What is good knowledge distribution? Is it playbooks so new starters can get up to speed faster at complicated operations? Is it detailed notes on last year’s budget decisions? Is it clear and public Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) so that everyone is aware of everyone else’s goals and ambitions?
The answer is all of that and more. Knowledge work requires an effective and easy transfer of knowledge, and in hybrid or virtual work, much of that is asynchronous and over digital tools.
When we talk about good knowledge distribution, mostly it’s intuitive to corporate office goers. Basically, you’ve got to store your knowledge in an accessible way that’s not too onerous and allows the right people to see it in the most straightforward manner possible. And yet. It’s not easy! As with so many things, it's the implementation that matters in a hybrid or virtual setting.
So, practically, how do you make an excellent knowledge distribution culture an innate part of your team and not an impossible ideal? Here are four essential points to instill knowledge distribution as a part of life for your team:
Make it important. Management must agree that clear process documentation and knowledge distribution are imperative. As a return to office and hybrid work comes for many corporate roles, it’s a perfect time to effect these changes and put structure in place to ensure best practices are followed. But everyone has to believe in it, from the top down. This is doubly hard if management doesn’t believe in remote work, but if they do, then it should be an easier sell. What works for remote work is also, largely, what works for hybrid work, at least in terms of knowledge distribution. A study of an auto repair firm whose use of checklists by mechanics increased revenue by 20% proves that good knowledge distribution benefits the bottom line. BUT, despite the revenue boost and commensurate commission boost, the mechanics did not use checklists on their own accord, only with the firm directly monitoring their use.
Make it a habit. Until it becomes part of your team’s routine, good knowledge management needs to be something a manager attends to frequently, as much as weekly or bi-weekly. This means checking on knowledge distribution at a detailed level, calling people out for falling short, and rewarding those who are committed to keeping processes and documentation up to date. This demanding focus will also make it clear which efforts are more hassle than they’re worth and should be cut.
Making stress-testing a habit: New hires or cross-training people in different roles can reveal documentation holes. Survey new hires after they’ve gotten up to speed to understand where you’re falling short in documenting what needs to be documented. Often, upper management’s surprise questions about the state of a project might also have this effect as well!
Prioritize the right technology: All the Asana boards in the world can’t keep everyone up to date all the time. Annually evaluate which technology pieces are working for you and which are not. Technology is a means to an end of effective knowledge distribution, meaning it won’t solve your problems. But not having the right technology WILL cause more problems.
Knowledge distribution is the most significant opportunity and potential risk in a virtual or hybrid workplace. It’s not your average manager’s responsibility to make sure that the company institutes all the necessary technology and processes to drive this success, but everyone can make it a priority within their team. Transparency and clarity lead to better processes and better outcomes, and being forced to tackle these priorities regarding institutional knowledge will separate great virtual companies from the rest.