Is 2023 the Year of the Workspace App?
Regardless of whether you work from home, an office or from the neighborhood coffee shop, one thing is certain for 2023: you can leave your suitcase in the closet. A new report from the Global Business Travel Association entitled “The 2023 Global Business Travel Forecast” predicts that business travel will not recover in the near future. The report offers explanations for the reduced level of travel, such as the war in Ukraine, concerns about the impact travel has on the environment, persistent inflation, and the ongoing fear of renewed COVID-19 outbreaks.
Any way you slice it, lots of work will continue to be remote, and much of that away from the office.
Productivity Challenges for 2023
While some folks are clearly happy with remote work, the rest of us are chafing to get back to the office. But not for the reasons you might expect. It’s not to socialize with colleagues. Rather, people want to get back to the office to be more productive. Findings from a new Gensler Research survey uncover the top reason people want/need to return to the office is “to focus on work.”
With people so eager to get back to the office to be more productive, yesterday’s office apps don’t seem to cut it anymore. That’s why we are experiencing an explosion in new productivity apps. Apps like Slack, Miro and Figma (now part of Adobe) all claim to ease one aspect of remote work. And they do. Their rapid uptake attests to the efficacy of these tools.
And yet, the success of these products foretells a new productivity problem for information workers. Too many apps. Because each of these apps only does one thing well (maybe two), you will need to use multiple apps to get work done. Which brings us back to today.
A 2022 industry survey found that more than a quarter of U.S. workers use 11 or more apps during a work day and that 80% of global workers suffer from information overload due to “siloed data in too many places, along with poor data access and governance.” Clearly, the industry is at impasse and these new collaboration tools are only making things worse. Is there any respite on the horizon?
Related Article: Explosion of Apps Stymying, Not Streamlining, Productivity
The New Key to Productivity: Workspace Apps
To deal with app sprawl, a new kind of workspace app is emerging. These apps purport to reduce the number of apps you need to use by "bringing all your work to one place.” Some examples include Notion, ClickUp and Confluence. In fact, there are many more competitors who have not yet repositioned themselves into this space, so look for more of these tools to emerge in 2023.
What Is a Workspace App?
Fundamentally, all workspace products offer the same value proposition: increased productivity by using a single canvas; one that absorbs any form of office ‘item,’ such as text documents, spreadsheets, slides, project plans, workflows, to do lists, task boards and notes. Some of the apps also provide plugin modules to support additional items. For example, Notion enables users to insert Figma in a Notion workspace. So far, these products are all offerings of workspace startups that were formed specifically for this purpose. But with so much at stake, the bigger players can’t afford to rest on their laurels. What are they doing?
Google is taking a middle ground approach. Having never been completely serious about the enterprise market, it simply rebranded the existing G Suite productivity products into a new offering, called Google Workspace. Not truly a one canvas product, Google Workspace is a suite of products that includes Gmail, Calendar, Meet, Chat, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and Sites under one licensing umbrella.
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Microsoft is unique in that it has an enterprise-grade productivity tool for everything under the sun, and nominally, these tools are already part of Microsoft 365. However, each of these tools provides its own user experience and each uses a different file format. While Microsoft is embracing the workspace vision, it has an enormous existing enterprise user base to consider, so it is moving to reduce the app sprawl in stages. As a first step, it has released (and is aggressively promoting) a new Microsoft 365 app, which is more ‘app portal’ than a true app. The app home page presents users with their recent content and a launch pad to invoke one of the legacy Microsoft productivity apps like Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Simultaneously, Microsoft is softly promoting its vision for a workspace app, called Microsoft Loop, which embraces a Notion-like single app approach. Loop is a canvas that can incorporate various Microsoft items like text, tables, slides, to do lists and so on. Microsoft’s tagline for Loop — Everything in One Place — puts it squarely in the new workspace app category. Loop is currently in early release.
Microsoft Going Forward
Microsoft is also taking a longer view with Mesh, Microsoft’s metaverse vision. According to Microsoft, Mesh will simulate presence to power "shared experiences from anywhere — on any device — through mixed reality applications." Presently, Mesh seems focused on improving shared presence for collaboration, training, and to replicate face to face meetings.
Related Article: The Speed of Work Today: More, Faster, Now
What’s Next for 2023?
What can we expect in 2023? Will workspace apps reduce app sprawl, improve focus and increase productivity, or will they simply become one more app to use? Probably a bit of both. I predict that at least one app will break through and become the go-to app for a critical mass of enterprise users … which will make it a takeover target for an established enterprise software vendor (think Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack). Microsoft will advance Loop and Mesh at a pace commensurate with the adoption of standalone workspace apps.
So, even without the prospect of 2023 travel with all its glamour of airport hotels and red eye flights to look forward to, you can still get excited about the new set of workspace tools coming down the pike to make your life just a little bit easier … eventually, that is.
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About the Author
David is a product expert with extensive experience leading information-intensive technology organizations. His specialty is helping organizations “do it right the first time”— get to market quickly and successfully through a structured process of working closely with design partners from day one. Connect with David Lavenda:
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