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Knowledge Workers: They?re Everywhere (and What Kind of Business Reporter Doesn't Know What One Is?)

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

Melanie Turek

December 4, 2006

2 Min Read

I got a laugh out of fellow-blogger Jonathan Spira’s recent post on the difficulty he had conveying the meaning of “knowledge worker” to a reporter at a national business publication. I assume “Jane” is young indeed if she doesn’t know what a knowledge worker is, and naïve if she thinks her readers don’t, either. According to Wikipedia, the term’s been around for almost 50 years, coined by none other than Peter Drucker (presumably someone the business reporter has heard of).

But I take Spira's larger point to heart: Knowledge workers are most decidedly not simply “office workers” (or limited to “executives”); rather, they are employees who use information to do their jobs, differentiate their company’s brand, and contribute to the bottom line.

What’s cool is that as collaborative technologies evolve, they are enabling more employees to be recast as knowledge workers. So, for instance, while a sales clerk would not traditionally be defined as a knowledge worker, she can be if she’s empowered with information that helps her move more merchandise and keep customers coming back. One way to do that is to give her instant access to product and customer data; presence-powered contact with managers and co-workers at other stores or within the warehouse; and training to learn better up-selling and cross-selling techniques. All those can be delivered via presence-driven collaborative applications, ideally with a mobile component and integrated into back-end enterprise applications.

Or take the example of a stock clerk who normally would do nothing more than, well, stock shelves. Armed with the right collaboration tools, he can now act as a knowledge worker in several capacities—he can help the store’s supply chain systems stay up to date on what’s in stock and what’s not; and he can help customers find the products they’re looking for, even if they’re not on the shelves or “in the back.”

What’s more, collaborative technologies are helping knowledge workers move into other areas of the enterprise. Now, customer service reps can tap experts within product development, R&D and management teams to get answers to their customers in real time, without those experts having to leave their desks (or cars, or store floors).

There are, of course, a few key enablers of this trend. The biggest may be mobility—companies looking to transform more of their employees into knowledge workers will probably have to do so using mobile devices to get them the information they need when and where they need it. Management and organizational structures also need to change, so that employees who might not in the past have been seen as “experts” are empowered to use, create and deliver information.

Meanwhile, anyone who doesn’t understand the term knowledge worker could check out that Wikipedia link—the most notable thing about it, in my mind, is that almost everything written on the subject points to the need for collaboration, communication and forward-thinking knowledge management techniques. It's all good stuff for the unified communications industry, if you ask me.

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