Posted by Neil Araujo, CEO of Legal Futures Associate iManage
Increasingly, the future workplace is revealing itself to be a hybrid – a configuration that balances traditional, in-person office work alongside the remote working arrangements that have become business as usual over the past year.
This is a largely positive development that should be encouraged, and the removal of technological, organisational and cultural barriers to remote working have made a more flexible hybrid model more viable than at any time in the past.
However, in the absence of full-scale office-based working – and the often useful ‘water cooler’ conversations and spontaneous hallway chats that come with it – law firms and corporate legal departments will need to find new ways of ensuring collaboration and knowledge sharing among their legal professionals.
For instance, while finding out who was an expert in Singapore real estate transactions might have been a matter of quickly popping your head into someone’s office or over the cubicle wall back when everyone was physically in the same location, a hybrid workforce requires a new approach.
Whether the right tools are in place to ensure success is another matter. A recent global research report finds that only 23% of knowledge workers said their organisation was ahead of the curve in digital capabilities to support knowledge work.
The implications of this finding are far-reaching. To ensure that the future hybrid workforce is well equipped to deliver against the organisation’s vision and goals, firms need to start putting in place an ecosystem for ‘knowledge activation’ to empower their lawyers.
Uncovering and activating knowledge
Before discussing what this ecosystem looks like and what kind of technology underlies it, it’s helpful to pause for a moment to describe what exactly we mean when we talk about ‘knowledge activation’.
Essentially, we’re referring to the concept of making knowledge work: enabling organisations to uncover and activate the knowledge that exists inside their business content and communications.
This means exposing, classifying and contextualising the knowledge in content and communications – which includes everything from contracts and purchase agreements, to employee agreements and patent and trade mark documents, as well as all the emails that surround them – and then connecting people to the right information and experts at the right time to enhance productivity and enable better decision making.
Making knowledge work in this manner is easier said than done. Businesses certainly appreciate just how important this knowledge is to their success, with 68% of survey respondents to the research describing the information contained in digital documents and files as the most important thing to their business.
However, 28% of respondents said that most or all of their documents were scattered and siloed across multiple systems. Moreover, 24% of respondents indicated that the decrease in face-to-face interaction that has accompanied remote work makes collaborative knowledge work even more critical in a post-Covid world.
Taken together, these findings make it clear that adapting to this shift towards a hybrid workforce requires a knowledge platform that can approach these challenges from many angles and successfully create an ecosystem for knowledge activation.
An integrated platform approach
For starters, the hybrid workforce needs an email and document management system that provides a single, centralised repository for all of these important files, and keeps them secure and governed while simultaneously making them easily accessible at any time, from any location.
Knowledge can’t be siloed or hoarded when the workforce is distributed in multiple locations – collaboration and accessibility are key.
Without knowledge sharing, employees may work under assumptions that aren’t shared by other members of the group. This often leads to lost time and work that needs to be redone.
Knowledge sharing also creates a common understanding that leads to higher productivity. This culture of sharing preserves knowledge and increases long-term productivity by embracing lessons learned rather than reinventing the wheel every time a new project begins.
Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and contextual search goes even further towards solving the lack of water-cooler moments that can hamstring knowledge sharing among a hybrid workforce.
These technologies can be used in conjunction with the document management system to separate the signal from the noise and quickly surface the insights needed from large volumes of documents, contracts and business communications.
In many cases, AI technologies can identify who’s an expert in a particular specialty area by looking at what matters they’ve billed time to and what documents they’ve authored; likewise, the best example of a precedent document or template to use as a starting point for a contract can be identified by signals such as how many times it has been used in the past.
What we see, then, is that eliminating any potential friction around knowledge sharing requires a comprehensive, fully integrated platform that encompasses document management, email management, AI, security, and more.
That’s the only way that the hybrid workplace of the future will be able to ensure that knowledge continues to flow unimpeded across the organisation.
Meeting the moment by making knowledge work
The only constant is change, and the traditional office-based workforce is being rethought in new and exciting ways that expand the possibilities for how and where work gets done. It is now up to law firms and corporate legal departments to meet the moment.
By creating an ecosystem for knowledge activation, legal organisations will gain an edge that will help them grow and prosper as the traditional workplace environment morphs into the hybrid workplace that is becoming less of an outlier and more the norm with every passing day.