One for All or All for One?

In my work life, and I’m guessing in yours, there are two kinds of software: programs that attempt to do everything and programs that do one specific thing. The first category, which I call One for All, is filled with programs that call themselves “solutions” and really want to be the only program you have open all day every day. The second category, which I call All for One, invests all of its greatness into essentially one function. Looking past the sweeping claims that ad campaigns for both categories like to make, is one approach really more productive, more effective, simpler, or better than the other? Let’s discus….

One for All

Since COVID-19 turned offices inside out, it seems that more and more software is reaching harder and harder towards the One for All ideal.  Zoom now includes a Slack-like messaging system that can be used outside of meetings as well as a VOIP add-on. Microsoft Teams seems to add a new connector or bot every day to pull data, alerts, etc. from a seemingly endless array of other software in hopes of preventing you from EVER app switching. Slack has similarly expanded its feature set (and connectors and bots) significantly so that it rivals Teams. But, really, what’s the point?

The Good

  • No app switching. Or, at least, less of it.
    • The underlying theory behind much of the push for a single program to be all things is that moving from one app to another during your day decreases productivity. App switching, like task switching, costs mental time and therefore productivity. S0, avoiding app switching may add some extra time and therefore completed tasks back into your day.
  • No more “How do I…?”
    • One for All programs quickly become something like a single source of truth for a team in that they end up being the default “place” to do and find things. Especially for tech-averse people, having that default can be an important time saver and sense of security that increases productivity significantly.
  • Where everybody knows your name
    • Replicating casual office conversations and a sense of being present with your team has become a bit of a holy grail. One for All programs tend to have some solution to that. Between instant messaging, video chats, and status indicators, One for All programs can offer newly or temporarily distributed teams a way to feel connected.

The Meh

  • Your speed may vary
    • The more complex a piece of software and its data sources, the more can go wrong or, at least, slowly. In Teams, for example, I have found that trying to open or edit a SharePoint document feels like trying to swing through treacle.
  • There’s always a limiting factor
    • Eventually, you’re going to have to switch apps. One for All programs don’t actually do every single thing you need. In theory, one dives into such a system knowing what it can do. But, in practice, feature quality can vary and users may end up switching apps even more than is literally required to compensate.
  • Forcing the issue can be tough
    • Any platform is only as good as its adoption rate and asking people to add another app to their life can be a big ask these days. One for All solutions can be a particularly tough sell because teams often already have software that does everything the new platform does. Without near universal adoption, the benefits of the messaging, presence simulation, and collaboration features are largely lost.

Jaemi’s Tips

  • Know what you’re getting into
    • Before rolling out a One for All solution, be sure that you’ve tried it out and have a strong sense of what it can and can’t do.
  • All the bots
    • The integrations and automations are some of the most useful bits of One for All systems. Use the heck out of them.
  • Encourage chit chat
    • Casual interactions can lead to great ideas. Lean into those features of your One for All platform.

All for One

There is, of course, a universe of software that does one thing (word processing or image manipulation or arithmetic) and, theoretically, does it well. An All for One workflow might mean that you use one programs for email, another for calendar, and another for contacts, for example. Can this be as efficient as One for All?

The Good

  • Performance
    • Obviously, a program that does only one thing is more likely to do it well and speedily than a program that does a million other things. All of the features will be geared towards accomplishing the main goal of the program, so you are likely to get a richer, more professional set of abilities.
  • Cleanliness
    • All for One programs tend to have cleaner interfaces, as they are focused on a single function. A simpler interface can often mean a better user experience, which can translate into more productivity.
  • Interaction
    • Many All for One programs talk to each other (and even One for All programs) really well. Want to make that email into a reminder or task? Want to create an event from a date that someone mentioned in an email? All for One programs can often bounce info around as easily as a One for All.

The Meh

  • App Switching
    • Keyboard shortcuts are great, but the visual change of app switching can be disorienting for some users. As minor as that disorientation can be, it can be a time and productivity suck for some people.
  • IT Creep
    • If you’re an organization where IT admin and support is centralized, having users using a wide variety of apps can be a headache. If you’re a user, depending on your setup, many apps could mean many passwords, which can also be a headache.
  • Information silos
    • While good file storage/sharing protocols can avoid this issue entirely, the workflow of having a different program for everything can mean that users save their files wherever they want. That can mean that the information locked in those files is inaccessible to teammates.

Jaemi’s Tips

  • Give users the right level of freedom
    • Some people need to be told what program to use for every task. Others have their own preferences. Do what you can to enable people to stick with their preferences, since that will always be the biggest boost to productivity and happiness.
  • Pick an ecosystem
    • If there’s one thing iPhones have taught us, it’s that having all of your digital things talk to each other is really, really handy. That kind of playing nice together has become a “must have” when using All for One software, so be sure to pick options that are friends.
  • Do you really need….?
    • Sometimes, the free or light version really is enough. Other times, you need every single bell and or whistle available. Use your critical thinking sorting hat to be sure you know which is which.

So, which one should I use?

Obviously, there are benefits and drawbacks to any set of software solutions and any workflow. I have yet to see strong evidence that either a One for All or All for One workflow is by default better, easier, or more productive. Where the rubber meets the road, most teams end up using a bit of both and the real success of either solution seems to mostly depend on the quality of the planning and workflow design. If you’d like help finding the right set of tools for you, check out Jaemi Consulting. Otherwise, don’t be fooled by promises of a panacea and all will be well.

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