Digital Workplaces & Corporate Memory: Good partners for 2021

Corporate Memory and Digital Workplaces

Everyone knows it, but there is nothing like saying it again: 2020 was a wild year. Businesses both struggled and found ways to reinvent themselves. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the restricted flights, and the lockdowns, many companies went from zero technology to modern in just a few months. Many scrambled trying to reach out to their clients by any means possible, to later find out that communication with their employees also required attention. And a few companies understood from the get-go that video-calling was their most pressing need, but probably not the most important one.

There are plenty of business lessons that can be extracted from 2020, and a lot of them revolve around digital workplaces. Videocalls can make borders disappear, but it does not solve underlying common issues – how can you provide your business partners, employees, and stakeholders a functional and mature digital environment where they can both work and manage their knowledge and data as a company? For this, we can look at the concept of "corporate memory" and how it relates to modern digital workplaces.

Digital workplaces: A new house for the corporate memory

In his book "Corporate Memory: Records and Information Management in the Knowledge Age" (2005), philosopher and knowledge management pioneer Kenneth A. Megill defines corporate memory as "one of the organization's most important assets. It encompasses all of the many types of documented and undocumented information that organizational units require to function effectively". This covers information and data from all disciplines around the company: marketing, manufacturing, legal, sales, leadership, etc. It can easily be recognized as files, records, media, databases, reports, or any other type of document, but it expands to also cover the implicit realm: tacit knowledge, organizational culture, and individual memories.

Think for a minute about your corporate memory — all the information explicit and implicit about your company during the year. How does your business keep track of its findings, learnings, and decisions? How does it manage its data and its culture? How does it avoid making the same mistakes? Coordinating and communicating with your workforce through tools like Zoom and Slack is essential for business continuity, but being able to tap into your learnings and decisions is what enables your company to evolve.

Digital workplaces have grown to be the modern host of your corporate memory. With intranet portals, social collaboration platforms, knowledge bases, and communication tools, digital workplaces not only produce information - they also help to create knowledge and make it available for reuse. This is something to consider when implementing technologies or when jumpstarting a digital transformation process: making your workforce more connected does not mean talking more often or more easily but having the tools and the means to create something new together.

Data and people: Breaking down silos

"Information is not only not a depletable resource, but it is also one that grows and thrives with use," states Merill in his Corporate Memory book. This idea can be mapped into two general mindsets: traditional companies that withhold information exercise control, hierarchy, and power, while those that allow information to be readily available promote autonomy, accountability, and growth. While digital workplaces have all the functionalities to create and maintain a highly hierarchical organization, it is when they act as an open “encyclopedia” that they go beyond: they empower organizations. Just to give a quick example, open repositories of information such as Wikipedia and YouTube have had a profound impact on the way new generations learn and pursue knowledge.

However, even the most advanced and technological companies may face silos. When a department does not share or talk with another department, and each one operates as an independent entity, the company is not creating new insights or new knowledge. This can happen in two different layers - the data perspective and the communication perspective. Integrating systems can help you consolidate your information, avoid duplicates and mistakes, achieve better control of your data, and save time. Bringing together departments to openly share their information can help you streamline processes, learn from others’ experiences, and define shared goals as part of an organizational culture.

Bringing together people and data is one of the core tasks of digital workplaces. They are the two halves of your company's memory: the operational part and the human part. Self-serve repositories and knowledge bases are excellent ways to address the silo's symptoms and to create a dialogue between different parties to leverage their full potential. It will also give your company direction on what information to keep and what not to keep at hand because, yes, keeping quality information also means understanding when to discard something.

By making information available in your digital workplace and allowing people to understand their needs and solve them with autonomy, we are creating more room for our organization to rise up – like having a bigger pond that allows a fish to grow. A "one source of truth" for everything you always needed to know about your company.

Technology roadmaps evolve digital workplaces

Last year we talked in this blog about the road to the perfect digital workplace, about how it can be as complex as we want it to be and as modern as state-of-the-art technology can let us be. But for that, we need time and effort. Like any other technology project, digital workplaces need roadmaps and direction. By implementing in-house or by bringing an external firm, it is important to start with an initial stage or an MVP and continue through an iteration process that will allow you to build functionalities in a progressive manner. Above all, it is important to make sure your company benefits as early as possible when the platform or software for your digital workplace is implemented.

There are plenty of solutions to tackle this prerogative. Products like Microsoft Suite (Teams, OneDrive, and Sharepoint), Google Suite, and Slack bring strength and functionality with less effort by integrating multiple functionalities under a single experience. It's easy and convenient. But for organizations with more complex processes, OOTB solutions might feel limiting. Bringing together different collaboration tools and systems might be the choice for them: while heterogenous, integrating specific and handpicked collaboration solutions can add greater value to your processes.

Then, there are solutions that bring "fun" to the digital workplace: those that mimic social media and focus on engagement to strengthen communication and activity. In sum, there are plenty of choices, but your company's needs come first. How can you make sure you store, manage and access knowledge and insights from everyday operations and communications? What collaboration processes have priority to bring online? How do you envision your company in the future if you do not have any budget restrictions?

 "A good system to manage corporate memory must be able to cope with change," writes Merill. It might be good to keep this idea close to the heart. Corporate memory should always outlive specific technology and must continue evolving. But it has to be something intentional – after all, everything that your team and workforce have built should be carefully preserved and kept in the best possible manner. Losing corporate memory is not only about losing identity – it halts operations, obscures processes, and it may even render the business useless.

In these challenging times, the strength of your core business is heavily dependent on the strength of your digital workplace. It does not get simpler than that. If you cannot communicate with your employees and partners and have the means to collect their knowledge, their insights, and everything that makes your company valuable, your organization will not be as productive nor be able to thrive. 2021 will be the year to rethink connectivity, communication, and collaboration – seeing companies as entities with memory, the ability to learn, plan, add value, and respond to ever-changing markets and industries through digital channels. The more flexible we can be about it, the less bumpy the road will feel.

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