A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the results for office workers are in, and the biggest lesson for the future is that flexible work should be the default, not the exception.
When more people work from home, they're happier for a lot of reasons. They can live where they want, they can ditch the commuting time, and they can accommodate a range of personal priorities that require flexibility of working hours or location.
But, the downsides to flexible work go beyond the lack of water-cooler catchups and the utterly neglected office snack budget. There's also far more potential confusion over team and business-wide priorities, initiatives and goals, now that no one's meeting face-to-face.
A new style of software called Work OS might just be the answer. Well, for everything except the office snack problem.
Best Work OS software to choose
The best work operating system (Work OS) you can choose would be either ClickUp or monday.com. Both of these are feature-rich, highly customizable tools that – crucially – are extremely easy for team members to use and update daily.
The most important thing about a Work OS is that the system itself becomes so innate, that it takes root as part of your company's culture. This is how you can use a Work OS to successfully replace the dozens or hundreds of spreadsheets, boards and notepads staff may use to track to-do lists and update project progress.
Here's our pick of the very best Work OS tools to choose:
- ClickUp– best overall Work OS
- monday.com – best for customization
- Trello – recently overhauled from task-tracking to true Work OS
- Asana– a great value work operating system
ClickUp and monday.com both have their own Work OS offerings that go far beyond basic project management or task tracking, as do Trello and arguably Asana. But, each of these Work OS tools has a few functions that make them unique, and help them stand out to the right companies.
Here's a quick rundown of the best Work OS tools available today.
BEST WORK OS
M-F, 9 am to 5 pm, ET
Slick, simple software with a powerful core, plus a genuinely usable free tier for individuals, and great value plans for teams.
A great task management system due to strong customizablity and support team, with a generous Free Trial period.
A simple project management platform with a strong feature set and an impressive free tier.
A fairly-priced, stripped-down option best for small teams.
ClickUp aims to replace a team's entire productivity stack, from project management and docs to OKRs, workload management, and more. Disconnected data and dropped communication can be left behind. The tool's native email integration helps users tie in their email use, always a core concern. Plus, ClickUp comes with new feature, Pulse, which uses Machine Learning to create automatic activity reports.
You can even try ClickUp for free for yourself to see how the software works in practice.
- Competitive pricing options
- Somewhat robust free plan
- Very customizable
- Limited storage outside of Unlimited plan
- Better for small teams, few enterprise level features
- Customizability can be overwhelming to new users
Sheer scope helps monday.com stand out: Its Work OS “spans hundreds of business verticals,” says Matthew Burns, Startup Ecosystems Leader at monday.com:
“Companies use it as homegrown as construction or as industrial as space travel. It requires no coding experience to get started while offering low-code tools for those who wish to create their unique applications on top of our platform.”
The service's flexible templates, pre-set tools and integrations with practically every modern software stack have helped the Work OS hit a new milestone last year — over 1 billion actions saved for customers across 2020.
This is another tool that you're welcome to try for free to get a feel for the Work OS platform.
- Highly customizable platform
- A bit more affordable compared to other services
- Automation features save loads of time
- Missing more common project management features
- Limited third party integrations
- Higher tiers required for basic features
- Intuitive, drag-and-drop interface
- Lots of add-ons available
- Free option available
- Very limited free option
- Too basic for larger teams
- Add-ons come at a price
Asana is another project management solution that helps businesses handle everything: organizing, tracking, and managing. Their “Portfolios” functionality helps teams reduce work with project portfolio management, for any number of Work OS benefits, from high-level views for department heads to consolidated institutional knowledge that's referenced frequently.
- Free trial available
- Plenty of third party integrations
- Incredible clean and intuitive interface
- Free options available
- Most key features require Premium plan
- High prices for larger teams
- Limited customizability
With the days of fully in-person offices in the past, the Work OS's status as a single record-keeping platform is key.
“While the list of features may vary,” Evans says, “at its core a modern Work OS is designed to save people time, make teams more efficient, and serve as a single source of record for all work so that everyone can know what everyone is working on across a company.”
You might not be able to tip your chair back and holler across the open office to that one coworker, but when dropping a comment on their project feels just as easy, you're still connected where it counts.
What is a Work OS?
The term Work OS refers to the future of project management software, which is evolving into a one-stop dashboard for seamless workflows for all employees, whether they're in-person or remote.
A Work OS is “the operating system for putting all your work in one place,” as Zeb Evans, CEO and founder at project management service ClickUp puts it.
But what does that actually mean in practice? Here's how business software is evolving to meet the new normal of the business world and your new-look working day.
How Work OS takes on workflow confusion
You don't know what you miss until it's gone, and it turns out we all loved the social connection of a single physical office. As well as hosting the workforce itself, an office houses all of a company's records and institutional knowledge.
In the past year, what replaced our all-binding water cooler conversations and easy access? Too often, the answer was inconsistently used management software or target documents.
If your team uses even just two different solutions, then comments, updates or assignments might to slip through the crack between them. Or worse, keeping everything up to date becomes an entire work task in itself.
“With different teams working across different tools for a variety of different tasks, teams inevitably become disconnected from their work and each other,” Evans explains. “With all elements of work moving digital – video chats, email, instant communication, project tracking, reporting, document creation, and so much more – workers are feeling burnt out just trying to keep up.”
To change all this, a Work OS needs to be a few things. It should be cloud-based, so it's easily accessible from any device or location. It should also focus on the essentials of a business workflow – planning, managing, and tracking projects and daily tasks.
Most importantly, it needs to be flexible and customizable, so it can be adapted case-by-case.
Organizations of different sizes and different business functions will need different functions, whether it's an easily flagged quick-review process or a messaging ability that ensures everyone's comments on a project are in the same place.
Considering ClickUp? See our guide to ClickUp Pricing for more detail
Click for a larger look at ClickUp's detailed task assignments.
Staying connected with colleagues and goals
Matthew Burns, Startup Ecosystems Leader at monday.com, sums up what makes a Work OS by contrasting it against more limited traditional tools:
“Unlike a conventional task tracking or project management tool, which is primarily a focused solution, a Work OS is designed to help teams plan and deliver on all of their work – like ideation, processes, projects, and initiatives – in one place. It’s ideal for fast-moving teams that require flexibility and seamless collaboration.”
The Work OS needs to be robust, given the shoes it has to fill to serve as the central software for a given business. It'll have to be “innovative enough to replace all the software people already use, or integrate with software they want to keep,” Evans says.
In the end, the Work OS needs to focus on connection. It all comes down to helping the employees stay in touch with each other and with their goals.
“With team members working from their homes and across different locations, ensuring workers feel connected to one another is essential to success,” Burns says. “A Work OS is designed to address this challenge by enabling cross-collaboration, transparency, and an open flow of information across a company – no matter how far apart teams may be.”
Once the team is freed from work silos and cut time-consuming tasks, that connection is easier than ever, no matter where they're working from. In order to shake off the ways of the past, though, you'll need to know what they are.
Learn if monday is the best value for you with our monday.com pricing guide
Determine your specific challenges
The initial pandemic shift to remote work back in March 2020 was a hard reset. With the benefit of time, it's now easier to see what challenges were brought on by this uniquely stressful time, and which are in danger of being inherent to any new hybrid workflow.
We can point to a few broad concerns, some of which come down to hardware setup. One recent survey found the two biggest self-reported work-from-home tech struggles were slow connection and slow devices. Slow file downloads and dropped calls were also high on the list, further driving home the biggest practical concern facing a hybrid work environment: not all broadband speeds were created equal.
Click for a larger look at monday.com's KPI graphs, which can give your team a visual understanding of their goals.
Even with these problems, using a Work OS can help — you'll streamline processes that could otherwise keep you switching between a handful of internet-eating softwares rather than just one.
But, the Work OS needs to be flexible enough to meet employees where they are, and internet speeds are just one consideration.
“The ability to transition the employee experience from human to virtual is complex and fraught with landmines,” notes Matt Abbott, Head of Recruiting Services at recruiting firm The Sourcery. “For many, this new pandemic economy is leading to greater isolation and that can exacerbate their fears or frustrations with a career, company, manager, etc. Higher levels of career fatigue can lead to lower productivity and greater attrition.”
Abbott recommends any businesses frustrated with their workflow ask themselves three questions before adapting a new software:
- What problem are we solving?
- Does the tool mesh with our company culture?
- Is this a problem to solve using software, or can we efficiently humanize the process?
Don't go for the quick fix. If the value of the software isn't clear to the entire organization, you run the risk of adding yet another micromanaging tool to a long list of them, effectively the opposite of your end goal.
“I would caution companies going through change management to ask themselves if they are trying to put a band-aid on an issue or are they really solving a problem,” Abbott sums it up.
Work OS FAQs
We explain more about work operating systems and answer common FAQs about Work OS tools.
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