Evernote’s Desire To Be The Workplace’s Virtual War Room For Projects

It was 10 years ago at a tech event in San Francisco where I was first introduced to a company called Evernote. Initially I was unsure about its potential — why would I want an app to keep track of things when I could just write it down? Fast forward some time later and I found use for Evernote as a cloud-based personal notebook and, until recently, was an avid user of the app. And now, 18 years after its founding, the company is taking its next step from giving an individual a professional digital Moleskine, to giving teams a virtual war room where they can “gather” to work on projects.

This week, Forbes reported that Evernote pushed into the collaboration space with the launch of Spaces. It’s a feature set that’s baked into the company’s Business offering with promises to allow teams to “quickly view, share, and edit a collection of related notes and notebooks in one place”, “easily see what others on your team are working on and view what’s been added or updated by someone else”, and “highlight important notes by pinning them for quick reference and easy access.” At an initial glance, it might seem like a good move, but really it’s putting Evernote in direct competition with many that are in the Future of Work space — and it’s a crowded marketplace.

“Spaces provides a place for teams to collect all these pieces of data, get on the same page about ‘what our team knows’, and then work off of that information, e.g. by writing notes and annotating documents,” Erik Wrobel, Evernote’s chief product officer told me in an email interview. “The information is then made available both offline and online across a variety of mobile and desktop versions of Evernote, to enable quick and easy access to the information at any time. In short, we’re less in the business of competing to have users create documents on our platform, and more in the business of helping teams capture, organize, work on, and access all the types of information that they have.”

He doesn’t see this as necessarily a competitor to the likes of Google Docs, Quip, Dropbox Paper, Pingpad, or Office 365. Rather, Wrobel described it as being complementary. Sure, there’s going to be some overlap when you look at the document sharing aspects of Evernote version 1.0. But perhaps it’s best to think of Spaces as a whiteboard in a dedicated meeting room, but in the cloud. Yes, one could consider using SharePoint, Atlassian’s Stride, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, or Workplace by Facebook, but the visualization and organization of data may not be exactly what’s needed.

Think of Evernote’s purpose, if you will, as being a notebook. When you have one, you’re scribbling notes, thoughts, ideas, appointments, tasks, drawings, or inserting clippings of articles and other pieces of content in-between pages. Now if you extend that perspective to a meeting room, you might have a virtual area where multiple people aren’t just working together in a single document, but are completing a project in a whiteboard, so to speak.

“We’d describe Spaces as the project situation-room for your team,” Wrobel remarked. “It provides a place for your team to collect all the information they have (notes, documents, etc). Inside each Space are a set of information tiles that highlight what the team is currently working on so that anyone can quickly catch up on current team activity and priorities. In that sense, the information tiles are the whiteboards in this room that help teams coordinate – by highlighting recent changes, or current focus areas.”

This is a good step for Evernote, especially after it spent nearly three years retooling itself after laying off 47 employees, shutting down three offices, and parting ways with Chief Executive Phil Libin. At the time, newly-installed CEO Chris O’Neill remarked that the changes were an effort to refocus the team. It was interesting though because until then, some had thought Evernote would be on its way to an Initial Public Offering.

Under O’Neill’s leadership, the company seems to have weathered the ordeal without any ill effects. The former Google executive had Evernote move to Google Cloud and has seen its international usage expand, which now makes up 86 percent of users. The company has also seen the number of Business accounts grow — up 56 percent from 2016. This type of traction could give Evernote a boost with analysts and potential shareholders, proving that it’s able to generate recurring revenue in an area that isn’t a small market. But the big risk is whether users will flock to Evernote Spaces independently or will it be crushed under the enormous amount of competition that’s in the area now.

With the launch of Spaces, one thing that concerned me was whether it would be viewed as “yet another app” that people in the workplace have to install. Just look at your normal workday — how many apps do you deal with? Email, some messaging chat software, an Intranet, social media, Slack, and now Spaces? What’s going to be the appeal for brands to sign up for this? Wrobel doesn’t think that’s going to be problematic, telling me: “Businesses consistently come to us with a frustration that their teams spend hours each day searching for content in multiple places. When they start working with Spaces, the value of creating a shared space for a team to do its best work becomes immediately obvious. Less time searching, more time being productive. Our integrations with Slack, Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, Apple and others help keep our customers’ teams focused on the job they need to do, instead of on finding the information.”

Companies are always looking to better understand the changing landscape of work and especially how to deal with remote teams. Evernote believes the environment is right for a service like Spaces because workforces need a tool that’ll help teams “stay aligned by consolidating and organizing team information, and making it easily accessible to anyone anywhere.” Wrobel added that the freedom for employees to choose their own tools (thanks to the rise of the consumerization of IT), systems are needed that can address the dynamic challenges of individuals and remote-working.

In the end, he states that Spaces is just the next logical phase of Evernote: “The Evernote mission has evolved from a solution for note taking, to a platform for the more effective management of the tremendous amounts of information people and teams need to handle each day. Spaces is a key step in that journey by providing a place for teams to develop a shared mental model for the information they have and the work they do.”