For small businesses around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has ushered in the era of the virtual office.
Still, while many companies were forced into operating remotely throughout the shutdown, others have actually been doing so well before the pandemic took hold. In fact, many believe that remote operations will soon become the new normal, citing factors such as productivity and sustainability.
Of course, making the transition to remote operations — especially during a global emergency — comes with a fair set of challenges. In addition to ensuring your day-to-day operations continue running smoothly, you’ll also need to keep your team members aligned and focused on your organisation’s overall goals.
(And, you’ll have to do all this while operating in relative isolation from your fellow team members.)
To be sure, the transition to remote operations can be a hectic and uncertain time for your business.
The key to keeping things moving in the right direction?
What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management can be defined as the following:
The systematic management of an organisation’s knowledge assets for the purpose of creating value and meeting tactical & strategic requirements. It consists of the initiatives, processes, strategies, and systems that sustain and enhance the storage, assessment, sharing, refinement, and creation of knowledge.
Knowledge management (KM) is all about enabling your team members to harness and use the explicit knowledge as well as the tacit knowledge that flows throughout your organisation in order to be as productive as possible.
Now, KM certainly is important to all organisations, no matter how they operate.
But, again, it becomes even more crucial when your team isn’t operating under the same roof. With so much happening at such a frantic pace — and with team members working in isolation — you need to ensure your approach to knowledge management is on point.
Let’s now take a look at exactly how KM can help lead your remote team to success — and how to make it happen.
Knowledge Management Keeps Teams Aligned and Focused On Your Mission
Though many things will change as you transition to remote operations, there are two things that should remain as-is:
Your company’s mission and organisational vision.
However, what will change is how your team works to achieve this mission and vision.
Unfortunately, this is where many remotely-operating teams become a bit disjointed — causing team members to lose sight of the organisation’s overall goals.
According to a 2018 study from CultureWizard, 76% of remote team managers report a lack of engagement from their employees. What’s more, 86% say fostering relationships and managing conflict present key challenges for their virtual teams.
Now, as we’ll get to later on, knowledge management can absolutely help manage these issues after they arise.
But, it can also help you proactively avoid these issues altogether by maintaining (and improving) alignment throughout your team from the get-go.
For one thing, knowledge management ensures your team’s vision and mission statements (and other related documents) are always available to your employees, no matter where they’re working from. Here, policies and procedures will be documented clearly — meaning your employees will always know what’s expected of them as a member of your team.
(And, should conflict of any kind arise between team members, they can refer to these documents for guidance for how to proceed. This means less time and energy spent focussing on the problem, and more spent on reaching a solution — and moving on productively.)
Knowledge management also allows for the collaborative modification of these documents to address the “new normal” for your organisation. Again, though your mission and vision remain relatively unchanged, the way in which you work toward these goals will need to be amended when operating remotely.
For example, you may need to make changes regarding:
- Task-related protocols
- Team communication methods
- Employee policies (e.g., scheduling, working environment, etc.)
By making this information not just accessible to your team, but prevalent within your knowledge management system, your employees will be much more likely to adhere to their new responsibilities — and less likely to get off-track for any reason whatsoever.
Overall, this sets the stage for your now-remotely operating team moving forward. Without this initial piece of the puzzle in place, though, it will be near-impossible to overcome any of the other challenges we’ll be focusing on in this article.
Knowledge Management Enables Remote Team and Project Management
Keeping tabs on your employees and monitoring their progress is difficult enough when operating on-premises, let alone with everyone so spread out and isolated.
First of all, you need to ensure everyone stays on the same page when working on projects and other tasks. For any given project, all involved team members need to know:
- Who’s working on what
- What they’re responsible for, and when
- How they’ll collaborate with other team members to complete their assigned tasks
As we said earlier, the first step here is to amend your employees’ processes to ensure this information is documented and communicated clearly within your project management database and elsewhere.
It’s also vital for your employees to have open access to any project-related documents, materials, or content in their most current form at all times. A continued focus on knowledge management ensures your knowledge assets stay up-to-date, and that out-of-date assets are properly archived or disposed of.
This, essentially, is knowledge management in real-time: As your teams work through their various processes, they’ll continually document their progress and update their documented knowledge within the appropriate channels — ensuring all stakeholders remain in the loop at all times.
(On the flip side, this helps your team avoid the pitfalls of misalignment, such as missed assignments and redundant tasks.)
It’s also crucial to ensure your employees are equipped to handle the prospect of operating remotely throughout the transition (and beyond).
This means creating and delivering proper onboarding and training resources for your remote team members to digest as needed.
Again, strategic knowledge management is essential at all stages, here.
Your team should be creating the necessary training materials collaboratively. This ensures that the materials will be comprehensive, comprehensible, and practical — allowing team members to quickly access and digest the knowledge they need to proceed in any given scenario.
Knowledge management also aims to enhance the deliverability and accessibility of training and onboarding materials. In some cases, said materials may need to be delivered sequentially; in others, you’ll want to give your employees control over the direction they take their training.
You’ll also want to present your organisational knowledge in multiple formats, as this can supercharge your team’s understanding of the information in question. Similarly, you’ll want to ensure this knowledge can be accessed by your team on all devices, as well.
The takeaway from all this is that proper knowledge management enhances your ability to manage your remote employees both on a day-to-day basis and throughout their careers. In either case, the goal is to provide the exact knowledge and information your employees need to continue moving forward within your organisation.
Knowledge Management Enhances Remote Communication and Collaboration
CultureWizard’s report also found that virtual teams are typically plagued with issues surrounding communication and collaboration.
(Specifically, 86% of respondents say communication issues hinder remote operations, with 84% acknowledging the difficulties involved with digital communications.)
Once more, strategic knowledge management can help your team avoid these common issues — and can actually enhance your team’s ability to communicate and work together while operating remotely.
For starters, you’ll be looking to put structures and policies in place to enable cross-team communication and collaboration for your virtual team.
Essentially, this means defining which communications tools your remote team will have access to, as well as how they should be using each.
A few examples:
- Using an instant messaging tool for quick communications in real-time
- Utilising video conferencing for in-depth conversations or group meetings
- Leaving comments within your project management tool to deliver progress summaries and other need-to-know information
- Delivering longform mass messages via email
This will benefit your team in a few ways:
First of all, it gives your employees clear direction when communication becomes necessary. Since you’ll have defined what “type” of communications are meant for each channel you use, your team members can focus on getting the message “out there” as efficiently as possible.
Secondly, your team members will also expect certain communications to be delivered via specific channels. In turn, they’ll know exactly where to look when looking for specific pieces of information that had been sent at an earlier date.
(Conversely, they won’t have to waste valuable time and energy combing through each channel when looking for past messages.)
Most importantly, establishing effective communications protocols all but ensures messages never get overlooked, forgotten, or otherwise lost in a sea of information.
In addition to defining processes for sending and receiving communications, KM is also about managing these messages — and maintaining the information within — as time goes on.
Here, you and your team members will be responsible for:
- Assessing messages for accuracy (and revisiting them if anything should change)
- Transferring information from person-to-person communications into your knowledge base software and other knowledge management solutions
- Archiving redundant or outdated messages, as well as unused communications channels (e.g., unused video conference rooms, etc.)
So, not only does strategic knowledge management allow for more effective digital communications, but it also enhances the value of these communications, overall.
With an ongoing focus on maintaining the quality of your team’s communications, your employees will always have the information they need to accomplish the task at hand.
Knowledge Management Keeps Organisational Knowledge Ever-Improving
Remember our definition of knowledge management from earlier?
“…(KM) consists of the initiatives, processes, strategies, and systems that sustain and enhance the storage, assessment, sharing, refinement, and creation of knowledge.”
In other words, knowledge management isn’t just about storing your organisation’s knowledge for safekeeping.
It’s about gaining complete control over this knowledge in order to squeeze as much value from it as possible.
See, your various team members hold a vast amount of knowledge, skills, and wisdom — whether or not they recognise and document it.
By not taking the time to recognise and document this knowledge, though, you’ll likely face a number of problems as time goes on, such as:
- A disjointed understanding of tasks, processes, and other information
- A loss of knowledge should team members leave your organisation
- An inability to make improvements that matter to your company and business
Basically, without knowledge management processes in place, your team will be operating with a fixed mindset: They know what they know, don’t know what they don’t…and that’s the end of it.
Needless to say, this isn’t going to lead your company to any kind of massive success in the slightest.
But, in adopting knowledge management as a foundational part of your operations, your team will inherently adopt a growth mindset. That is, they’ll always be looking for ways to improve their knowledge and skills — and to enhance their use of these abilities to provide more value to your organisation.
On a surface level, your team’s knowledge management capabilities will improve over time.
This leads to:
- More consistency (and less friction) when managing data and knowledge
- More valuable data and knowledge-focused content
- Less time spent managing data and knowledge, and more time using it
Digging a bit deeper, an increased focus on KM will also keep your team focussed on making continual improvements to your processes across the board.
Instead of working to meet the status quo, your team will always be looking for ways to learn and do more with the knowledge they have on-hand — and to gain even more knowledge to help your company reach its true potential.
Now, all of this applies whether operating on-premises or remotely.
But, when transferring to the virtual office, it’s crucial that your team approach the situation with an open mind, focused on growth.
(Again, it’s not about maintaining the status quo while working in a different setting. It’s about navigating this new setting to determine the best possible way forward for your team.)
Overall, proper knowledge management allows your team to gain both a holistic and “nitty-gritty” understanding of what your team does well — and what needs to be improved as your team continues on its path to success.
Knowledge Management Improves Remote Team Success
Your organisation’s collective knowledge is useless if it’s not properly managed.
No matter how knowledgeable, skilled, and able your individual employees are, your remote team just won’t be able to accomplish much without knowledge management.
Worse yet, a lack of knowledge management makes it difficult to keep up with any progress they do make. This makes it impossible to ensure they stay on the right track — which will lead to disjointed efforts at some point down the line.
But, with knowledge management as a driving force behind your remote team’s every move, your remote employees will always know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they should proceed.
In turn, your virtual team will continuously put your company on the path to success.
Originally published Jan 26, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023