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Successful remote working is so much more than just Zoom or MS Teams

17 September 2020
  

So, like everyone else, you’ve been forced into adopting Teams, Zoom or some other collaboration platform to enable your business to survive and thrive in 2020 and beyond.

Like many of us you’ve probably been impressed with how these new tools have enabled staff to migrate to remote working with relatively few immediate hitches. You’ve probably received positive feedback about improvements in work/life balance, reduced environmental impact from a significant reduction in commuting and a general realisation that being at home – the place people chose to live – is often quite a nice place to be, especially if you have a family that you love to be with and you have the space and facilities.

But… after those initially positive responses there has been a growing background murmuring that threatens to swell into something noisier and more difficult to ignore. Loneliness. Lack of workspace or facilities for some employees. Difficulties for new joiners trying to understand how things work and who to talk to about specific tasks. Familial distractions. Noisy flatmates consuming all the available bandwidth.

The problems are real and are likely to become higher profile as the novelty of home working wears thin and staff realise that this is the new normal. What was acceptable and, probably, quite fun for a while may not be sustainable for all without some further assistance.

So, what to do?

Clearly these issues cover a broad range of topics and no one solution will fix them all. What the issues do highlight, though, is gaps in processes and documentation for many of us. When we were office based, new joiners could tap colleagues on the shoulder, flash a broad smile and bribe them with chocolate or buy them a coffee as a way to break the ice, build a relationship and access their rich knowledge about how and why things work the way they do in your organisation. Jane in accounts has been there for ten years. The work instructions for her role were last updated when she joined, they’re lost somewhere in the old corporate intranet, which itself was last updated seven years ago and has since been supplanted not once but twice! Even if you could find the work instructions, the chances are they’d be a poor facsimile of the way Jane and her colleagues now work.

Is there a way around this?

Sadly it requires effort, but now is probably the time to look at how you create, maintain and share corporate knowledge before recruitment increases and you find staff turnover amongst new recruits skyrocketing, leading to increased costs, lower staff morale, disruption and a poor reputation in the recruitment market.

A solution that democratises knowledge management so that it’s not down to a handful of people in a centralised team is the only way to ensure that knowledge is up-to-date, accurate and readily accessible. When knowledge management is a centralised task undertaken by a secret society of hooded monks who reside in the basement of your head office and never see the light of day, you can be sure of a few outcomes. Firstly, knowledge will always be slow to catch up with reality. Consider the speed of change during lockdown. No centralised team could keep knowledge of processes and policies up-to-date fast enough to ensure that information remained accurate and fresh. Secondly, even if the team of knowledge monks worked flat-out every day and night (they don’t have much else to do, living in the basement), the knowledge they’d collate and impart would likely be the knowledge as defined by the leadership team and management. This is clearly of some value but it rarely reflects the variations and pragmatic tweaks made to processes by those who actually make your business run successfully. This knowledge sits in the heads of movers-and-shakers who are dispersed throughout the organisation, their activities are often poorly understood by their superiors, but without them, not much would happen, or at least is wouldn’t happen fast enough to keep you competitive in the modern, fast-paced world of work.

Democratised knowledge management

Democratised knowledge management recognises the reality of where the most important knowledge resides and gives everyone the opportunity to contribute, refine and consume knowledge, quickly, intuitively, with little or no training, but within a governance framework that provides the safety net required to keep the corporate lawyers happy.

Once you’ve got your democratised knowledge management solution in place, you can use the freed time to deal with some of the other issues. In fact, we created a new lone-worker policy from the distributed-mind that was surfaced through Atlas, our democratised knowledge management platform. For instance, did you know that, as an employer, you are just as responsible for the health and safety of your remote workers as you are for your office workers. A number of employers I spoke to weren’t aware of this or had forgotten about it as it didn’t affect many of their employees before lockdown. Using our Atlas knowledge platform we were able to share and refine our lone-worker policy, undertake a Microsoft Forms-based survey of people’s home working environments, collate and share anonymised results and gain a much more detailed understanding of their working habits whilst working remotely and the effect those might have on our ISO27001 security policies.

In response to the knowledge unearthed during this period, we’ve implemented slicker, more seamless policies to improve security whilst improving the user experience so staff can work wherever is most suitable to them. We’ve helped staff who need specific equipment to work more effectively and we’ve made it clear that we don’t just tolerate small talk, we actively encourage it as a way to maintain and build working relationships and broader friendships. New ideas are being surfaced every week about how people would like to come together in focused working groups to get their creative juices flowing and overcome technical challenges that have been more difficult to collaborate on when working over Teams alone. Communication and knowledge become interchangeable and flow freely, making decision making more informed and much faster.

Our Atlas knowledge platform truly democratises knowledge across the organisation, enabling our employees to affect our decisions, refine processes and make the new joiner experience simpler and less stressful. If you’re still reliant on an order of knowledge monks who reside in the basement of your head office, then you, your employees and new recruits are likely to find it increasingly hard to work efficiently in the new world of remote work. Embrace knowledge democratisation and feel your business breathe freely again, unearth hidden gems and move forward with renewed confidence.

Author bio

Barry Wakelin

Barry Wakelin

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