be more positively received, as team members will feel that this is the result of their contribution. Establish support group(s) or assign mentors in each department who know the tool and can support colleagues when needed. Read more on Change Management (coming soon).
- Time to learn and adjust. Be sure to allow for delays when introducing a new tool as it may well disrupt your business performance or project implementation to some extent. Introduce the new tool during less busy periods, for example, in summer, and not when you have multiple competing deadlines. This will only increase frustration. As above, assign mentors to support colleagues during learning and adjustment.
Some final thoughts to consider:
- More efficient use of communications and collaboration tools potentially frees up time for deeper reflection, more intentional conversations and knowledge sharing
- A significant amount of knowledge transfer occurs via informal communication such as during coffee breaks, team retreats, etc. Therefore, face-to-face meetings remain important to allow for informal, watercooler conversations.
- Employee collaboration burnout and confusion around collaboration tools is an obstacle to knowledge sharing. It is also an obstacle to employee engagement. Disengaged employees don’t share knowledge. Optimal engagement is balanced engagement.
- Building a learning organisation, an organisation with a knowledge sharing culture, goes hand-in-hand with balanced employee engagement. Read more on how to create and support a knowledge sharing culture (coming soon).
- Context switching and loss of productivity are related to the need to adjust our time management strategies to new tools.
Contributors: Dr. Barbara Fillip; Natalia Tkachenko