Digital work is not necessarily productive. Computers, software, and the internet do make a lot of things easier. They increase the amount of knowledge available, but also the complexity of both searching for it and the associated workflows. And at a lot of companies, that has already led to information overload — with a corresponding negative impact on productivity. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you’ve ever worked in an office, then you know that emails keep piling up in your inbox, your mobile phone is constantly vibrating, and you’ve got dozens of tabs open in your web browser. The only thing that isn’t jostling for your attention is that report on the intranet you desperately need but can’t find.
Okay, that might be taking it to the extreme. But it’s not that far from the truth. Because emails, social media, and business applications do more than just make office and knowledge work easier, they also make it more complex and extend its scope. These tools considerably increase the amount of available knowledge — knowledge that also needs to be processed — while only making it slightly easier to navigate through that knowledge. The consulting firm IDC claims that knowledge workers spend around half of their time exchanging and looking for information — but they only have access to around 60% of the data they need.
The disadvantages of digital work
The consequences are well understood. Digital work often brings with it information overload, multitasking, and constant interruptions — these things limit concentration and creativity. So much so, that productivity is starting to suffer. Economists refer to this as the Productivity Paradox. Despite the fact that companies are investing millions in digitalization and knowledge workers now have access to more knowledge than ever before, they are hardly any more productive than they used to be. This paradox is fading fast, however. Banks and merchants, for instance, are seeing considerable productivity gains form digital technologies that are capable of completely automating entire workflows. The companies who are not able to automate value-generating activities by using algorithms and chatbots, however, continue to battle with these difficulties.
A way out of the productivity trap
The consultancy McKinsey conducted a study to find out what keeps these companies stuck in the productivity paradox with the following incisive results. It’s not the digital technologies or the employees that are to blame. Rather, it’s the way the companies are using both of them. In many cases, companies simply acquired data, software, and new procedures and then, without providing any additional planning or structure, left it to their staff to deal with.
This approach of course has advantages in areas that require completely free and independent knowledge work. But in other cases, it would result in employees becoming overtaxed; new tools not being adequately utilized; and a failure to benefit from the full potential of digitalization, company know-how, and knowledge work.
That’s why it’s better to properly structure access to knowledge using clear strategies and technology that is fit for purpose. That’s clear advice on how to get out of the productivity trap, you might think. But how can companies follow it?
Knowledge management for knowledge workers
The easy answer is to start using knowledge management. The term refers to the strategic management of the collection and structuring of knowledge — as well as specifying procedures and guidelines for day-to-day knowledge work. By definition, it offers what the McKinsey consultants recommend in their report.
But there’s more to modern knowledge management than that. Beyond a mere strategy to manage knowledge, it also involves special software to implement that strategy. Knowledge management applications collect and link all the knowledge available within the enterprise and make access to it easy, fast, and contextual. That reduces complexity, makes it easier for knowledge workers to complete their daily tasks, and increases productivity across the entire enterprise. Make your knowledge work more productive.
Would you like to know more about how you can use knowledge management for yourself or your customers? Then get in touch — we’re always glad to advise you. Test SABIO’s knowledge management system for 30 days at no charge: https://www.getsabio.com/signup