learning and development

How To Boost Knowledge Sharing in the Distributed Workplace

We're sharing best practices for creating communities of practice (CoPs) to optimize team performance and enhance knowledge management across distributed teams.

Jai Chaggar

Director of Customer Success at Together

Published on 

March 31, 2024

Updated on 

Time to Read

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About 44% of employees are worried about losing sense of community due to remote work.

Distributed teams, where members collaborate across different locations and time zones, are becoming increasingly common. While this flexibility offers numerous benefits, it also presents challenges for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

In a physical workplace, hallway conversations and impromptu brainstorming sessions can spark innovation and knowledge exchange. However, in a distributed work setting, these opportunities are limited. This is where communities of practice (CoPs) emerge as a powerful tool to bridge the gap

CoPs are groups of passionate individuals who share a common interest, area of expertise, or challenge. They come together to learn from each other, share knowledge and experience, and solve problems collaboratively. 

According to the UNESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), they’re also cost-effective since it’s possible to involve a broader range of minds without the expense of physical meetings. Thus, they help matters progress faster. CoPs complement conventional ways of collaboration and communication, such as emails and meetings. They can also be better at engaging practitioners in a specific area of expertise on various levels. Finally, CoPs attract the right talent for a specific purpose.  

That’s why, this blog will be sharing best practices in knowledge exchange and the important role that CoPs play.

The challenges of knowledge sharing in distributed teams

What prevents employees within an organization from knowledge sharing:

Limited in-person interaction

Informal conversations and chance encounters in a physical workplace are breeding grounds for knowledge sharing. These casual interactions can spark ideas, troubleshoot problems, and lead to unexpected collaborations. In a distributed setting, these opportunities are significantly reduced, hindering the organic flow of knowledge.

Building strong working relationships is crucial for effective knowledge sharing. In-person interactions allow team members to connect on a personal level, fostering trust and a sense of camaraderie. Without this foundation, distributed teams may find it more difficult to feel comfortable sharing their expertise or reaching out for help–something that negatively affects employee engagement.

Silos and information overload

Distributed teams often work across different departments or regions, which can lead to the creation of silos. When knowledge is compartmentalized, it becomes difficult for teams to discover and access the information they need, hindering collaboration and innovation.

With the rise of collaboration tools and remote work solutions, there's a constant stream of information bombarding team members. This information overload can make it challenging to find the specific knowledge or expertise required to complete a task, leading to frustration and wasted time.

Hesitation to share

Some employees might hesitate to share their knowledge for fear of becoming obsolete or replaceable. Without a culture of open communication and recognition for knowledge contributions, this fear can be a significant barrier to sharing best practices.

If knowledge sharing isn't actively encouraged and rewarded, employees may not see the value in investing time and effort into documenting their expertise or helping others. A lack of clear incentives can demotivate knowledge sharing and hinder team learning.

Difficulty capturing and sharing tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is the uncodified, experiential knowledge that is difficult to articulate explicitly. However, it plays a crucial role in problem-solving and decision-making. Distributed teams may face challenges in capturing and sharing tacit knowledge through traditional methods like documents or presentations.

eBook How To Start a Peer Mentorship Program

Knowledge sharing best practices

Here are five best practices that will help you build a culture of knowledge sharing at your organization:

1. Offer training and continuous learning opportunities

Providing employees with training sessions, workshops, and seminars helps in upgrading their skills and creating opportunities for knowledge exchange. To create a culture of continuous learning, integrate learning into daily activities and establish mentorship and coaching programs.

2. Reverse mentoring

In reverse mentoring, younger or less experienced employees are paired with veterans to share insights and knowledge. The less experienced employees mentor the more experienced ones, often on topics like new technologies, social media, and current trends. This practice promotes knowledge sharing and encourages cross-generational collaboration and understanding.

3. Cross-functional storytelling workshops

Organize workshops where employees from different functions or departments come together to share stories about their work, challenges, and achievements in a structured storytelling format. Include narratives around successful projects, overcoming obstacles, or even day-to-day duties. The focus on storytelling helps make the knowledge more memorable and builds empathy and understanding across diverse teams.

4. Reward and recognize knowledge sharing

Recognizing and rewarding employees who actively share their knowledge and contribute to others' learning motivates the entire workforce to engage in similar behaviors. Do this through formal recognition programs, shout-outs in company meetings, and informal praise.

5. Implement technology and platforms for knowledge sharing

Utilize technology solutions like collaborative platforms (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams), knowledge management systems, and mentoring platforms to facilitate easy access and sharing of information across the organization. These tools can help in organizing knowledge efficiently and making it accessible to all employees.

Building effective Communities of Practice (CoPs)

CoPs address these challenges by building a collaborative environment where knowledge flows freely. Here's how to create successful CoPs:

Key components of a successful CoP

Putting together a functional CoP will involve balancing all three of its components–the whos, what & whys, and hows.

So, organizations should start with:

1. People (Who)

A balanced CoP will consist of two kinds of employees. So, those forming one should:

  • Identify key knowledge holders and passionate individuals within your organization.
  • Include those seeking specific knowledge to ensure a well-rounded group.

Colleague Connect can be a valuable tool to discover potential members and connect them across departments and locations. Its user profiles and search functionalities can help identify individuals with relevant expertise.

2. Context (What & Why)

It won’t be enough for an organization to define the CoP's focus area. They’ll also have to align it with organizational goals or choose one that addresses specific knowledge gaps. This clarity helps attract the right members and ensures the CoP stays on track. Here, too, Colleague Connect can offer invaluable help.

3. Interactions (How)

Unlike in the physical space where interactions happen naturally, maintaining a CoP will require planned activities. Those can include workshops, mentoring programs, knowledge cafes, and coffee chats

Colleague Connect can help the organizers manage and facilitate all such meet-ups. It possesses features like task management and progress tracking that can streamline these activities for CoP leaders. 

Dedicated CoP groups can also leverage its secure document sharing and storage feature to add to the knowledge repositories. This will ensure a centralized and easily accessible knowledge base is available to all those involved. The repository will remain at hand, even when the employees involved leave the company.

The importance of facilitation

As should be evident by now, creating a knowledge sharing culture won’t be possible with active facilitation from the higher ups. Active leadership support is crucial for establishing and nurturing CoPs. For instance, the upper management can:

  • Identify potential CoP champions
  • Allocate resources
  • Provide ongoing guidance
  • Support participation
  • Allow practitioners more time to work and share knowledge
  • Reward significant contributions
  • Allocate resources (budget, human, etc.) to support CoP activities or events

Additionally, Colleague Connect's functionalities like task management, progress tracking, and group communication will not just aid facilitators in managing CoP activities. It will ensure transparency.

Best practices for CoP creation

Starting a community of your own? Follow these best practices:

  • Start with a targeted group and gradually expand.
  • Design the community platform and its features with your target members' needs and interests in mind.
  • Discourage anonymity to foster trust and a sense of responsibility among members.
  • Invest in a user-friendly and visually appealing platform for a positive initial experience.
  • Identify and engage internal influencers.
  • Assign a dedicated community manager.
  • Make the registration process simple and quick to avoid discouraging potential members from joining.
  • Let the community evolve naturally based on member interests and activities. 
  • Have a plan in place to adapt and scale the platform's infrastructure as the community grows in size and activity.
  • Create opportunities to connect and engage with relevant external audiences, communities, and resources.

Beyond the basics: CoPs in action

Below you’ll find several real-world examples of successful CoPs across industries:

NurseCon serves as a global hub where nurses can network with their peers, fostering communication and collaboration. Additionally, it provides access to complimentary Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) opportunities.

Klaus’s Quality Tribe is a dedicated space for customer support professionals to connect and exchange insights on best practices. While operated by Klaus, a leading quality assurance tool in customer support, the community welcomes participation from all, fostering an environment of shared expertise and collaboration.

Stack Overflow functions as an expansive online programming community of practice (CoP), where members engage in asking, answering, and learning from existing discussions. Its vastness has led to the emergence of numerous sub-communities tailored to specific programming languages.

As you can see, CoPs can be used for various purposes, including:

  • Onboarding new employees: Colleague Connect can be a central hub for onboarding resources and connecting mentors with the CoP.
  • Problem-solving and innovation: Colleague Connect's discussion forums and document sharing features can facilitate brainstorming sessions and collaborative problem-solving within CoPs.
  • Strategic decision-making based on collective knowledge: Polls and surveys within Colleague Connect can gather insights from CoP members, informing strategic decisions.
  • Bridging the skills gap: 87% of companies report to have now or will soon via collaborative learning.

Cultivating a knowledge sharing organizational culture

CoPs are a powerful tool to overcome the challenges of knowledge sharing in distributed teams. By fostering collaboration, communication, and knowledge exchange, CoPs can drive innovation, improve problem-solving, and empower employees.

Colleague Connect, with its features designed for collaboration, communication, and knowledge management, empowers organizations to create and manage thriving CoPs. Its functionalities streamline CoP activities, facilitate knowledge sharing, and ensure a centralized hub for all your organization's collective knowledge.

Ready to make knowledge sharing best practices and thriving CoPs a part of your organization’s culture? Learn more about how Colleague Connect can help. Get a demo today and experience the power of collaborative knowledge exchange firsthand!

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