Many companies have been adopting flexible working models in their routine, for a number of reasons. Some of them, according to a study published by Technovation, are related to these benefits:
Looking at the global scenario, many factors have been influencing organisations in implementing these models. For instance, it’s known that traffic has been an increasing issue when talking about daily commute to work. According to a research made in 2014 by Moovit, in cities like Bogota, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, the average commuting time per day is more than two hours.
On top of this, current technology has made it easier for flexible working models to be adopted. According to research performed by Global Workplace Analytics in the United States, approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency. Also, regular work-at-home has grown by 140% since 2005 among the non-self-employed population. Telework is also growing in the European Union where, according to a research performed by the University of Bratislava, an average of 7% of employees adopts this type of working model.
Companies that adopt these new models can attract and retain talents more effectively and also become more dynamic and competitive in this new global scenario. However, having the employees working remotely also brings different challenges for the companies adopting this model. For many types of work, one of the biggest of them is sharing knowledge among team members, considering that employees are geographically distant from each other.
The diagram below shows some examples of tasks and jobs classified by the intensity of knowledge sharing required to perform them, according to a study published by the Journal of Knowledge Management. The organisations which activities require a greater intensity of knowledge sharing should be more focused on ensuring it to happen, especially if the employees work separately.
The knowledge market
Managing knowledge within the organisation is valuable for any businesses as it reduces the risk of losing it when people leave. Also, when knowledge is shared among the employees, it can support decision-making and give more transparency to decisions and processes. In this context, it’s important to differentiate data, information and knowledge:
As described by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak, each organisation has a knowledge market in which transactions occur because all participants believe that it will be beneficial for them somehow. Like other markets, it has buyers, sellers and brokers and also requires payments.
Payments in the knowledge market can be:
- Reciprocity: sellers dedicate time and effort to share their knowledge hoping that buyers will also be able to help them when they become buyers.
- Reputation: sellers want to be recognised as valuable due to their knowledge. Having a good reputation can lead sellers to grow in their careers.
Altruism: its payment comes from the passion for subject matter or a natural impulse to help others.
The knowledge market also has its inefficiencies, which become a bigger challenge when employees are geographically dispersed, for example:
- Difficulty for buyers to find the sellers when necessary
- Existence of a gap between the existing knowledge in different areas of the same company, making it difficult for buyers and sellers to have meaningful discussions
- Physical distance between buyers and sellers, preventing transactions from happening
- Knowledge detained by one person or a small group only
- Possessiveness of employees with their knowledge, especially when they do not expect to receive fair payments for sharing their knowledge or when the organisation does not promote knowledge sharing as one of its values
- Lack of infrastructure for the knowledge sharing to happen
There are some good practices which can be adopted to overcome the knowledge management challenges, which are mainly related to motivating employees to share what they know, promoting collaboration among the team and enabling knowledge sharing to happen.
Firstly, it´s important to create an informal network through which buyers are able to find sellers for each specific topic. In order to make it happen, it is necessary to motivate the individuals to share and seek knowledge when necessary.
In order to mitigate the possessiveness of employees challenge previously mentioned, it’s important for the employees to know that they will be recognised, rewarded for sharing their knowledge. One way of creating this culture is to have knowledge sharing as one criterion in the performance evaluation process.
In this sense, it’s important to highlight that creating a collaborative, instead of competitive, environment is crucial. If employees feel that they are competing with their colleagues, they will be less likely to share their knowledge. Reducing hierarchical barriers can help in this sense, and it also facilitates the contact between buyers and sellers as the required knowledge can be found in any organisational level. This type of structure supports meritocracy and promotes knowledge sharing by facilitating access to any employees.
Another good practice is to organise workshops and forums with the presence of the whole company and give employees time to share their knowledge with their colleagues. It shows the company recognition for those who share their knowledge and can be a good solution for some challenges such as the difficulty for buyers to find sellers, the existence of a gap between the existing knowledge in different areas of the same company and having the knowledge detained by one person or a small group only.
These events are useful for the employees to meet each other as well, which is an important factor to be considered. Knowledge sharing requires trust between buyers and sellers and, for it to exist, they should know each other. As we are social beings, buyers are more likely to request sellers’ help if they already know each other and sellers are also more likely to share their knowledge if they have already met the buyer in person. Therefore, it is very important to promote interpersonal relationship among the team members – virtual relationships are not enough from a knowledge management perspective, sometimes meeting in person is also necessary.
As previously mentioned, the physical distance between buyers and seller and the lack of infrastructure can prevent knowledge sharing from happening, especially when employees work geographically dispersed. Therefore, it is primordial to consider the technology that can be used for knowledge management, which acts as the broker connecting sellers and buyers. In this context, having an efficient technology capable of linking the team and easy to store and access data is something to be prioritised.
A good practice in this sense is to create virtual areas dedicated to this purpose, like an internal portal/social network, where employees can store reference materials and interact among themselves to find the best solutions for their challenges. It needs to be an easily accessible environment, where buyers can identify sellers and materials related to specific topics and new ideas can be discussed through virtual forums. A virtual broker like this enables knowledge sharing to be more dynamic and accessible through the whole organisation, as it does not rely on word of mouth for the contact between buyer and sellers to happen.
Also, in an efficient knowledge market, employees know that their knowledge is valuable and that their colleagues will cooperate when necessary, which motivates the team and promotes a good working environment. It also enables employees to feel like part of the team, looking at the company’s big picture and focusing on achieving corporative goals.
When this knowledge stock is stored in a virtual platform, it can be helpful not only for the current employees of the organisation but also for newcomers to be trained and ramp up their knowledge when going through similar challenges. Therefore, even when current employees leave the organisation, their knowledge can still be part of it and become a legacy for future generations.
Furthermore, the knowledge market enables a rich knowledge stock. Different from the product market, making a sale increases the knowledge stock in the company, being beneficial for the seller, buyers and the organisation as a whole.
About the authors
Tatiana Metello is a Visagio consultant with experience in organizational management, shared services center implementation and data analytics projects in companies in the manufacturing, oil and gas and mining industries. Tatiana specialised in Industrial Engineering at the Fluminense Federal University.