Knowledge Musings

Musings about knowledge management as I go about my daily life

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Eco-Friendly KM

Knowledge is weightless - so it ought to exhibit a low carbon footprint, right?

Well perhaps not, if you have to travel widely to gain or impart knowledge. Tacit knowledge, in particular, is not something that you can just download from the Web. In my younger days as a computer analyst and sales person in the 1970s, I would think nothing of hopping on a plane, often more than once a week, for meetings in Geneva, Munich, Paris or even shorter hauls like London to Manchester. Of course, in those days, airports weren't the hassle they are now and carbon footprints were what your colleague created when stamping out his or her cigarette in the office!

Yet - even though we now have the technology for virtual working, there seems a great reluctance to take advantage of it and reduce travel. I recall the early days of BP's knowledge management initiative where desktop webcams were installed so that staff could videoconference. Instead of flying out to an oil rig off the shore of Scotland, experts in the south of England could have a sensible online face-to-face dialogue. Further, if there were practical problems, and oilfield engineer could point the camera at the offending machinery and both parties could work out a solution online. It might take a little longer than if there in person, but all the time was quality time - not rushing from car park to bus to plane to taxi and so on. A finding that came out of BP's early experience was that a commitment made over videolink was more likely to be honoured than one made in email. In other words, it developed a level of trust close to that enjoyed through physical face-to-face presence.

Well eco-friendly business activities are now core issue for companies to grapple with. A recent article (Computing 7th Feb) on 'going green' aimed at IT professionals highlighted five tips for eco-friendly IT:
  • increase server and storage in data centres - modern kit is less energy consuming than oder kit
  • install energy efficient PCs and monitors
  • print fewer documents
  • enforce poser management (i.e. turn off your PC at night)
  • telework
It was the latter that got me into knowledge management. In the late 1980s I had initiated several telework (US translation - telecommuting) projects in my organisation. We identified benefits not just in terms of cost and time savings in travel, but office space (hot desking), more motivated employees (getting a suitable work-life home-away balance), higher productivity (not being interrupted all the time by phone or ignorant colleagues!). One of my tasks was to map different kinds of knowledge work and what environment suited it best. We found that the design of many offices was not ideal, and that by good planning and support sytems an employee need come into the office only occasionally. One of the main barriers to implementation was management culture - managers who were not confident of managing by output but who gauged employees by their input - the amount of time spent at their desk.

So think about it. Why doesn't your organisation telework more, especially using videoconferencing and webcams? And when you think (unless you are in a gas guzzling vehicle or plane) the energy stimulating your neurons adds very little to your carbon footprint, and may generate some new valuable knowledge.

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