In 1997, I came across research the Doblin Group performed with Steelcase, Inc. that assessed the information styles of office workers. The research identified six different information styles:
“To categorize the different styles, researchers first identified how workers garnered, stored and shared information. Using trials to document how information flowed, they were able to assign one of six categories to each worker based on how he or she managed information.
“The six styles are Concierge, Keeper, Processor, Broker, Player and Specialist. According to the most recent data available (based on analysis in May 2006 from 6,944 participants), peoples’ styles break down as follows: Twenty percent are concierges, three percent keepers, fifteen percent processors, sixteen percent brokers, nineteen percent players and twenty seven percent are specialists.”
For the last 30 years, these styles guide my user observations when I begin a user research project. I look for how information flows in the physical environment of an office. Through sampling, I then look at how communication flows in the digital environment.
Seeing the information management styles quickly identifies information and collaboration bottlenecks.
While researching for a book to help product managers and startup CEOs be more efficient and effective, I interviewed over 100 professionals. I began by asking the interviewees “how do you start your digital workday?”
I was surprised at how quickly the respondents’ answers formed patterns. Within a month six digital working styles emerged:
- Finder – search across multiple cloud content stores (Microsoft, Google, Slack) to synthesize and produce content to share
- Inboxer – integrated inbox for all message sources with the ability to respond in the “channel” that the message came from
- Notes Linker – highlight, tag and create notes from diverse and dynamic web, enterprise and personal information sources
- Campaigner – sourcing from, sharing with, and influencing social media targets in the public domain and influencing colleagues and decision makers inside the enterprise
- Calenderer – project managers and executives who drive their day and their goals through meetings
- Databaser – analysts who think in terms of rows and columns making use of spreadsheets and databases to collect their notes and organize their to dos and actions
Unlike a Meyers-Briggs score which categorizes your personality into one of 16 segments, our research subjects employed at least three different working styles during the flow of a workday. Most subjects were proficient in at least two of the styles. This chart shows my average working day.
When we started building KnowNow, the digital working styles became our touchstone to guide the design and development of our SaaS software product. Our working styles serve as the starting point for productivity improvement. We support each working style through the features, the cloud content sources required, and the desired user outcomes.
The Inboxer needs access to all of their email, chat (Microsoft Teams and Slack) and mobile phone texts. The Finder needs access to their file storage (OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Dropbox, Box), their emails with attachments, and the world wide web (Google search, Bing search, DuckDuckGo). The external Campaigner needs to be able to read and write into their social media streams (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook). The Calenderer needs access to their event scheduling systems (Outlook, Google Calendar, Facebook) and often access to their colleagues’ calendars. The Notes Linker requires access to the many places they place their ideas (Slack, OneNote, Google Keep, Evernote, Notion, Roam, Obsidian). The Databaser has spread sheets available with many tabs to organize the rows and columns of their days. The more advanced databasers are adept at SQL or NoSQL systems so they can organize and process their observations and actions.
We find that moving between working styles is tacit. A system to support knowledge artisans as they define the work, assemble their digital tools, and do their work needs to smoothly flow between the digital working styles as the artisan shifts their focus.
I start my day in Inboxer mode sorting through all the personal, professional and social media messages that came my way overnight. I shift to Calenderer mode to see what is in store for me for the day, plan my focus time and prepare for my meetings. Between meetings I shift into Finder mode to research my top priority projects on the web, our corporate system, and my personal notes. With KnowNow, my working style flows and I know that I can keep my found things found.
As CEO and co-founder, Skip Walter is the visionary and driving force behind KnowNow and Factor10x.