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Putting It All Together Again

Putting It All Together Again

Knowledge worker productivity: your questions answered.

This being the last in a series of columns here about knowledge worker productivity, I thought you might be expecting some answers. One thing I know for sure: Depriving knowledge workers of sleep is definitely not a route to enhanced productivity. I started this column on my way to Thailand (and highly sleep-deprived), and it turns out I was not very productive at all!

But before I answer your questions about what does work well, a brief review of the problems might be useful.

  • Knowledge work is hard to measure, so most of us don't bother.
  • Although not all knowledge workers are alike, there is no standard classification or segmentation scheme for them.
  • There are lots of "productivity tools" for knowledge workers - too many - but they don't connect well with each other.
  • The organisational support for knowledge work is similarly fragmented and comes from a variety of IT organisations, human resources, facilities organisations and so forth.

So how do we put this Humpty Dumpty back together again? One approach is to integrate the various technologies that knowledge workers use. In the past week, for example, I've met several people who have shifted to PDA/mobile phone combo devices - not because they are cool gadgets, but because they hold the potential for simplifying life. At the very least, they can reduce the number of devices to carry and limit the number of name-and-address files to manage.

By the same logic, the fewer computers one uses, the better. Many people have begun to use their work laptops for all their computing needs. That is, of course, if your organisation doesn't mind you using its machine for personal applications and messaging, and that you don't mind using a laptop for everything. A lot of people (including me) already carry a laptop everywhere, so we might as well get the benefits of "architectural consolidation" and bag the home desktop altogether.

Another IT-related approach is to integrate the various support groups for knowledge worker technologies. At most large organisations today, there's one group to support messaging technologies, one for knowledge management, one for personal productivity applications and perhaps another for help on wireless communications devices. The different groups mean that IT is unlikely to develop an integrated approach to helping knowledge workers use these tools effectively. The individual employee is left to his own devices, so to speak.

I came across one organisation that is addressing this problem, however. Intel's IT organisation has recently reorganised itself to combine the knowledge management, collaboration and personal productivity groups. Called eWorkforce, the group supports knowledge worker use of PCs, laptops, mobile phones and PDAs. The primary goal is to develop integrated solutions for "generic" knowledge worker processes - arranging and conducting an asynchronous meeting or managing a project. While I believe it's a great step forward to integrate devices and support organisations, I'd argue that to make real progress in knowledge worker productivity, we need to disintegrate the target audience. That is, since all knowledge workers aren't alike, we need to begin to segment them into meaningful categories and apply IT, process improvement approaches and other productivity aids differently for each category.

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