Knowledge workers’ information needs vary. The key to better productivity is applying technology more precisely.
FEBRUARY 2011 • Thomas H. Davenport
In the half-century since Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge workers,” their share of the workforce has steadily grown—and so has the range of technology tools aimed at boosting their productivity. Yet there’s little evidence that massive spending on personal computing, productivity software, knowledge-management systems, and much else has moved the needle. What’s more, a wide variety of recent research has begun suggesting that always-on, multitasking work environments are so distracting that they are sapping productivity. (For more on this problem, see “Recovering from information overload.”)
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After researching the productivity of knowledge workers for years, I’ve concluded that organizations need a radically different approach. Yes, technology is a vital enabler of communication, of collaboration, and of access to rising volumes of information. But least-common-denominator approaches involving more technology for all have reached a point of diminishing returns. It’s time for companies to develop a strategy for knowledge work—one that not only provides a clearer view of the types of information that workers need to do their jobs but also recognizes that the application of technology across the organization must vary considerably, according to the tasks different knowledge workers perform.