By Dave Wilson, founder and managing director of Tiger Eye
Lawyers often work in high pressure environments, dealing with highly sensitive data and frequently complex cases. Working from home, there can be a feeling of disconnect from the people they work with – particularly if there is difficulty accessing the information and documents needed. In these cases, they can become overwhelmed. When there is no designated space for lawyers to share ideas with others, the feeling of disconnect worsens and they can feel disillusioned. The pandemic has brought many of these struggles with collaboration to the fore, and the situation at hand is gradually moving Knowledge Management up the priorities lists for several firms.
Videoconferencing, instant messaging and emails cannot mimic the dynamics of being together in the same room. There is no virtual replacement for the buzz of energy felt in a brainstorming meeting. There is no way to replicate the spontaneity of stumbling upon an idea over lunch. You cannot virtually tap your colleague on the shoulder for help, for tips, or to share a thought. With a dispersed workforce, business leaders realised that collaboration is vital, and they have adopted communication and collaboration tools at an – dare I say it – unprecedented rate. But, whilst we have adjusted relatively quickly and relatively effectively, it’s become clear in recent months that with the onset of Zoom fatigue and homeworking burnout, many methods for virtual collaboration are not equal to their office-based counterparts.
The mundaneness of the at-home office can stifle creativity, and it can be hard for workers to think beyond immediate task lists. With this, innovation hits a screen-shaped wall. As Google C.O.O. Mark Golan recently explained: “People are very efficient doing their work at home in their home office, once they know what they are doing. The problem is when you have to decide what to do next.” Many firms have felt this and have taken steps to spark creativity and reconnect their staff. For instance, here at Tiger Eye, we were inspired by Helene Russell’s Random Virtual Coffee Chats, arranging catch-up calls with our network to fuel casual conversation, think differently, reflect – and potentially, innovate. Yet, with technology acting as the middleman in any interaction in the WFH environment, most every conversation has an element of awkwardness that we cannot escape.
The Immediate Future
But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s just how imperative flexibility is to a business. Working from home is surely here to stay in some capacity, but blended working is on the horizon for many firms. Once again teams will have to adapt.
Knowledge Management is not just essential for quality management but is also key for effective time and cost management – and these are all things that will once again need to be reconsidered as we step out of lockdown and into this new way of working. Businesses will have to meet the knowledge demands of different working styles, so that colleagues in the office can still share and access knowledge as efficiently as their at-home peers. Be warned – this may seem like a simple switch back to the way things used to be, but it is an entirely new challenge, as hybrid working offers new opportunities for knowledge to fall through the cracks and inefficiencies to creep into lawyers’ working lives.
Building a flexible, reliable knowledge strategy suitable for the blended working world will require extensive planning, versatile technology, and sheer determination. Connection issues and access to information systems, networks and drives will perhaps be less of a struggle when we return to the office, but the true challenge for lawyers in the hybrid working environment will be efficiently locating critical know-how, as there will be yet more silos for knowledge to get trapped within. With virtual and in-person opportunities for knowledge sharing readily available, the recording of knowledge could prove to be no easy task. Ensuring that knowledge collected from video calls, team meetings, client chats and mentor meetings are all recorded in a way that is easily accessible for all will be a new challenge for KM teams to rise to. How can we record lessons learned from case reviews and learning outcomes from meetings in a flexible, accessible way? How can communities of practice adapt to meet the different working environments of those within them? Without effective strategies supported by flexible, comprehensive IT systems, mission-critical data will fall through the cracks.
Yet, blended working will be a crucial time for knowledge sharing and the formation of ideas, as we can once again feed off of the energy of others and interact without barriers. A recent study undertaken by Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group and KRC Research recorded that businesses across Europe reported drops in levels of innovation, with an average decrease from 56% to 40% when working from home. But it’s easy to see how this move to blended working, with the ability to see colleagues face-to-face, could kickstart innovative thinking again. So, it’s more important than ever that KM rises to meet the challenges of the immediate future, to grasp this unique opportunity for innovation.
Firms will also need to use the lessons learned and knowledge gained from the crisis to help their planning and recovery efforts for the next stage of working: life after the pandemic. It is essential that if they are to look ahead, they must be able to look back, too, and KM provides a means for adapting to external change, and driving change from within, for true resilience.
A law firm’s knowledge library has the potential to offer significant competitive advantage in the fiercely competitive market the recession will fuel. Whilst pressures to cut costs will likely mount in the months to come, finding savings will be more difficult than during the pandemic, when travel expenses and office overheads were reduced by necessity. What’s more, without effective Knowledge Management firms could risk reputational damage by offering a slower service than that of their knowledge-sharing competitors. With clients expecting ever more bang for their buck, it’s easy to see how vital KM will be for firms wishing to compete.
Yet, more than efficiency and value for money, clients will be looking for the personal touch in their legal services. Fortunately, more than just acting as a search and retrieval tool, Knowledge Libraries have the potential to build and reinforce effective relationships with customers for post-pandemic resilience. It is only by piecing together past experiences and interactions with clients that firms can grasp a view of the customer experience they offer. It is only by understanding what clients want that firms can offer it to them – be it client-facing KM, self-serve portals or something entirely new. It is only when a firm has their collective experience at hand that they can meet customer demand and anticipate future needs.
But KM is also essential for relationships within internal teams. Without KM we forget, we repeat, and we do not learn. Without KM, newly onboarded staff begin their journey overwhelmed with information but with little actionable knowledge – and they feel disconnected from peers, who have no formal space to share with them. Without KM, we risk our teams becoming overloaded in ‘reinventing the wheel’ with every case – and we risk them feeling undervalued, as their past contributions are not appreciated. Facilitating knowledge transfer and recognising proactive sharers helps to ensure that staff feel connected to the company and its mission – building a positive work culture where innovation can flourish. Bridging divides across departments by connecting peer to peer builds resilient bonds and empowered teams. Prioritising KM shows an investment in the expertise of those within the business, and it builds trust between the firm and the teams within it. Put simply, Knowledge Management is focused on people and it builds relationships that last.
Know Now or Never
Knowledge Management will be vital for resilience in the post-pandemic world, but it needs to be a strategic priority now so that firms aren’t left scrambling when the economy starts to rebound.
It is only by managing knowledge effectively that we can manage risks, avoid mistakes, respond to opportunities and make better decisions. Beyond the maintenance of documents and best practice guidelines, Knowledge Workers are strategic thinkers who are uniquely positioned to understand how what the firm already has – its valuable expertise – can be leveraged to solve client challenges in the years to come.
Just as we have remained agile in lockdown, inventing new products and approaches to service delivery, revising strategies and ‘pivoting’ to new needs, we will have to continue to be flexible beyond the pandemic. Knowledge is constantly evolving, and it is crucial that we evolve with it. But we will continue to learn and continue to rise to new challenges – and KM will be our platform for continuous growth.
Dave Wilson has vast experience within the legal technology industry, spending most of his career focusing on Work Product Management. In 2005, Dave worked to forge partnerships with key industry players (including iManage, Litera, DocsCorp and more) to build Tiger Eye – an organisation dedicated to helping professional services organisations to enhance the way they work with their documents, emails and knowledge.
For further information see:
Remote Working and the Platform of the Future
Commissioned by Microsoft, carried out by Boston Consulting Group and KRC Research. The research in full: https://pulse.microsoft.com/uploads/prod/2020/10/BCG-Remote-Working-and-the-Platform-of-the-Future-Oct-2020.pdf
Lendlease Autonomous Building Summit 2020
Comments from Google’s Mark Golan on applying lessons learned from past remote working scenarios on the Covid environment
Golan’s comments on WFH efficiency in the talk ‘Creation of Place, Powered by Data’ [32:40]: https://lendlease.widen.net/content/zzh5wdk17m/mp4/Creation%20Of%20Place%20Panel.mp4
The summit in full: https://www.lendleasepodium.com/news/events/autonomous-building-summit/