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What Is a Knowledge Worker?

The term “knowledge worker” originally meant one who works primarily with information or who develops or uses knowledge in the workplace. In today’s workplace, it commonly describes individuals who are experts in a certain subject area.

For a brief moment in time, it seemed that knowledge workers were not part of the outsourcing trend. Then technology caused the world to shrink, opening previously unforeseen possibilities. Knowledge workers in remote locations emerged. The lines between knowledge and information blurred, but both became available without anyone having to leave home.

Today, information and expertise are shared in nanoseconds, regardless of geographic locations or time zones. Whether it is the outsourced doctor in a remote country who reviews your child’s x-ray while you wait at your local emergency room, or the programmers in India who write the code that runs the New York Stock Exchange, knowledge is shared around the globe. Many positions are staffed from the global labor market and many jobs today require virtual teaming and collaboration. This new type of worker is not bound by traditional office rules. Today’s worker has the challenge of adapting to the demands of the virtual office. Digital connectivity has made knowledge a temporary thing, because new knowledge is generated constantly. Even new products and ideas are quickly outdated because someone else across the globe builds and creates a new product or idea. As Bill Gates reportedly once put it, “Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”