The State of Workplace Search and Discovery

Conor Landry on July 16, 2020
Working at a tech company in 2020 is a different game than it was in the past. Keeping your team organized and productive during this digital shift can't be an afterthought. Measuring knowledge workers' productivity isn't easy since everyone builds context in their way. Many teams rely on tribal knowledge, fragmented wikis, and a multitude of search bars in other apps to get their jobs done. Teams need a way to search across facets of workplace knowledge without thinking about where to look first. 

Every team depends on tribal knowledge and has at least one knowledge-keeper that knows all the answers. This situation is especially prevalent for teams that are small or just getting started. In the office, knowledge-keepers share context over coffee, during meetings, and over asynchronous communication tools like Slack. Among remote-friendly teams, the knowledge-keeper thrives. They freely share their knowledge asynchronously on Slack to the whole company, amongst individual teams, or one-on-one in the DMs.
Unfortunately, relying on knowledge-keepers is risky and leads to a bus factor of 1. If they were to leave the organization or become ill right before a major product launch, everyone suffers. Additionally, organizations often have short Slack message retention periods. Organizations generally use retention policies due to Slack's open nature along with the risk associated when providing unfettered, lifetime access to the organization's conversational data. We've all scrolled through hundreds of messages, searching for that great discussion to find Slack deleted it last week.

Larger teams typically rely on multiple SaaS apps like Confluence for Wiki content, Tableau for data science, and GitHub for issue tracking & development. As people contribute to these tools, they are creating content within the company for others to consume. The team's knowledge-sharers do their best work in this environment, building their confidence, audience, and reputation within the organization. In some cases, these knowledge-sharers may work with multiple tools that more-or-less function the same way. They might write a Wiki page in Confluence for everyone to read then write their meeting notes in their team's Notion workspace.

Motivating individuals to freely share knowledge and rewarding them when they do leads to productivity boosts, better feedback, and a culture of sharing in the long term. Although, this won't come without managing the searchability of content produced by an explosion of knowledge-sharers.
Searchability is a measure of how self-service context building within the workplace is. More concretely, a reliance on knowledge-keepers within an organization is a symptom of low searchability. Conversely, an organization which invests into knowledge-sharing and knowledge-finding as a culture likely enjoys high searchability. 

SaaS applications often include search through the form of search bars or discovery tools. Individual app's search functions usually are "good enough" for a while. Yet, they often don't scale with the amount of content added by individual contributors over weeks, months, and years. Developers and Designers often create search bars with a single use-case in mind, like searching based on username or channel name in Slack or full-text search in a Wiki.
Knowledge-finders are the predominant users of search bars in an organization. They use the search bar every single day. In the morning, they check to see which operations bots sent low-priority messages the night before. Right before meetings, they open up their massive bookmarks list and frantically look for their talking points. In the afternoon, they write an email and use Slack's search for jogging their memory about a conversation from last week. At the same time, they're clicking through dozens of Wiki tabs looking for details on the company's remote working policies. Knowledge-finders spend most of their time looking for what they want, often frustrated when they can't.
At the furthest end of the searchability spectrum, we find cross-app search engines. Cross-app search engines help knowledge-finders build context around the work of knowledge-sharers and knowledge-keepers. It provides a single search bar, surfacing relevant and hopefully useful results for even the worst query. 

Consider a knowledge-finding IT manager trying to write a project update for the rollout of new laptops to the organization. They'll condense facts and progress towards milestones from a variety of Wiki pages, GitHub project boards & issues, Slack conversations, and user insights. 

With a single search query in Biome for "laptop project," they'll instantly find everything relevant across every app their team is using. To further refine their search, they set a filter that only shows results created since the last project update. The manager writes the project update, then posts it. Later, anyone searching for "laptop project" or "project updates" will find that the new laptop rollout is making steady progress and ahead of schedule.

With Biome, the cross-app search engine, figuring out how to find an important file, message, or document is trivial. Instead, focus on what you want to look for, and Biome will discover it.

Knowledge workers need to see the forest for the trees. They often spend hours searching for information within your organization. This lengthy process leads to lots of clicking, searching through multiple SaaS apps, and frustration. They want to do their job well and to do it efficiently. If you're ready to help your knowledge workers produce their best work, give Biome a try.