Wrike is one of a new breed of modern business applications that are not about creating documents — like traditional business tools such as Office — or exchanging information in email or chat channels, but about managing the process of collaboration and working together. CEO Andrew Filev calls it a "collaborative work management platform". Wrike integrates with existing tools like Outlook, Teams, OneDrive, Box and Hangouts, and you can use it in your browser or on your smartphone — but it also now has its own desktop app.
A couple of years ago, desktop software was getting written off as 'legacy', with new tools moving to the browser as SaaS or available only as smartphone or iPad apps. But not only have we seen subsets of powerful desktop applications like Photoshop appear as web or mobile apps, but even modern tools like Slack, Teams, Zenkit, Trello and Wrike are now showing up as desktop applications.
Part of that is the way Electron makes it easy to build a web app that runs on both Mac and Windows and integrates with native desktop features like the taskbar or dock and system notifications, but also gets updated at the speed of a website. It's also that users still want desktop software, Filev told TechRepublic.
"We've had great success with our web and mobile apps, but one of the things we noticed is that people who are using business applications on a daily basis would love to have a desktop application." That's partly because it's easy to get distracted in your web browser, or to lose track of which tab your work is in — especially if you're working on multiple projects in Wrike with a different tab open of each one. "They want an anchor," Filev explains.
"Browser tabs are fluid; I might have five tabs open now but 35 in the next hour, so the position of a specific tab might float a bit. Some users are more sophisticated and they have their own system to access tabs and it works for them, but a lot of users don't have that," says Wrike. "With a desktop app, it's anchored; they know exactly where it is and it removes the distraction of having multiple different tabs with Facebook, CNN, email and Wrike all mixed up. This gives you one place for all your Wrike tabs and you have more control."
That matters most for what Filev calls 'real-time' apps, whether that's Skype or Slack or Wrike. "People will always want desktop apps for them because you want instant collaboration rather than waiting until you come across that tab. It's like having Outlook launch on startup; it's there when they need it and they can use it straight away. If you use an app once a month it probably doesn't matter, but if you want to use the app multiple times throughout the day those blips matter."
Wrike also integrates with Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams because people want to see what they're working on in the context of their conversations. Teams provides not just "the foundational messaging infrastructure for the modern work environment," as Filev puts it, but also connections to other components of digital work. "Our bread and butter is task-focused processing; if you're working on a project you're definitely interested in all the messages related to that project, but you can also plug in priorities and schedules right in that environment. With Teams, you can exchange messages but then you can easily click on a tab and see a visual schedule of what your team is working on. That gives you more context and allows you to be better oriented, which allows the whole team to sync and move faster. You can create projects and tasks inside Teams, visualise project schedules and get notifications: it's a 360-degree view of work, which is also part of a bigger picture including Office 365 with OneDrive and Outlook, and various Office products."
Different views on data
Not all work fits into neat, formal projects or breaks up easily into tasks, and one of the most useful features in Wrike is the way you can view the same data in different ways, including as a process. "For some users it might be easier to consume information about work as a project plan, or as a spreadsheet or a table; for others it might be easier to consume it as a planning board, or as a calendar," says Filev. Now Wrike can also show information as a calendar — not just for meetings, but for project milestones, deadlines, invoice payment dates, scheduled marketing campaigns or anything else with a date in it.
Unlike manual calendars where you have to create meetings and deadlines by hand, which means they often get out of date, the Wrike calendar view is automatically built on the fly from the underlying graph. That means sales teams and customer support staff can see when a marketing campaign is going out or when a new product goes on sale, which could mean more calls for them to deal with.
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"Wouldn't it be awesome if every employee in the company knew where we are? For many people a project plan is too complicated, but if you give then a nice high-level calendar in real time that's sourced from the live data, it unlocks that information for the whole company. It's a familiar view that any employee from the newest hire to an executive can understand," says Filev.
Visibility in the workplace
Collaborative work management is about making it easier to see what everyone is working on; it's like the idea of 'working out loud' but without making people take the extra time to tell everyone else what they're working on.
"One of the big challenges of the modern workplace is the lack of visibility," Filev suggests. "People feel overworked and at the same time they can't produce a report that shows what they're working on. 'I work on so many things, people send me all these messages but at the same time my boss is not happy and is wondering why do we have 20 people on this team and what do all they do?' I need to understand where my work stands, I need to understand the state of this important project I'm responsible for. The whole category started from the idea that everyone in the company needs to have complete visibility around the work that's related to them. If we can turn this hidden work that's below the radar into more transparent and prioritised work, people will be less stressed and companies will make their strategic goals faster."
And for most employees, a lot of that work still takes place on the desktop.
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Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.