How Knowledge Workers Would Like to Work

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 14, 2006

4 Min Read

A few months ago Money magazine published an article on how Bill Gates works.  Several people since then have written articles and blogs describing how they work.  I would like to add my two cents to the current stream of articles by not describing how I work, but how knowledge workers would like to work.   Most of my thoughts are based on over 80 interviews asking enterprise level employees how they would like to work.  My goal was to document requirements around collaboration and what the future state of collaboration should look like.  Here are some of my findings.

A Standardized Collaboration System

The number one requirement users have is that they want a single collaboration environment that they can use to collaborate with their team members, partners, and customers.  Two things upset users: (1) not having the proper tools to collaborate efficiently and (2) having too many tools that do the same thing.  A standardized system that could be used for team asynchronous and synchronous collaboration was the first step that would make knowledge workers satisfied.  The standard system should provide the following functionality: task management, calendars, document management, forums, membership management, access right management, web conference, and instant messaging.

Content Management Is Equally Important

In addition to having a standard collaboration workspace, users want content management functionality.  When teams are created, users also want to create different content pages to support their projects.  The majority of users tend to be visual and they would like to create content pages that include graphics.  Additionally, they would like to incorporate their collaboration functionality into content pages.

Super Users Want Full Control 

Technologically advanced users and business-process owners have specific requirements regarding their desire to become less dependent on IT and developers.  Process owners want to be able to create workflows and forms that allow them to create, manage, and improve their department’s processes.  Having the ability to control a collaborative workflow, manipulate data capture, and integrate the collaboration system with enterprise systems from companies like Oracle/PeopleSoft and Siebel, with without requiring development, is a dream state for a process owner.

Expert Location and Content Delivery

After meeting their basic collaboration and content management requirements, the  next desire of both users is to extend the collaboration and content management system to locate experts and support advanced search features.  Users want one search engine that integrates with other enterprise systems and lets users search for experts based on the content they produce and association of user data from enterprise systems such as PeopleSoft, resume repositories, and so on.  Additionally, users want to be able to easily trace the content of their search.  For example, knowing where a file resides within the folder hierarchy can add context and lead to the discovery of additional resources.  Finally, users want content delivered to them as it is made available, such as through an RSS or Atom syndication feed.

Data Integration and Personalization

Once users can collaborate, post and manage their content, easily search for content and experts, and receive content updates, they would like to integrate the data stored in repositories with the rest of the collaboration and content management system.  Users ultimately want a dashboard that they can manage whose components can be manipulated in a portal environment.  Users want a portal dashboard that can be customized and can include the content, data, and collaboration tools they need to get their work done more efficiently and effectively.  Users want to drag, drop, and manipulate different gadgets on their portal page.

Simulating Face-to-Face Interactions and Efficiencies

Finally, users want to integrate presence throughout their collaboration and content management environments, so team members can stay in touch with their colleagues wherever they are in the workflow process.  While working on a document, one worker would like to track the online presence of other colleagues working on the same document.  This lets people send messages, get feedback on the document, ask questions, and so on. Simulating the physical presence lets users benefit from the conversations, interactions, and relationship building activities that face-to-face interaction provides. 

How Knowledge Workers Would Like to Work

Now that I’ve laid the ground work for the ideal collaborative environment, I will attempt to summarize things: Users want a collaboration system that they can create and customize themselves; one that provides the right data, content, and tools that will make them most effective in a virtual environment, but will simulate a face-to-face team setting; and one that pushes interesting and pertinent content to the user rather than having to be located by the user.  Such an environment is a knowledge workers dream -- and the future.  


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