It’s everyone’s favorite workplace debate: is sharing information better online or in-person? Which one reaps all the benefits of knowledge sharing? Which one will CEOs put in their burn books next?
This isn’t the right question. That’s because the majority of companies are hybrid companies, and knowledge will be shared both online and in-person, whether the C-Suite likes it or not.
Some knowledge is best shared in person. Some knowledge can just as easily be shared online.
But when shared freely, regardless of the medium, what are the benefits of knowledge sharing for the hybrid workplace? What conditions need to be met before knowledge sharing happens?
These questions are especially important to ask in 2023, because knowledge sharing is failing – wherever employees are working from.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the benefits of knowledge sharing for a hybrid workplace, why it’s failing and what organizations need to do to rebuild it.
Benefits of knowledge sharing for a hybrid workplace
Why share what you know?
An organization is the sum of every individual’s knowledge. If people aren’t sharing theirs, the organization has no meaningful differentiation and no viable future.
But if people are sharing their knowledge, whether online or in the office, these magical things happen:
- Better productivity. Since shared knowledge is accessible knowledge, employees spend less time searching for answers – whether they’re buried somewhere in SharePoint or with their manager who’s in back-to-back meetings all day. Employees can proceed with the task at hand in less time.
- Reduced costs. Onboarding, training and outsourcing all become less expensive when someone who already knows something well has documented it somewhere.
- More engaged employees. Sharing what you know, whether it’s technical knowledge or how to do something faster, and then seeing someone else benefit from it, makes you feel good. And when someone else has helped you, you’ll want to pay it forward in the future.
- A better office environment that makes more people want to come in. An atmosphere buzzing with spontaneous exchanges is what makes the morning commute worthwhile for many people – and word of mouth spreads fast.
- Better performance, regardless of location. Knowledge is an asset, and sharing it in a hybrid workplace creates a consistently accessible resource that boosts performance, whether you’re in the office or working remotely.
- Competitive differentiation. A unique product and service is great, but can only get you so far if you really want to stand out from competitors. On the other hand, a company with a strong knowledge sharing culture will move faster and more efficiently – both internally and when it comes to sales and customer service.
- A more profitable organization. This is compounded from every one of the benefits of knowledge sharing above. It’s a no-brainer that profits are higher when a company is capitalizing on a key asset.
The problem is that there’s a vital precursor to reaping these benefits of knowledge sharing. And it’s one that hybrid workplaces are failing to master.
Why a culture of trust is the foundation of knowledge sharing, and why hybrid workplaces are getting it wrong
Multiple studies have repeatedly demonstrated over the years that organizational culture is a prerequisite for knowledge sharing. That’s because it’s culture – specifically a culture of trust – that incentivizes employees to share knowledge in the first place.
Knowledge sharing “is not an easy task because it’s not in human nature,” according to a study on intra-organizational conditions for knowledge sharing.
It’s an organizational culture of trust that gives employees the “big why” they need to share their knowledge. And for most orgnaizations, trust is in a sad state of affairs.
Only 21% of employees trust their company’s leadership, and only 22% think leadership has a clear vision for the organization.
Not exactly inspiring conditions for knowledge sharing.
A hybrid workplace exponentially intensifies the lack of trust on knowledge sharing because it’s far easier for a sub-par culture to become deeply entrenched across the entire organization when people aren’t seeing each other in-person every day.
What’s more, leadership teams have put another significant dent in intra-organizational trust with heavy-handed back to the office mandates that aren’t backed up by transparency or data.
“Many leaders have had to implement major organizational changes — from hybrid work policies to new strategic initiatives,” say Denis McClain and Ryan Pendell for Gallup, “and they’ve missed a big opportunity to build trust by not including their teams in the process.”
Making executive decisions about something as impactful and possibly contentious as hybrid work patterns demonstrates to employees that leadership is thinking solely of their own aims. Sharing knowledge in a culture like this won’t seem like a fair trade-off to most employees.
But culture is just one of the reasons knowledge sharing could be failing in a hybrid workplace.
Think of culture as why employees should share knowledge in the first place. Both the physical workplace and technology for sharing knowledge remotely are how employees share knowledge. If either of these isn’t up to snuff, no one reaps the benefits of knowledge sharing.
Think about it – would you be more inclined to talk someone through the most efficient way to complete a process in a drab grey cubicle or in a comfy lounge with lots of plants and great coffee?
Office layout, design and space planning, as well as the communication tech stack employees have access to wherever they’re working from – create the right mediums for employees to share their knowledge.
In particular, the office environment dictates the way people interact with each other and the quality of their interactions. That’s why it’s so critical to align the office environment with organizational culture as part of a workplace strategy.
Workplace Strategy Guide: A Post-Pandemic Deep-Dive
Download this guide to find out how to create a workplace where individuals thrive, organizational performance soars, and costs stay low.
How to rebuild and foster knowledge sharing in a hybrid workplace
The most important thing to keep in mind about creating and maintaining a knowledge-sharing culture is that you have to model the behaviour you want to see before it’s adopted by the rest of the company.
Here’s how to do that:
- Rebuild and communicate leadership’s vision for the organization. This isn’t easy, but it is possible with the right approach and a healthy dose of humility.
- Listen to employees and demonstrate that you’re implementing their feedback. It’s impossible to rebuild organizational trust if you don’t know to what extent employees trust leadership and each other, impossible to create the right office environment for knowledge sharing if you don’t know what employees dislike about the current one, and impossible to have the right tech stack for easy knowledge sharing if you’re in the dark about what employees hate about what you have now.
Read more: 23 Questions to Ask in Your Next Employee Workplace Survey
- Lead by example. This determines whether employees will see knowledge sharing as a benefit or a disadvantage and waste of time. Considering that over half of managers haven’t received any specialized training on managing employees and communicating in a hybrid environment, many may need extra support. Knowledge sharing starts with them.
- Encourage multiple forms of knowledge sharing and find the right mediums for them. Informal knowledge sharing is best suited to the office, when things just come up spontaneously in conversation, while technical knowledge sharing can just as easily be done online and reach more people who might not be in the office. Sharing successes and failures might be easier in person – but the prerequisite for this, and for all types of knowledge, is trust.
- Shape the work environment around knowledge sharing. The one thing the office has that working remotely doesn’t is a coworker you can roll over to and ask a question in 30 seconds. Office spaces should be laid out to encourage and facilitate these types of interactions. Eliminating the friction between employees and the workplace experience they want using intelligent scheduling can also help to transform your offices into knowledge-sharing central.
- Invest in the right tech for online knowledge sharing. Merely having a channel to share information won’t cut it, since everyone learns and retains knowledge differently. Tools that support multiple types of knowledge sharing – like visual collaboration, knowledge base and document collaboration tools make both and accessing information second nature for employees, given that the organizational culture supports it.
Hubstar helps you rebuild knowledge sharing in your hybrid workplace
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