The rise of hybrid work has brought new opportunities and challenges for knowledge sharing in the workplace. With a mix of virtual and physical interactions, organisations must navigate how to effectively exchange information and ideas to drive success.
In today’s highly competitive business world, knowledge is an invaluable asset. According to the famous ‘working’ definition of Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak, knowledge is “a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information and expert insights that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information.”
Research has emphasised the importance of knowledge sharing in a context of the competitive business landscape by highlighting it as a key success factor. In this context, knowledge sharing refers to the provision of relevant information and know-how to help peers or to collaborate on problem-solving, idea generation or implementation of policies and procedures.
This has become even more important after the COVID-19 pandemic and the consideration of new ways of working, including hybrid working. The concept of the hybrid workplace is on everyone’s lips today, with digitalization becoming more normal across every sphere of the global village. Traditional work systems that have been effective in the past are being replaced by hybrid work arrangements.
What are the challenges of sharing knowledge in hybrid settings?
However, research by Forrester has revealed that open collaboration and knowledge sharing can be challenging in hybrid settings. Many employees are unsure whom to contact and are reluctant to reach outside their network. This highlights the importance of an organised central knowledge management system that everyone is aware of.
We sought to understand whether hybrid work had an effect on knowledge sharing in the workplace by conducting an anonymous survey looking of people who had worked in both hybrid and non-hybrid work settings. The questions ranged from knowledge gathering and giving to individual factors including trust and collaborativeness in the workplace. In addition, the last question touched upon the perceived effectiveness of different tools for knowledge sharing in hybrid work settings.
For all aspects of the survey, the results showed that respondents shared more knowledge in office settings than in hybrid work environments. It was interesting to see that in the latter, the question “When my colleagues learn something new, they tell me” was the only aspect that showed average disagreement falling below a rating of 3 out of 5(1 being strongly disagree and 5 strongly agree). This showed the largest difference between responses for in-office and hybrid settings, meaning that respondents either felt that their co-workers did not share information with them or did not have the means to.
It is also worth noting that the smallest difference could be seen in the question “I share information with my colleagues when they ask for it”, showing that hybrid work had little effect on their willingness to share information when asked.
99% of questions could be answered internally, however in hybrid settings people don’t askVincent Vuillard (Co-founder & CEO at Hive, interviewed)
Less knowledge sharing takes place in hybrid work environments than in full-time office work environments because hybrid work isolates employees physically, which has led to the loss of the ‘coffee chat’ culture. This in turn reduces the ability for colleagues to engage spontaneously in unstructured knowledge-sharing conversations, which is an important source of knowledge exchange.
Moreover, due to the organisational cultures that are present in companies today, employees have a negative mindset with regards to asking for help and are scared to ask their colleagues for advice which is further exacerbated in hybrid environments. This was further shown in the results of our global survey, which emphasised that much less knowledge sharing occurred with colleagues in hybrid work settings than in-office environments.
The availability of digital tools for employees is very high but none of them is built for interpersonal knowledge sharingVincent Vuillard
Even though respondents ranked them to be the most efficient for knowledge sharing in hybrid work settings, video conferencing tools were not built to facilitate effective knowledge sharing. For instance, the minimum meeting length that can be scheduled on Microsoft Teams is 15 minutes, which is not conducive to short and informal knowledge exchanges.
Furthermore, company intranets/forums were ranked the lowest in terms of tool efficiency. The problem with these is that employees do not respond to company-wide or team-wide requests for knowledge or help, as they don’t feel comfortable with everyone seeing their response. However, this is not purely a technological issue, there is a psychological issue at hand as well. Organisational culture can change if there is an effort made towards creating homogeneous teams structured around common goals.
Results of how efficient respondents found specific tools to share knowledge in hybrid work settings. (1: Strongly disagree to 5: Strongly agree)
We worked with Catherine Guillot, the Human Resources Director at Dassault Systems, on a case study on how they conducted a people-centric transformation of their intranet. The transformation allowed for professional communities to grow and specific topic threads to be made.
The communities enabled cross-functional collaboration and knowledge access that would not have been otherwise possible. The threads allowed employees to access topics internally that they needed to have easy access to or were interested in, thereby increasing engagement and cohesion.
The keys to unlocking knowledge sharing
The results of our research project lead to the following three-pronged approach for managers and organisational leaders to build an effective knowledge-sharing system in a hybrid work environment:
- Connect: Organise regular in-person events for employees to connect with each other.
- Grow: Instil a culture of asking for help, as at McKinsey, to develop a collaborative environment.
- Develop: Use specific knowledge-sharing platforms to provide employee-centric means of sharing knowledge.
This article is based on a research project conducted by ESCP Business School Master in Management M2 students Natsuki Barclay, Leon Gaensslen, Jeanne Hauger and Roxanne (Xinming) Zhong as part of the ‘Shaping the Future of Leadership in the Digital Era’ course of the ‘Digital Transformation’ specialisation, in collaboration with the Reinventing Work Chair supported by BivwAk! BNP Paribas.
It gives the views of its author, not the position of ESCP Business School.
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