Knowledge Management in the Era of Hybrid Working: 4 Key Ideas
Amid the ongoing global disruption of the past 2 years, businesses across many industries – from high tech to finance to e-commerce and more – have actually thrived. They tenaciously pursue their most important strategic goals while continuously adapting to high-speed change, including a widespread shift to hybrid and remote working models.
This means that these companies are also grappling with a fundamental question: how will people find the information they need to succeed when they are no longer all working together in one place?
Indeed, we have seen a “knowledge crisis” unfold in the business world. Organizational IQ — the invaluable intelligence about products, processes, customers, and other data that accumulates over time — has long depended on traditional in-person operations. Everyone from the C-suite to sales to customer service needs this insight to succeed, but harnessing it is harder with the shift to hybrid and remote working. As the workforce has left the traditional office and dispersed, the collective brain trust that keeps many organizations running smoothly has also disappeared.
Businesses need to keep knowledge flowing between people, processes, and tools, even when they’re spread across disparate physical locations and time zones. In fact, 76% of respondents in the recently published study 2022 Knowledge Management Survey reported a greater need for employee training on knowledge management systems as a substitute for immediate access to in-house expertise. The survey, conducted by Benchmark Portal and sponsored by KMS Lighthouse, included responses from more than 1,000 professionals working in organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry.
While this was the primary COVID-19-related impact on knowledge management operations in the survey, it was not the only one. More than half (55%) of organizations now rely more on remote employees in their call centers and elsewhere in their operations; meanwhile, 45% are increasingly emphasizing self-service support channels to help manage rising call volumes.
All of this points to a new reality: a robust knowledge management system is becoming the central nervous system of today’s hybrid and remote enterprises. A modern organization trying to function without a modern knowledge management system is much like a human being trying to function without a brain.
Many companies have experienced this firsthand in 2020 and 2021 as they strive to keep people and information connected – and to keep customers happy: 73% of KM survey respondents have adopted a new knowledge management system software within the last 18 months.
These needs were particularly pressing for call center staff and other customer-facing employees; front-line professionals have long rubbed shoulders in contact centers and have benefited from expertise— literally, in some cases — an arm’s length away.
When call center professionals– like so many of their colleagues in other business functions – began working from home, that expertise was no longer as readily available. This creates significant challenges for everything from onboarding new employees to resolving customer issues in a timely manner.
It takes companies on average almost a month (3.7 weeks) to train a new agent to a good skill level—defined by their ability to work well on their own. And it can take up to 26 weeks, with wide variability in onboarding time from industry to industry. As a result, organizations have sought to add new KM practices to compensate for the remote/WFH paradigm. In addition to rolling out new knowledge management software tools, survey respondents added:
- Documentation (printed or electronic manuals): 48%
- Regular knowledge sharing meetings: 60%
- “Knowledge management champions”/subject matter experts: 20%
It’s a good start, but there’s still work to be done. Businesses are improving their processes and tools for long-term hybrid and remote working, and a best-in-class knowledge management platform is critical to that business.—the brain or central nervous system that helps people realize their full potential, no matter where they work.
With this in mind, the KM survey reveals four important insights into this global trend.
- Forward-thinking organizations move from adoption to optimization
When you see that 76% of survey respondents have already implemented new knowledge management software, you might think: Great, they’ve already fixed the problem! But that’s not entirely true: many of these companies hastily deployed to support WFH operations.
Technology deployments in general tend to be cyclical in nature; it is doubly true here. The ad-hoc nature of initial deployments of knowledge management software means companies need to fine-tune and optimize. 57% of survey respondents said they were planning a major upgrade to an existing KM system, and 36% said they would implement a new KM system.
These initiatives largely focus on improving the onboarding and training of remote employees (69%) and remote employees’ access to information (71%). Hybrid/remote organizations are turning to knowledge management systems to function as an “internal Google” that gives employees direct access to important data and services. This is an area of considerable untapped potential. While 64% of respondents said their current system is effective when customer-facing employees are looking for documentation or the KMS, only 9% would describe it as “very effective.”
- AI/ML brings the missing “wow” factor to KM.
For research and other services, machine learning and other AI disciplines will finally emerge to deliver on some of the unfulfilled promise of KM solutions at this point.
Despite all the buzz around technologies like smart search or smart chatbots, the survey found that most companies have yet to implement AI/ML as part of their KM strategy. Only 16% said they already use it today.
That’s about to change: 46% said they plan to implement AI for knowledge management in the next 6 months, and 28% will within a year.
Additionally, 59% of organizations said they are considering adding virtual assistants into their next fiscal year’s budget to help improve the customer experience. It’s part of an overall pattern of expanding customer service capabilities, with more companies prioritizing features like automated call routing, omnichannel support, and self-service capabilities.
- The success of call centers is inspiring the deployment of KMS enterprise-wide.
While knowledge management initiatives often start naturally in call center operations, more companies will build on initial customer experience gains and extend them across the enterprise.
Indeed, the fundamental benefits of a best-in-class KMS can benefit virtually any industry, especially in the hybrid/remote era. Optimizing remote employee onboarding and training is a priority for all departments, as is ensuring seamless access to information 24/7, regardless of location.
A modern KMS helps eliminate data silos and ensures information flows where it’s needed for people and teams to achieve their goals. A top-notch KMS becomes an essential business application, not just a contact center tool.
- Customers, not costs, drive KM strategies.
Successful organizations focus on revenue, not just the bottom line. That’s why improving the customer experience, not cutting costs, is the primary driver for the adoption of new customer service technologies.
On a sliding scale, survey respondents significantly (70%) leaned toward improving the customer experience as their primary motivation.
This is how it should be and why knowledge management systems are so critical to success. KM is about giving people the information and tools they need to reach their full potential – and when you’ve done that, your customers will surely notice.