How to Handle Knowledge Management on a Remote Team

To be effective, every team’s members need access to its full knowledge. Without it, their work becomes haphazard and inconsistent.

When everyone is working in the same place, sharing knowledge is tough enough. On a remote team, it can seem impossible. 

Spreadsheets and phone calls won’t cut it. Descriptions of processes don’t fit into individual cells, and one-on-one chats don’t spread information to the wider team. In some cases, they can create more confusion. 

What knowledge management takes on a remote team is a virtuous mix: the right software, the right people, the right processes, and the right attitude. Here’s how to put them all together for effective knowledge management, no matter where everyone is working from:

  • Keep Everything in One Place

More information tools aren’t always better. If your company’s knowledge is spread out across a dozen different applications, consider consolidating them into a single knowledge management system. Make sure it’s user-friendly enough not just for the tech gurus, but for everyone on your team. 

The reason is that knowledge management must be a teamwide effort. As they stumble on new insights or pave new processes, everyone should be able to create, share, update, and remove information from the database. 

  • Prioritize Integrations

Although it’s important to put all your team’s knowledge in a single place, you’ll never use only one tool at work. That’s why it’s important that your knowledge management system has stellar integrations. 

To boost efficiency and reduce errors, your team should be able to incorporate emailed knowledge and share it directly through messaging systems like Slack. Find one that integrates with tools your team already uses, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Outlook.

  • Consider Culture

When you’re working remotely, you miss out on a lot of face-to-face interactions. Together, those create the “soft” knowledge of culture. Culture is even more critical for remote workers to help them feel connected. 

You might not be able to describe your culture in hard numbers, but you should be able to tell a new team member about it: Is your team happy-go-lucky? Do you pride yourselves on being helpful? Are weekly events, such as happy hours, important for team bonding?

Make sure your knowledge management system is flexible enough to accommodate cultural knowledge. Invite all members of the team to weigh in on so that they feel a sense of ownership over the culture. 

  • Sweat the Details

Getting the details right is more difficult with remote work. While you can hop over to an in-office co-worker’s desk to clarify things, it isn’t so easy when everyone is working from a separate spot. If you’re in desperate need of clarification and can’t get a response, you might be a sitting duck.

Managing knowledge well requires you to think through the details. Don’t just describe the project and the goal: Who’s in charge? What are the deadlines and dependencies? What’s the budget, and how is it allocated across the involved teams? 

If you’re not sure whether your knowledge management is detailed enough, use this test: Could someone with no experience working for your company contribute to the project in a meaningful way? If not, your entry isn’t detailed enough.

  • Focus on the Outcome

Especially when they’re working from home, everyone works a little differently. A knowledge management system should recognize that rather than fight against it. 

Definitely outline processes and best practices, but make clear when team members have leeway. If the goal is a happy customer, can customer service people give freebies at their discretion? Perhaps a new product is in the works: Realize that as long as the prototype is done on time and on budget, it doesn’t matter what materials are used. 

The bottom line is knowledge management shouldn’t take the place of trust. In fact, trust promotes proper knowledge management because it requires team members to give each other the low-down on how things actually get done. 

  • Emphasize Availability

Knowledge management is meant to help teams work as a unit. If there’s one type of information a knowledge system should include, then, it’s availability: How, when, and why should people reach out directly to each other?

Encourage everyone to be as granular as possible. Is phone the first choice of communication medium, email the second, and Slack the third? Is it OK to call after 5, or should the conversation wait for the next business day? Who likes to take lunch when? Does anyone work summer hours?

No team shares knowledge perfectly. The team’s engineers will always know certain things about the product that its salespeople don’t, and vice versa. Specialization isn’t the problem; silos are.

The goal of knowledge management — especially on a remote team — is to minimize those gaps. The more in-the-know each individual member is, the better the whole team’s performance will be.