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CEOs: Here’s how to get the most out of your knowledge workers

Nearly a billion people worldwide are employed in positions that need them to use their knowledge and experience in a specialized field to create value and make critical decisions. It may seem like some of these choices don’t matter, like how a store is laid out. While some of these achievements may appear inconsequential at first glance, others, like the ability to recognize and replace airline parts, are pretty monumental.

One of the significant difficulties in the modern world is the need to train a new generation of such knowledge workers. Knowledge workers in the modern era are often not physically present at the office, work across multiple industries, and travel frequently. Everyone has a somewhat distinct routine tailored to their line of work when it comes to making the most of their expertise.

Peter Drucker, the author of The Landmarks of Tomorrow, is credited with coining the term “knowledge worker” (1959). As described by Drucker, knowledge workers are professionals who use their theoretical and analytical skills to create new goods and services. Knowledge employees, he said, are a company’s most important resource in the 21st century because of their exceptional efficiency and innovation.

Workers With Expertise

Knowledge workers, in contrast to manual laborers, are considered to think for a living. Their knowledge sets them apart from their peers since they are most likely to develop innovative solutions to problems or new products and services in their respective industries. Since the term was coined, the number of knowledge workers has continued to expand as firms move toward a collaborative workplace that affords more autonomy to their employees.

Knowledge workers receive high compensation that reflects the complicated nature of their work and their relative freedom in the work process. Because they prefer quality over quantity, their managers should provide work that aligns with their interests and professional ambitions for the best possible results.

Knowledge Workers: A Brief History

Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker

Before the term “knowledge worker” was widely adopted, Upton Sinclair popularized the term “white-collar worker” to describe those in administrative and clerical positions. Workers in this category were quickly recognized by those in the blue-collar sector of the workforce because they wore shirts with white collars.

The phrase “knowledge workers” increased in the late 1950s and early 1960s by management theorists Fritz Machlup and Peter Drucker. In that era, information workers started to outnumber those in the physical labor sector.

Most of the population had knowledge worker jobs, such as teaching, pastoring, or writing. As industrialization spread, it made room for a new class of knowledge-based workers. Investors, managers, and consultants were all represented among them.

Fritz Machlup, in the late 1950s, used data from surveys to determine employment patterns. According to his findings, the proportion of blue-collar workers is declining while white-collar workers are increasing in the labor force. He disclosed that the growth of the knowledge worker population was outpacing that of the manual labor force.

Machlup rethought “work” as a strategy for organizing and using information. The OECD reports that in the early 1970s, roughly 40% of the working population in the United States and Canada comprised information workers.

Peter Drucker wrote extensively about knowledge workers, and his work is regarded as an accurate prediction of the future place of knowledge workers in society. He explained how the rise of mechanization in factories and farms paved the ground for developing increasingly specialized knowledge-based vocations.

As the economy expanded, Drucker demonstrated how new knowledge professions emerged due to the heightened emphasis on science and technology. Many blue-collar occupations were doomed, as he had also prophesied.

Knowledge Worker Retention

We must provide these knowledge workers with the knowledge and technology they require to realize their full potential. In the past, this merely entailed instructing people on how to use existing machinery. We’ll need a more innovative approach. Steve Jobs, the iconic former leader of Apple, once famously referred to computers as “the bicycle of the mind,” but nowadays, a desktop PC just won’t cut it. The Covid-19 outbreak further demonstrated that we could not assume that people will sit at desks to access vital resources and complete their work. We must devise novel approaches to liberate intellectual labor wherever and in whatever form it may take. Those businesses will be the ones to transform their fields by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to recent technological developments, data and tools are everywhere, uniquely tailored to each user and practically inconspicuous in their use. We no longer need to invest in time-consuming and costly software certifications and data literacy programs to allow everyone to improve their thinking. Each one of our employees has the potential to become a valuable member of our knowledge-based workforce.

Adapt to the Worker

Knowledge workers come from all walks of life and all corners of the globe, and their skill sets and employment locations reflect this diversity. Herein lies an apparent difficulty: how to train a workforce that is both expanding and evolving to utilize cutting-edge resources and data effectively. It’s easy to figure out the correct action: Don’t.

Instead, work the opposite way around and tailor the technology to them. Leaving knowledge workers’ existing workflow alone and improving it is the quickest route to empowering them.

The following is a breakdown of how: The instruments used by knowledge workers are specifically designed for that purpose. Some workers may view these items as sophisticated machinery. They are business uses for some. Find out what each knowledge worker relies on most, then use technology to improve that tool. Provide field employees with portable computers to access data on the go. Put your company’s software on the cloud so your employees can log in from any device anytime. Incorporate data-driven insights into existing business applications to empower professionals to make better decisions without learning new tools like dashboards and data portals.

Removing boundaries in a faraway world

The COVID-19 pandemic has just hastened the inevitable increase of remote labor. Knowledge workers have experienced a rise in the number of daily business apps they must utilize as a direct result of this trend. According to identity management firm Okta, in 2020, clients used an average of 88 apps, with some using as many as 200.

We can draw two conclusions from this: resources must be available offline or at any location without needing specialized personnel. Second, workers should have fewer distractions and apps. Using a chat app at work or a productivity app with a coworker requires switching gears. It is crucial, however, that we do not need knowledge workers to deviate further from their core workflows only to access more analytics, information, or tools.

Bring all that information to where people conduct their primary job and collaborate with others, rather than having them visit dozens of different standalone apps, sign into various portals, and digest emails and PDFs in dozens of different places. This offers a frictionless environment in which knowledge workers can freely move in and out of the core applications, allowing them to concentrate on making decisions while remaining oblivious to the fact that they are using data and software.

Aiding us in our endeavors through technology

Understanding the importance of cloud computing and AI in enabling knowledge workers is essential. Modern AI is so advanced that it can analyze vast data sets and provide specific recommendations for the next steps. Accessing data from anywhere is just the beginning of what can be accomplished with cloud computing. It may also mean utilizing powerful computers to calculate tasks and generate insights in seconds. Both are essential in enabling future knowledge workers to accomplish their jobs from any location and with any software.

Historically, office-based knowledge workers have done their jobs on personal computers in quiet, enclosed cubicles. They become proficient in using sophisticated business intelligence (BI) tools and computer languages to arrive at sound conclusions. The first generation of knowledge workers used these instruments to create unprecedented levels of value. Today’s technological advancements make it possible to tailor such resources to each user, eliminating the need to instruct novices in computer use.

The most cutting-edge businesses will use this method to train the next generation of knowledge workers. They want to give everyone in the company a voice by equipping them with the data they need to make sound decisions at any time and from any location, regardless of their apps. As the technology that first gave rise to knowledge workers fades into the background, the general population will gradually improve its cognitive abilities.