As a fun exercise, we looked at tools that close the gap between those who work and the platforms that help them do so. We looked specifically at all-in-one workspace platforms. Wrk, is a great example, but it's not the only example. We like to keep our eyes on our competitors and the many integrations and applications available today.
In 1896, Nikola Tesla created an A.C. power generating system at Niagara Falls that helped generate power for swathes of cities in the North American manufacturing heartlands. Nowadays, our understanding of innovation may contain very different inputs and outputs to that at the turn of the 20th century. Still, one constant remains the same: the complexity of our work usually mirrors that of the world around us.
120 years after Tesla’s heyday, we find ourselves in a world where intricate and diverse internet infrastructures have created jobs that people can’t explain. Tech has advanced quite rapidly. As has the demand from your job. The workplace has changed significantly as well. Workflows now require multiple tools and automation.
Yet a significant portion of the workforce still has a hard time sharing a Google Drive file and for many, the joy of dragging their umpteenth card across a digital Kanban board, like Trello, is still far from a reality.
Paying homage to the classics
But a new type of product is being made to meet the needs of the growing number of knowledge workers. Workers want flexible, nuanced, and practical solutions to keep up with their new interconnected lives. These tools are hard to categorize, though they are generally called “all-in-one” workspaces. Current leaders in the space include AirTable, Notion, and Coda.
In one important way, these workspaces differ from traditional tools for getting work done. Traditionally, productivity software only asks the user to provide the information while the app handles the functionality. For instance, with Excel, you make spreadsheets; with Trello, you make Kanban boards. These new workspaces ask the user to provide information and functionality. It's hard to pick which tool will make your life easier, but let me share this example.
"Traditionally productivity software only asks the user to provide the information while the app handles the functionality."
Imagine you are running a team of 10 people who want to track their tasks, share files, gather research, and provide feedback on any of them. You would need a separate tool for each activity such as file management, databases, and task management. Imagine you have one tool, and every time you create a new “file”, that file is blank. In space, it’s up to you to choose the furniture and equipment and make a café, a gym, or a home. Similarly, in the all-in-one workspaces, it’s up to the user to decide if this “file” is a database, a Kanban board, or a simple note.
Getting down to the details
You might think that this change sounds more like a pain in the butt more than anything else, so why is it “critical,” you ask? There are two key reasons:
- It’s a potential sign that the “techie productivity nerd” is no longer an edge case and that a growing population of workers is adopting their behaviors.
- It shifts the mindset of productivity tool designers from one of prescription to one of enablement.
Both of these point to a newfound maturity in the relationship between those that work and those that help them work.
As a designer of a tool that helps others work, I can no longer afford to think about limiting the potential of our users because there is no way I can understand the unique complexity of their situation.
This doesn’t mean that specialized tools are dead. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Kanban boards, and cloud storage aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, nor should they. In many cases, the “all-in-one” tools integrate with these and many other tools to cover the gaps in their functionality—and that’s precisely the point.
How to use the all-in-one platform to solve your challenges
Why should I create a separate spreadsheet file to store a simple list of competitor websites when I could type “/table” in a single space in Notion? You could have a sufficient spreadsheet between a to-do list and a calendar of when the user interviews will be taking place. That said, you won’t see me calculating any complicated budgets in an all-in-one spreadsheet any time soon because they are not powerful enough, and to a financial analyst, they may never be. Some things shouldn't be automated. Humans do them better. So we focus on what automation can do, that humans can't or don't need to do.
"The idea is that the user sets up their own space, even if that includes tools that the “all-in-one” replaces. What will happen is that specialized tools will become increasingly relegated to the realm of “power users”."
This flexibility also speaks to another sort of maturity in the industry of productivity tools. The recent prevalence and proliferation of many competitors' and copycat products mean that people can finally choose the perfect mix for themselves. The downside is that interoperability will become a headache too big for any painkillers currently on the market (though I hear from a trusted source that hydroxychloroquine may be a miracle cure for all ailments).
Our focus isn't on building all-in-one productivity tools in this category, à la Coda or Notion. We are all still subject to the forces I’ve outlined above, namely:
- An increasingly complex work environment necessitates more flexibility in the tools
- More knowledgeable workers expect more comprehensive functionality
- A crowded marketplace benefits from interoperability as people want to craft the toolset that best serves them
If anything, we are impacted by these changes twice as much. We are building operational tools improve your processes. This unique set of challenges has presented Wrk with a real opportunity to create a pioneering platform that is not only a game-changer in terms of the delegation of workflows but also allows us to shape and redefine how work is done.
However, if Wrk is to achieve the vision of creating the building blocks of work, it must be an expert. Wrk must fully grasp your work process to support the improvements.
Want to find out more about our Automation Platform? Book a discovery call today.