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The Top 6 Work Operating Systems (Compared)

By 10/02/2020February 13th, 2020 One Comment

For most pros climbing the corporate ladder like you, the only thing more cluttered than their brain is their browser tab menu.

Our digital tool kit keeps growing, and it’s not always easy to manage.

First, there are the two tools most managers live by: the calendar and email inbox. But it can’t stop there anymore. To manage both of those together, you need a to-do list. Then there’s your teamwide to-do list, for which you’ll need a team management system. And to discuss it all with your coworkers, add in a messaging app. Then there are the projects, initiatives, and programs for which you’ll need a project and portfolio management tool.

And all that’s just to manage your work, there’s still the actual “work” to be done. Business processes and workflows between team members and across teams also require careful management.

Clearly, we’ve needed a better system for a while now. And that might be a work operating system.

What Is A Work Operating System?

Think of your phone’s operating system or your computer’s operating system: a work operating system (work OS) is the all-encompassing setup for managing your work, and the work of the rest of the company.

Instead of separate systems and software for your project planning, calendar, communication, and more, a work operating system is a hub that can contain and connect all your work tools and processes in one place. You can put all the details of a project, from tasks and milestones to communication and files, in the same place and close the rest of your open browser tabs once and for all.

Work operating systems recognize how comprehensive your responsibilities are, and includes multiple tools-within-a-tool to wrangle them.

For example, when you have an upcoming marketing launch, it’s not just a set of dates or to-dos. It’s milestone dates, meeting dates, handfuls of files, a dozen different tasks, and a big ongoing conversation discussing it all.

Work operating systems have areas for all of it.

Why Use A Work OS?

Well, once again, work operating systems have areas for all of them. All the different components of managing your work.

As that work gets increasingly complex, we can’t keep using piecemeal software to manage it. Managing the management software becomes a job in itself, one that you’re too busy for.

A work OS will let you streamline all that management clutter, customize the platform to your team’s own workflows, and free up your time to focus on what matters: leading and doing the work instead of just managing it.

Here are the main capabilities that define a work OS:

  • They can be used by the entire organization, not just one department.
  • They consist of functional building blocks different teams can customize as needed.
  • They have decentralized data stores so that anyone can capture and access data.
  • They can integrate with other tools you use to minimize time manually transferring info.
  • They allow you to automate to streamline repetitive activities.
  • They allow you to visualize your team’s progress and analytics.
  • They let teams work autonomously.

Different work OS tools hit on those capabilities differently. So when choosing which one is best for your organization, it will depend on your needs and how your team operates.

Which Work OS Should You Use?

If you’re ready to improve collaborating and streamline your work management tools, there are a few platforms embracing this all-in-one operating system approach that you can choose from.

Here are some of the popular options:

1. monday.com

Let’s start with what’s likely the most flexible platform: monday.com. If you want, it can provide a blank slate for you to build a system that works best for your teams. But if you’re looking for a little help, there are enough templates and ready-made building blocks created for different functions, that you can get up and running quickly.

You can use monday.com for managing projects, processes, initiatives, workflows, and everyday work. The tool makes it easy to capture ideas and data easily through different means. There are also integrations with other common tools you use, or an API if your developers want to build something a little more custom. You can easily capture ideas through forms, automations, or integrations so that adding work into the system isn’t a huge chore.

Plus, automation such as “if this happens, then that happens” to eliminate daily activities that are manual, repetitive, and time-consuming.

That’s how it helps you manage and plan, but it helps you organize and measure things, too. You can upload team files to either the asset widget or to the dedicated work they’re relevant to, depending on how long you’ll need them.

Plus at the more advanced feature level, there’s data visualization and reporting at both the team and board level to help you measure team progress and productivity. And with in-context communication, you can cut down on dreaded email.

2. Airtable

Second is a tool known for flexibility in a different way, Airtable. Airtable describes themselves as “part spreadsheet, part database, entirely flexible” and has the relational capabilities of databases with a default interface similar to spreadsheets. This gives it some pretty advanced capabilities, but they’re not geared towards project management by default.

Any team or department can easily build Airtable bases for their workflows and schedules. However, what they hand you is less building blocks and more of a blank canvas. Great for some use cases, not ideal for others.

Integrations with other tools make data capture and automation easy, and their integration selection is growing quickly. Automation isn’t built-in, however you can create form views for individual bases to make built-in capture easier.

Their Airtable Blocks feature will allow you some basic data visualization, but it takes a lot of configuration for a basic setup. Like with the view customization, it’s not ready to go from the start, your team would need to build it all.

3. Asana

Next up, there’s the veteran of the group, Asana. Asana lets you manage projects, tasks, and basic conversations through comments. You can streamline your workflow through any of its numerous integrations, through the API, or the recently introduced basic automation features. These are all useful for easily capturing different data as well.

In terms of reporting, there’s a workload view that lets you visualize how much is on your team’s plate at any given moment. Consider it a snapshot of your project’s distribution across your team. But there is no full dashboarding or data management capabilities. And while there’s no dedicated file manager or conversations area, you can upload files or comment on specific projects and tasks.

4. Wrike

A third option to consider would be Wrike. It positions itself as a full work management platform or operating system that combines projects, timelines, and conversations. It has a simple interface with features that get more robust depending on what plan you choose.

While there are multiple integrations, the advanced options will be limited to higher pricing plans, along with its workflow automation features. Similar to integrations, the analytics features are split across different pricing plans, with the basic plans reporting capabilities being limited. In addition to integrations, there are capabilities of widgets called add-ons that can also add reporting features.

When it comes to capturing new ideas, you can take advantage of whichever integrations are available to your account level. You can upload files to individual projects at any plan level, but the file manager widget is limited to certain levels. And to facilitate collaboration within the OS, you can leave comments and mentions for your colleagues on any level.

5. Smartsheet

If you’re used to managing your work in spreadsheets or like the idea of Airtable, you might feel comfortable in Smartsheet, a tool with project management system features in a spreadsheet-like aesthetic. It will let you manage basic projects in a system more feature-rich and fit for advanced planning than actually opening up Excel.

To extend the platform beyond the spreadsheet look and feel, there’s an API, basic integrations, as well as paid add-ons. In terms of advanced features, you can build conditional automated workflows, unlike in an actual spreadsheet. In addition, there’s basic reporting without having to build your own charts.

You’ll also be able to collect information through the form feature or integrations, upload files to tasks or projects, and comment on individual rows or tasks.

6. MS Planner, MS Project, and MS Teams

Finally, let’s look at MS Planner, MS Project, and MS Teams. If your team is already largely using Office 365 products for other work, this might be something to consider.

It’s somewhat basic in functionality, relying instead on its sibling Office 365 products for things like communication and calendars. But the basic feature set does allow for a very clean and easy-to-use, board-focused interface for projects.

MS Planner is a tool for an organization’s project managers to map out projects using tools like Gantt charts and schedules. MS Project is a basic task management tool for the rest of the company to organize its work, and MS Teams is a chat and collaboration app that can help bridge the two.

Which work operating system should you choose?

Ultimately, the best choice of work operating system for your team will depend on a mix of how your team works, the other tools you use, and personal preferences. But when in doubt, look for flexibility so you can customize the system to how your team works.

Brittany Berger

Brittany Berger

Brittany Berger is a content marketer and productivity expert who believes there’s a way to optimize everything, even your naps and Netflix queue. Follow her on Twitter at @thatbberg.

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