The lockdown initiated in March 2020 translated into a need to work differently. The impact on how we work has been immense. Many had to begin working remotely almost overnight. How managers operated had to change and using computers became essential. Employees had to learn to improvise, leading to a succession of changes in many organisational and behavioural benchmarks. Teams had to work differently using a range of digital tools. Business was able to continue, thanks to the resilience and the adaptability of many organisations. But the practice of remote working is still in its infancy. This is particularly true in one area: the sharing of knowledge and information. To what extent has there been a loss? Can this be limited by using certain tools? Or is it an issue of internal practices and corporate culture? Let’s break it down.
Why is information lost?
Does remote working create obstacles to the sharing of information and knowledge?
Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly, an expert in managerial transformation and work organisations at the Julhiet Sterwen Research Lab, explains that when people are far from one other, their relationships with each other change. Consequently, “distance deprives us of an immense amount of information about the other person: their mood, their well-being, their state of mind. All the information we would get from non-verbal communication,” she said. When our exchanges are virtual, signals that can enrich our projects, including some sub-conscious ones, are not there.
Moreover, “everything that is part of that structure disappears. Those famous ideas that come to us, by chance, because they mirror something else, no longer have their place. The unplanned discussions that enrich our creativity no longer happen because everything has been planned out,” she said. Few conversations are improvised or happen without a goal set beforehand when teams are dispersed. This hyper-predictability reduces the chances of serendipity—when unexpected discoveries happen by chance—which often occurs during a conversation. To encourage serendipity, organisations need to foster curiosity in their staff and encourage random interactions, a combination that encourages new ideas and innovation.
The challenges around knowledge transmission in the time of teleworking
Laurent Taskin, who is a doctor of economics and management science, and a professor of management at the Louvain School of Management in Belgium, warns of the risk of social exclusion linked to working remotely. The fewer interactions there are, the more we see common language and codes disappear. Yet this is what guarantees collaboration and the exchange of knowledge. The risk? A rise in “islands of information” leading to a loss of productivity. According to an MIT/Deloitte study, the most successful companies all have one thing in common: they have undertaken a major change in the way they think of knowledge within their organisation.
Anne-Julie Le Serviget, the product owner and talent acquisition manager at Betomorrow, a creative, design and development agency, agrees that “the link with the team is at the heart of concerns, especially for newcomers, but also for young people. The @WorkAnyWhere survey, carried out by Choose My Company during the lockdown, has highlighted this feeling of reinforced isolation among the youngest among us. Belonging to a team and the development of peer support are thus big issues.”
A lack of communication can create a social divide within an organisation. This needs to be bridged by various means that facilitate the circulation of specific knowledge, such as business skills, but also tacit knowledge, such as interpersonal skills.
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Sharing different kinds of knowledge: what are the key mechanisms?
Choose the right tool: intuitive, community-based and collaborative
Organisations have been using a number of collaborative tools to manage and share knowledge during the various lockdowns: intranets, corporate social networks, discussion forums, file sharing, video chat. To maintain the process of documenting knowledge, any tool must help to identify useful information, prioritise it, share it and update it. It is an important means of communication for employees, one where they can speak up, easily exchange information, help one another out and share their knowledge and experience by centralising the company’s resources.
SkillAgora, for example, is a web and mobile application developed by Betomorrow that encourages meetings for the exchange of knowledge within companies. Its aim? “To bring people together and spread their knowledge. With the application, anyone can register for the sessions that are offered and follow their progress. But they can also suggest topics and lead sessions,” said Le Serviget. The application, which has positioned itself as the Netflix of training, offers sessions by program or the most popular topics and trends based on data collected in real time, for example. “You don’t need to have a strong digital maturity to use it. It’s been ergonomically designed to align with codes that have become universal with regular usage,” she said.
The community aspect is crucial for sharing knowledge. Le Serviget said, “Everyone is free to create an Agora for their team and to test the application: the space as it is designed is secure.” All the knowledge is shared, therefore, by those within the company: the employees are both “consumers” and creators of internal knowledge. Anyone can contribute to the subjects that interest them and, because of this, they have a choice: it’s an engaging form of empowerment.
Create a learning dynamic
Joseph-Dailly recommends setting up a learning organisation governed by trust “in which everyone has resolutely positive intentions with regard to their organisation and the communication of knowledge. Sharing cannot be forced, any more than you can force a relationship between members of the same team. Thus, for information to circulate, people must talk to one another.” What can you do? “You can organise time for informal exchanges by saying that each day, you will set aside an hour without meetings so that you can be called or can call your colleagues, just to have an informal exchange.”
Le Serviget points out that digital technology facilitates the implementation of a learning company. “The dynamic that comes from the exchanges, support and belonging to a real learning community help to create this fundamental link to the team,” she said. SkillAgora, for example, makes it possible to standardise practices and create training rituals that set the pace for meeting face-to-face or remotely with peers. What does that mean in real terms? Available slots are placed in an employee’s schedule and anyone can choose to participate.
Set up rituals around knowledge and skills
Joseph-Dailly suggests some rituals to accelerate knowledge sharing: “Keep a few time slots during the week to give a semblance of open space. The team connects at the same time and continues to work while remaining connected. This allows us to have an exchange in real time when an idea comes to us, a bit like in a shared workspace.” That’s one way to create an environment conducive to serendipity remotely. But the tacit knowledge or interpersonal skills associated with a job or a mission remain tricky to communicate. Le Serviget said: “Tools like SkillAgora encourage a dynamic of exchange necessary for sharing all types of knowledge: whether it is knowledge linked to corporate culture, innovation, business, technical or cross-functional skills, practice or feedback. It is possible to organise one-off sessions or real training courses.”
Driving cultural change with the help of managers
Joseph-Dailly emphasises the role of the manager: “They have a role of caring, not necessarily in a daily operational way, but through the policy that they put in place during this period of uncertainty in order to make employees feel secure. For an employee to share information remotely, they must know what to share: what information is likely to be of interest to others?”
Operationally, managers must work with their teams to establish the rules for sharing:
Use errors as a mechanism for collective learning in order to find solutions.
According to a CrossKnowledge study, most knowledge acquired is linked to experiential information, in particular from someone’s contacts and real-life experience.
Create a space reserved for the team within collaborative tools and schedule meetings or exchanges in collaborative spaces.
Encourage visibility and the sharing of experience within the team.
To do this, managers must themselves be transparent about their achievements and what they have learned.
Create business or expert communities
More and more companies are encouraging the creation of in-house business or expert communities so as to nurture key and cross-functional skills. The aim is to build an entire ecosystem around technical, business and behavioural skills. The organisation is then structured around groups or centres of expertise facilitating the sharing experience and best practices. This facilitates continuous learning and encourages collective intelligence.
With this arrangement, Le Serviget explains that it is essential that staff get involved. On SkillAgora, for example, “everyone can show their interest in a subject and support it. So it is possible to follow the trends specific to their Agora. It is a tool that encourages the development of a culture of collaborative learning and a real learning community. It allows experts to be connected to internal skills and promotes the development of peer-to-peer learning.”
Establish good practices around knowledge management
If an organisation is to institute a more “collaborative” company philosophy, some knowledge management practices must also be communicated and mastered internally:
Document the projects as much as possible: each project or task must be completed and explained via a template that can be filled out to create a simplified reading.
Encourage teams to carry out assessments of their projects or tasks listing key figures, what has been learned and avenues for improvement.
Make a habit of communication: post and share achievements, open the documents employees are working on and encourage visibility within the working groups.
Organise regular online sessions to share experiences or hold workshops for reflection. Tools like SkillAgora facilitate organising such sharing sessions, according to Le Serviget. The tool offers different formats of exchange and allows each Agora user to customise them. These include: feedback, practical workshop, blended learning, one-to-one, debate, open innovation and flash talk, which is a short 30-minute format for getting to the heart of a matter. “The variety of formats and durations, as well as tools to measure interest also contribute to optimal management of the time invested,” Le Serviget said.
Translated by Kalin Linsberg
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