Knowledge Management challenges and changes during COVID-19

Margot Howard
Industry Columnist
26 April 2021

At a recent online roundtable event hosted by Briefing magazine, knowledge leaders at firms of all sizes discussed their top considerations and priorities after navigating the past year of the pandemic.

2020 was a turning point in firms’ appreciation and understanding of knowledge curation and sharing knowledge management lessons learned last year. Knowledge work didn’t grind to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. In fact, much of the knowledge work in places like legal organizations continued in full swing after the pivot to remote ways of working.

Knowledge management has long been essential for businesses to leverage organizational expertise for informed decision making, access to best practices, and optimum efficiency. The global pandemic has further increased its importance, and, like many aspects of personal and professional life, changes impacted the discipline, practice and skill of knowledge management.

Knowledge workers have needed to continue creating valuable work product containing new insights, advice, and actionable documents like contracts. But pressures like time, cost, and client demands also continue. Knowledge assets help drive the business outcomes knowledge workers seek without having to start from scratch each time.

These insights are essential, more than ever, with knowledge workers working remotely. They can no longer pop into someone’s office to rapidly collaborate or corroborate on work – on the fly – or gain deeper insights for a project by stepping over the threshold of one office door to another.

Since these “watercooler moments” and other in-person collaborative opportunities are no longer an option, the use of digital alternatives, such as video and chat, to emulate these moments have dramatically increased. But these exchanges aren’t as helpful as the live in-person oral communications they’re trying to emulate, driving increased demand for curated knowledge assets such as traditional templates and precedents, as well as ‘how to’ and example advice to act as starting points for knowledge workers. These assets need to be stored and organized for knowledge workers to access in their time of need.

Knowledge sharing challenges

Working remotely through the pandemic means people may have more to do and the freedom

to decide how they do it. Knowledge leaders need lawyers to find and share the correct information for delivering work effectively and for continuous business improvement. Our roundtable participants encountered various challenges relating to knowledge sharing, such as:

  • When people get busy, they may neglect to share (or do so securely), creating the need to remind lawyers to follow best and safe practice from document check-out to check-in before moving to the next.
  • Sometimes bottlenecks are encountered in sharing knowledge, causing knowledge leaders to seek new ways to share legal knowhow more centrally during the pandemic.
  • There’s a concern about potential risks with more sources and the potential for creating silos where too many technologies are in play.

All in all, the goal is to strike the right balance of encouraging a secure collaborative mindset without overloading people while finding a way to replicate lost “watercooler moments” that used to exist or document storage and retrieval “workarounds”. There has to be a trade-off between necessary friction to ensure robust security with a lightness of touch in working on documents, wherever work needs to be done.

Keeping current with knowledge curation

The pandemic has increased the need to fortify knowledge banks, but greater digital channel use has generated more and different types of content. With the use of chat and video, new content governance decisions have been necessary. With these content types being such rich sources of knowledge, the challenge is finding ways to make them searchable with properly managed metadata through one platform so knowledge workers can easily find what they need when they need it.

Making it easy to find

Our roundtable participants felt it business-critical to have one source of truth to search, combined with the ability to browse curated collections by knowledge type or by topic. Then, there’s how people in a firm tend to search for things at their point of need when researching internally. As a result, knowledge leaders are tailoring their knowledge banks and search options accordingly.

Live and on-demand sharing is on the rise

The increased use of digital collaborative platforms and video have made collaboration easier. Be that Microsoft Teams, Zoom and the like. Lawyers and other knowledge workers like the ability to consume live content or on-demand. Plus, it makes it easier for global organizations to have a more focused international exchange across multiple time zones. Knowledge leaders are finding new ways to curate and leverage these new content types as well.

Knowledge culture changes

Our knowledge leaders felt that culture is an essential element of knowledge management, including contributing, sharing, searching, or security. There isn’t any process improvement without behavioral change, so people must receive continual reinforcement to make new ways of working second nature. They agreed that selecting a simple knowledge system drives better compliance by making these processes effortless.

Increased appreciation of knowledge curation

2021 will mark a turning point for the appreciation of knowledge curation. Remote working has led to an increased demand for curated knowledge assets. Alex said, “Far from curation being an afterthought in a world of AI, we see a renaissance in the value of curation. Curators in law firms see their efforts supported by modern ‘knowledge publishing’ interfaces. Their outputs are in demand with knowledge workers who are looking for contextual starting points within the digital tools they use every day.”

Knowledge management lessons learned

The last year has changed knowledge management and elevated its importance. While navigating the previous twelve months, we’ve identified additional valuable knowledge management resources, like checklists and different ways to use them as actionable content. Plus, the increase of digital content types such as Zoom meetings, presentations, and chat channel conversations on WhatsApp or Slack have pushed knowledge management professionals to find new ways to capture, share, and tag this content for easy access as needed. After all, our recent Making Knowledge WorkTM research shows “30% of respondents said that documents reach their organization via five or more channels.”

Paths to greater knowledge

Briefing magazine published a supplement sponsored by iManage covering what law firm knowledge leaders are prioritizing in 2021 and what steps they are taking to encourage and capture virtual watercooler exchanges as they manage the explosion in new online content channels.

Read more in Paths to Greater Knowledge’ by Briefing.

Paths to Greater Knowledge

This report published by Briefing discusses what are law firm knowledge leaders prioritizing in 2021? And, what steps they are taking to encourage and capture virtual watercooler exchanges and manage the explosion in new online content?

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