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Informal face-to-face exchanges and conversations at work encourage innovation and the potential for business growth.

Responding to intense pressures, organisations are trying to become more agile and responsive to customer demands. This is driving the geographic dispersal of employees, many of whom now work at remote call centres or from home. However, the current trend towards hot desking, virtual teams, outsourcing, email and teleworking is a potential threat to an organisation's ability to produce value and innovation on an ongoing basis. This is because they disrupt traditional face-to-face information exchange and can create 'unconnected islands' of expertise.

Indeed research by Xerox [1] has found that when asked about the storage of knowledge, 32 per cent of respondents replied that it was in employees' heads, 26 per cent said on paper and only 19 per cent in company wide shareable electronic formats.

Management research [2] has found that to deliver ongoing value an organisation needs to ensure information can be shared and used in 'communities' of practice. Communities are recognised to be the hidden engine that keeps an organisation creative and competitive. However, they are a fragile structure that is based principally on the spontaneous, voluntary and entirely informal efforts of their participants.

The secret to successful knowledge management and facilitating informal information exchange is all about nurturing and sustaining communities of practice. In other words work needs to become more collaborative.

Technology is often seen as a panacea but in organisations it still remains highly fragmented, complex and largely user unfriendly. Furthermore, technology itself cannot create communities where they do not exist already - a key aspect of communities is that they are created spontaneously and that they operate on a voluntary basis. A good example of this that many corporate intranet portals remain empty of contributions from users.

Xerox practices what it preaches and has implemented a 'peer-to-peer' knowledge sharing system called Eureka that, in use by over 25,000 technicians worldwide, is saving it about $15 million a year in field service costs.

- "Office Social Life is Key to Business Growth!" Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE) http://www.xrce.xerox.com/

File URL here (HTML) http://www.xrce.xerox.com/news/feature/office_social_life.html

Post Date: March 22, 2005 at 9:25 AM CST; 1525 GMT