How to Manage Knowledge Workers

Ali Q
2 min readApr 1, 2021

I think we’re still trying to figure out how to value knowledge work as a society. Business owners and managers have a hard time knowing ‘how hard’ their staff is working. But they’re asking the wrong question.

In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

-Cal Newport, Deep Work

I actually have sympathy for these business owners and managers. I don’t know how I would handle having employees who get paid regardless of whether they produce the work or not. Dealing with performance issues is time-consuming, messy, and expensive.

This is why I have no desire to have employees in my business. I’d much rather partner with people doing their own thing, whose interests align with mine on a project by project basis. I want people to work with me, not for me.

When I’m working with contractors, I’m not bothered about how many hours they put into the work, or whether they had a lie-in to reconnect with their spouse that morning. All I care about is whether I get the work done at the quality that I expect.

Also, how do you know when a knowledge worker is ‘working hard’ anyway? The answer is, you don’t. You can’t see the connections forming in their brain. However, you can see when they’re so exhausted from showing how busy they are, answering emails at 1 am, that their work quality starts to suffer.

In the end, workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics…Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

-Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, ReWork

Working effectively with knowledge workers comes down to trust. You have to trust that given clear objectives and the room to deliver against them in how they see fit, they will deliver. And if they don’t, there’s a little thing called the internet that will connect you to many others who will.

Ali Q

Marketing Agency Survivor