The Death of the Office Desk Phone

Written by: Scott Gode


Is the real future of UC signaling mortality or perhaps just reincarnation for the desk phone?

Early Warning Signals

Over 95% of American adults have a cell phone and not a day goes by without new reports of consumer home landlines being canceled in lieu of cellphone use at home. Over the past 10 years, the consumer market has had a strong influence on technology in the workplace. While there have been past prognostications regarding the demise of the office desk phone, it appears that a number of new converging factors may finally bring the event to pass. In addition to the growing use and influence of the smartphone for both voice and text, the following additional factors contribute to the Storm Tracker:

  • ISDN End of Life: SIP Trunking standardization is removing the need for physical phone lines, reducing costs and restrictions around call capacity and location. As one of many telecom examples, British Telecom has announced that beginning in 2020 ISDN networks will no longer be purchasable. The virtual phone line facilitated by SIP Trunking means that IT costs will continue to decrease and end-user’s desire for a workplace experience with flexibility will continue to increase.
  • Office Phone Numbers Optional: As the use of the cell phone for 1-1 and unplanned calls increases, enterprise IT is increasingly viewing the office desk phone number as optional (offered on an individual request-only basis).
  • Softphone Uptick: By year-end 2018, Gartner predicts that 66% of enterprises will provide softphones to, on average, 31.8% of their employees, and this figure is expected to increase, given the growing interest in softphones.

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The Storm

desk phone death storm

So what does this ‘death storm’ look like then? There are five closely related silver bullets that will all converge, yet it would only take one to take out the desk phone.

  • The Millennial Factor: It kind of boils down to the question of if I can be reached on my cell, while away from my desk, I’m more productive….so why not do the same while in the office? This digital generation works either on their cell or their PC/Mac – so the desk phone is superfluous.
  • Changing Workstyles: Current UC technologies are less relevant to the needs of digital workplace employees, as these workers are switching to conversation-based collaboration. In fact, by 2020, Gartner estimates that at least 25% of organizations will have a catalog of smart workspaces maintained by the IT, real estate and facilities management departments. Outside of these workspaces, the telephony norm will be the cell phone or a PC with a softphone. Further, Gartner also shows that 50% of the workforce is already engaged in non-routine work and that this figure is likely to rise to 60% by 2027. Such non-routine work will either require more smart workspaces, better workstream collaboration (WSC) apps, or smarter smartphones… but definitely not more desk phones.
  • The Rise of WSC: As WSC continues to replace UC in the enterprise, the combination of chat, scheduled conference calls, and cell phone use will cover the entire communications spectrum needs.
  • Planned vs Ad Hoc Calls: Gartner predicts that by 2021, 90% of voice calls in the digital workplace will be planned, up from less than 50% in 2017. With most digital workstream collaboration (WSC) originating in messages and meeting solutions, phone calls are increasingly planned activities. Employees message colleagues before calling them, to confirm a convenient time for a conversation. Meeting solutions call attendees at scheduled times (and vice versa). Employees ignore or reject calls from unfamiliar sources. Global telecom carriers are showing fixed voice minutes in long-term decline. At the same time, conference calls/meetings are replacing one-to-one unexpected calls – allowing IT to conclude that a mobile subscription (for calling and messaging) in tandem with a meeting solution, can meet most enterprise voice and collaboration requirements. This could mean savings of up to 50% per user per month, compared with the current UC environment.
  • Increased Cell Phones Focus: As was previously mentioned, the cell phone trend (led by consumer telephony usage with more than half of homes now wireless-only-enabled for telephony) is picking up enterprise momentum. Business cards often show only a single cell phone number and companies are targeting lower TCO budgets (even while factoring in calling plans for all employees).

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IT Wake or Remediation?

desk phone grabe

Given the death knell, should IT be holding a wake, a somber funeral, or just start rolling up their sleeves to make a number of fixes in their infrastructure? In many cases, the well-prepared CIO is already on their way to a strong succession plan, but for those who aren’t, here are five key recommendations:

  • Examine Network Coverage and Support: Fewer desk phones means more cellphones and an increased need for robust Wi-Fi. So, is the cellular quality in your offices up to snuff? Consider requesting indoor coverage from your telecom provider to improve service delivery and negotiate SLAs to cover dropped call rates. Also, how about your Wi-Fi coverage? Is it fully tested for the expected increase in voice and video traffic?
  • Device Coverage and Support: Fewer desk phones mean that IT will need to provide and/or subsidize some combination of softphones, cellphones, and cellular calling plans – are all three in the budget using some sort of increasing scale of use/demand? From a procurement standpoint, you should aggressively negotiate cellular packages that offer unlimited voice and data plans.
  • Meeting and Huddle Rooms: There are a number of steps that can be taken to enhance the meeting experience. Many of these steps, such as calendaring reinvention, new workspaces, increased AI leverage and better user segmentation have been detailed by our CEO (John Case) in an article he penned earlier this year.
  • Monitoring and Troubleshooting Software: It’s now suddenly more complex to troubleshoot poor call quality if your end users are using a smartphone or Bluetooth device connected to the desktop PC. Do you have trained support staff, and, even more importantly the sort of monitoring and analytics software that your staff can use to support these ‘new’ and evolving devices?
  • Transition Process: Assuming that not every enterprise has fully transformed themselves away from a desk phone world, there are steps that can be taken to create a transition process. Here are a few:
    • Identify which of your user segments can be switched to mobile-only voice delivery
    • Work with facilities managers to define environments that encourage collaboration in a digital workspace
    • Determine the devices that are best suited for users by grouping them by feature requirements and device preferences; and make desk phones “opt-in,” rather than “opt-out.”

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