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Knowledge Bases and Wikis

Common questions covered here
Should remote teams use wikis?
What are the best practices for using knowledge bases or wikis on remote teams?
Are wikis better than email?

A knowledge base (or wiki) stores structured and unstructured information online. Both are asynchronous and support rich text formatting and the embedding of different kinds of media like images, videos, or audio. Knowledge bases require that specific individuals be responsible for maintaining specific articles or documents, whereas wikis allow and expect for anyone with access to be able to add and modify anything posted. Examples of knowledge base or wiki tools include Confluence, ZenDesk, and Notion.

Knowledge Base and Wiki Advantages

  • Easy contribution. Wikis are designed for easy contribution, which makes them excellent resources for shared knowledge. Onboarding materials, collaborative processes, or instructions on how to use specific systems are examples where office wikis can be better than knowledge bases.

  • Searchable. Both of these channels are designed to be searchable, making information easier to discover.

  • Clear change history. The modification of content in both knowledge bases and wikis is clearly documented. In knowledge bases, authorship is explicit, so someone is directly responsible for their contributions, including when changes are made. In wikis, the change history is tracked and associated with whomever made the change.

  • Good for reference material. Both wikis and knowledge bases support web technologies like links and attachments, which makes them excellent for documenting policies, processes, and providing related reference materials. Knowledge bases, due to their document ownership model, are better suited for institutional knowledge that doesn’t change often, like HR policies.

Knowledge Base and Wiki Risks and Pitfalls

  • Maintenance. Knowledge bases and wikis are generally expected to have the most up-to-date information on a topic. When this is not the case, they become a source of misinformation. Organizations can prevent this by having explicit knowledge-maintenance roles and procedures. Similarly, these tools may become useless if adoption doesn’t propagate across an organization. Failed attempts at deploying a knowledge base or wiki can also result in skepticism in future attempts.

  • Curation. Knowledge bases aren’t collaborative by default, so they are best used when content will be curated, or when expertise is needed.

  • Not dynamic. Given the asynchronous, carefully maintained nature of knowledge bases and wikis, neither is an appropriate channel for fast-moving or rapidly changing information.

When to Use Knowledge Bases and Wikis

Knowledge bases and wikis are the mainstay of remote communication. They’re best used in your architecture for:

  • Documenting and sharing company goals, values, and onboarding materials.

  • In-depth writing about team plans.

  • Storing artifacts (spreadsheets, attachments, et cetera) that teams use in their daily work.

Tips for Knowledge Bases and Wikis

  • If you identify missing or outdated content, consider contributing something yourself. Wikis and knowledge bases are communal efforts, and can only work for everyone if there’s sufficient contribution.

  • If you’re not in a position to contribute content, then consider acknowledging those who do. Keeping organizations informed can sometimes be invisible work, but is worth celebrating.

  • It’s a good practice to help new employees find information and contribute. Knowledge bases and wikis are subject to network effects—they become more valuable as adoption and contribution increases.

Chats (Instant Messaging)

Real-time chat (or chat or instant messaging or IM) allows for instant transmission of text between individuals or groups across a variety of devices.

Some forms are designed exclusively for one-to-one communication, while others allow for group conversations or the separation of conversations into different channels that can be public or private. Beyond text, different chat tools incorporate rich media like images, animated GIFs, voice memos, and emojis. Examples include Slack, Microsoft Teams, and messaging via social media like Twitter or Facebook.

Chat Advantages

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