As we move from full-time, stay-at-home work to a mix of working at home and in the office on designated days, employees will have to adapt their approach to acquiring and sharing knowledge with their colleagues, who will be located in varying workplaces. As organizations ask us to be flexible, we too must be flexible in our knowledge capture and transfer with our coworkers.
Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve upped our game in the use of technology to facilitate sharing and collaborating through tools such as Zoom, WebEx and other teleconference vehicles. What happens now that some people may be at home, while others have returned to the workplace? How do we share what we know with others when working in this new hybrid environment?
To see how this can work well, we’ll examine two organizations, one from the public sector and one from the private sector. Each has not only continued to capture and transfer knowledge in this age of COVID-19, but has also learned to leverage people, processes and technology to improve it.
At the IRS
Here, at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), knowledge management is considered integral to the top-line strategy of cultivating a well-equipped, diverse, flexible and engaged workforce to support the implementation of the Taxpayer First Act. Knowledge capture serves to enhance the employee experience and as a result, improves the taxpayer experience.
The IRS Knowledge Management (KM) strategy is supported by four pillars – connect, share, learn and improve. These serve as the framework for processes and tools that deliver the right knowledge to the right person at the right time.
The KM processes and tools are accessed and delivered virtually. This enables employees to learn and share in an on-demand environment. I will highlight three critical processes that proved pivotal in supporting the capture and transfer of knowledge in this COVID era.
1. The first is “communities of practice.” Employees who have shared knowledge and interests will connect and engage during scheduled virtual meetings. The opportunity to create a level playing field of the knowledge shared and knowledge gained is an outcome of these meetings.
2. Next, the IRS Virtual Library provides on-demand easy access to knowledge created and vetted by subject matter experts (SMEs) in various strategic areas. These areas include collections, information technology, return processing and taxpayer services, to name a few. Content users can provide input and feedback to the SMEs to keep it fresh and relevant.
3. Finally, the Knowledge Capture/Lessons Learned program delivers access to tools and templates that enable the sharing of knowledge via knowledge sharing interviews, knowledge sharing guides and knowledge capture plans. These tools enable employees to create their personalized approach to sharing knowledge across the enterprise, virtually.
As you can see, our focus at the IRS is to provide the capability to capture, share and retain knowledge throughout the organization without physical location as a barrier. This strategic initiative is supported and championed at the highest levels of the Service and employees are encouraged to fully engage and participate. During the COVID era, we have seen a sizable increase in employee participation in our knowledge management tools and processes, which has had a positive impact in support of the nation’s taxpayers.
Next, we’ll look at a private-sector example, courtesy of a case study from Gartner, a global research and advisory organization. This case study about Dropbox describes an innovative approach to creating collaboration habits in a “hybrid” work environment. Dropbox provides cloud-based technology support to its customers. When COVID-19 sent employees home, the company had to shift its way of working from a shared workspace to a virtual one.
Now that some employees are returning to the office, the organization used this opportunity to design a different approach to the collaborative aspect of its work.
Dropbox wanted to align its people strategy with its mission to design a more enlightened way of working. To support its employees in collaborating more effectively in the hybrid world, Dropbox equips employees with customizable collaboration habits to guide employees to collaborate effectively across multiple worksites. These habits guide employees to balance synchronous collaboration with focused work, which allows them to work more efficiently and balance time for work and personal needs. (Gartner case study, p. 2)
Dropbox asked its employees to rethink their habits of collaboration, from sitting in meetings that were not effective to narrowing the time for meetings each day, so that they were tightly focused. They used “set collaboration hours” and “blocked time for focused work” to create “habits” for employees to share their knowledge and collaborate.
Set collaboration hours — Dropbox sets core collaboration hours by region (e.g., “America’s Core Collaboration Hours”) when everyone in a particular region agrees to be available for synchronous collaboration. This time is not intended for back-to-back meetings. Instead, Dropbox sets the expectation that employees within the region should use the time to design a product together, chat in a communications platform and work on documents in parallel, for example.
Blocked time for focused work — Employees are asked to schedule time for solo, asynchronous collaboration. This time is for collaborating through email or commenting on documents at a time that works for employees’ needs and preferences. (Gartner case study, p. 9)
What’s brilliant about this approach is that its set hours for meetings to share and collaborate are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. PT or 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET daily, across the company. Employees complete their focused work outside of those core hours, which helps them plan their work more efficiently.
The organization believes it drives a different approach to meetings and when stakeholders are truly needed to get things accomplished. Using the language of collaboration to set a meeting request focuses the time to be of distinct value for all participants. In addition, blocking time for focused work enables employees to identify questions and capture learnings that can be shared when in the collaborative space, thus increasing the institutional knowledge for Dropbox.
With the post-pandemic future of work still under development in many public and private sector organizations, the opportunity for innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and just plain trust will become paramount.
The time is ripe for hybrid workplaces that give employees, who want to return to the workplace and those who wish to remain at home, access to the work/life paradigm organizations have long pursued. This new approach is not an inhibitor for knowledge capture and transfer – it actually enriches it. With the availability of more virtual and on-demand processes and tools, as well as incorporating different ways of collaborating that serve both the employee and the organization it’s a win-win for everyone.
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Christine “Chris” Makell has worked for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for over four years, having held positions of increasing challenges and responsibility in that short time. She is currently a Program Analyst in the Knowledge Management & Transfer office. She joins federal service after a 28-year career in the private sector and six years as the owner of Chris Makell Consulting/Coaching working with individuals and sales teams to achieve greater success.