How to Prevent Knowledge Silos in a Flex Work Environment

Madeline Jacobson
Madeline Jacobson
3 mins
woman at laptop taking notes to prevent knowledge silos

Flex work gives people the freedom to work when and where they can be most productive—which is a positive for both employees and employers. However, when people are working at different locations and times, making the collective knowledge of the organization available on demand becomes essential.

Why is knowledge documentation and sharing so critical in a flex work environment? Consider this:

  • Employees don’t always have the ability to walk across an office and quickly find a co-worker when they have a question or need information on the fly. 
  • When employees don’t keep the exact same schedule, there may be periods when they’re unable to get a prompt response necessary for their work. 
  • Dispersed teams may not always be able to gather in the same physical location for  working sessions or brainstorms.
  • Employees working at different times and across different locations won’t have as many “watercooler encounters,” or organic, unplanned opportunities to learn from co-workers, discover new connections, and strengthen bonds in an informal environment.

Without these in-person moments of connection, employees and employers must be more intentional about sharing information in a digital environment that everyone can access. If organizations don’t democratize their knowledge, they risk knowledge silos forming within decentralized departments or teams.

Why It’s Essential to Prevent Knowledge Silos from Forming

Knowledge silos—which occur when information doesn’t flow freely between departments, teams, or employees—aren’t just unique to companies with flex work models, and they’re not a new phenomenon. A 2006 McKinsey study found that only 25 percent of senior executives felt their organizations were successful at sharing knowledge between departments. And in 2019, Workfront’s annual State of Work Report revealed that 86 percent of knowledge workers don’t have a clear sense of what their colleagues are working on.

Left unchecked, knowledge silos can cause many issues, including:

  • Lack of alignment around company goals and vision
  • Lack of trust between departments
  • Redundant work by different teams
  • Inefficient handoffs between teams
  • Missed opportunities for cross-functional innovation

All these silo issues can be costly. Fortune 500 companies lose an estimated $31.5 billion every year by failing to effectively share knowledge across teams.

4 Ways to Help Prevent Knowledge Silos in a Flex Work Environment

Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent silos from forming with a good knowledge sharing strategy. To ensure that information continues to flow smoothly in a flex work environment, organizations can:

Establish a Central Hub for Knowledge

A cloud-based, searchable knowledge engagement platform like Bloomfire gives all employees one virtual place to share and find the information they need to do their jobs. Rather than sending a frantic 10pm email or messaging a team member when they’re away from their computer, employees can simply go to their knowledge platform and search for the information they need. If they can’t find what they’re looking for, they can post a question and crowdsource an answer. 

Make Knowledge Documentation Routine

Encourage employees to document anything that might benefit their co-workers, from explicit knowledge, such as standard operating procedures, to implicit knowledge, such as best practices learned through years of experience. When possible, allow employees to share knowledge in the format that’s most convenient for them. The more frictionless the process of sharing knowledge, the more employees will be willing to contribute. 

Make Time for Virtual “Watercooler” Gatherings

Plan informal virtual sessions that bring together employees from across teams. This can be an opportunity for employees to share what they’re working on or just connect over shared interests. These casual conversations can build trust across teams and promote a sense of psychological safety so that employees feel comfortable sharing their knowledge in the future. And when interesting learnings come out of these informal gatherings, employees can document and make them accessible to others.

Give All Employees Access to the Knowledge Produced By Different Teams

While there may be some instances where knowledge needs to be limited to one team due to security and privacy policies, there are also many cases where teams possess knowledge that should be more widely shared to benefit other departments—and their entire organization. 

For example, market research teams can publish final reports and insights related to research findings to their company knowledge platform so that stakeholders from different departments can gain a deeper understanding of their target buyer’s behaviors and motivations. Customer service reps can share common customer questions in their company knowledge platform so that other employees have visibility into the questions and issues customers are sharing, which can in turn fuel new ideas for everything from new service offerings and marketing materials to product improvements.

No matter what department someone is working in, and regardless of whether they’re in the office or at home, they should be encouraged to contribute to their company’s knowledge base. When everyone across an organization creates a habit of documenting knowledge and sharing it in ways their co-workers can easily access, employees will be able to successfully tap into—and add to—their company’s collective intelligence.

June 18, 2020

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