I'm a knowledge worker: there is a high probability you are too. But what is knowledge work? How does it differ from other work? What do we call work that isn't knowledge work? I've been thinking about this a lot recently since it's a key aspect of my interest in what I call smartworking - effectively techniques and approaches that help knowledge workers be more effective. The old blue-collar and white-collar division of work is clearly outdated but are knowledge workers a sub-set of white collar workers? Are there any blue-collar knowledge workers? I've been using the term process workers to identify white-collar work that is process driven - basically if your work is driven by some machine like process, and you have little control over that process your autonomy is limited - and so therefore is your capacity to use your knowledge. The modern day call centre is probably a good place to see process work. Process work can be measured and managed by tracking activity but knowledge work can't - that's why measuring activity for knowledge workers (e.g. how much time they spend working on a report for example) is flawed. For knowledge work you need to measure outcomes. Throw away the timesheet - get your head around the output instead. The trouble is this can often be hard to do - especially as knowledge work is so qualitative.
Some types of work are difficult to categorise - what about nurses - clearly they are highly qualified and very knowledgeable but are they knowledge workers or process workers - or do they fall into some other category?
For me, one of the key aspects of knowledge work is self-management. OK, you may have a boss or a manager but they simply allocate tasks - it's up to you to manage when and how a task gets done, and to juggle conflicting demands upon your time (knowledge workers are always trying new approaches to time management). Of course we struggle to do this effectively - even after reading Covey's Seven Habits, which is why I enjoyed the following cartoon (from www.phdcomics.com) - click on it to see it full size (and readable):