You Can’t Kill Email, But You Can Kill Your Desk Phone

desk-phone

We all use email. That’s why we all have strong opinions about it as a way of communicating and doing business. In spite of all its shortcomings, however, email is far from the most antiquated piece of technology we still use today. On the other hand, the desk phone might be that antiquated technology, and, ironically, it’s email that set the desk phone’s demise in motion.

How Has Email Changed The Way We Work?

Email revolutionised business because it more easily and efficiently connected huge swaths of people without anyone needing to pick up the phone. As we can now plainly see, email also helped kickstart a revolution in which people didn’t need to be tied to their desks to do their work. Of course, you still needed to be near a computer, so it makes sense that the earliest incarnation of this would materialise as “working from home”.

Today, nearly one-quarter of Americans already complete some or all of their work from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 19 percent in 2003. And the typical number of minutes of work done at home (in a day) in that period has increased by 40 minutes to 3 hours and 12 minutes. But working from home is no longer the full story.

Since email went mainstream, the succeeding mobile and cloud revolutions have ushered in a change even more pronounced: now you don’t even have to be sitting at your desk at home. Modern workers today in every industry in the world are waking up in the morning, checking their email at home, reviewing reports and documents at the local cafe, collaborating with colleagues while en route to meetings, and connecting to clients whenever or wherever they happen to be.

The Effects Of Cloud Communication

Thanks to the rapid, global adoption of cloud technology and the power of our devices, it’s more than about working from home. Today, it’s about working from anywhere.

Cloud technology has seen extremely strong growth over the past few years, and that trend is projected to continue. Statista expects spending on public cloud technology to reach $38 billion by the end of 2016, and $173 billion by 2026. If these projections are even remotely close, it’s clear that cloud technology will become an even larger part of the modern workers’ toolbox over the next decade, enabling workers to collaborate from anywhere at anytime.

And yet, even though it’s a bit slower or more formal than newer text-based forms of communications, email still fits into today’s flexible ways of working. You can send and receive emails from any device, they’re productive and useful for sharing specific versions of files among groups of people, and, most importantly, we still use it regularly. No matter your struggles in finally attaining “inbox zero,” you won’t hear many people predicting the disappearance of email in a few years.

The End Of The Desk Phone

Desk phones, on the other hand, are another story. In a recent survey by Dialpad, over half of respondents said they believe that desk phones are an outdated piece of technology, and nearly one-third said desk phones will be non-existent in as little as three years. And so far, that prediction is playing out, even compared with ordinary homes. According to preliminary results from a National Health Interview Survey, nearly one-half (47.4%) of American homes have abandoned a hardline phone and shifted to only using wireless telephones. In Dialpad’s survey, more half of respondents said their workplace doesn’t provide a desk phone for every employee.

If there’s any culprit for so many desk phones still lingering in modern offices, it’s likely traditional vendors. Even though they’re not meeting the needs of modern workforces (or even IT departments), it’s easier to stick with incumbents who have already had a hand in installing desk phone relics. The cloud is going mainstream, thankfully, making it easier for IT to try a better route.

Granted, there are probably some more traditional or heavily regulated industries, including the legal services or the healthcare industry, that will be slower to give up the desk phone. But the desk phone is already dead at rapidly evolving, high performing organisations—just look at the biggest and fastest growing companies in the technology sector. And though the tech sector has perhaps more readily done away with the desk phone, as you’d expect the tech sector to be ahead of the curve when it comes to new technology adoption, every industry is willing to let go. But they need the technology to do so.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

One trend making it easier for businesses, especially small companies looking to cut operations costs, is the rise of BYOD (bring your own device). A 2013 survey from Tech Pro Research found that 44 percent of companies already had a BYOD policy in place and another 18 percent planned to implement one in the next year. When Tech Pro Research revisited the topic almost two years later, they found that 60 percent of companies had some form of BYOD policies and an additional 14 percent planned on adopting BYOD. That’s about three-quarters of the workforce encouraging, or at least allowing, employees to use their personal devices for work.

As with most things, BYOD has its downsides. In that same survey, the number one reason companies not planning on adopting BYOD gave for their resistance was security concerns. Other causes for concern included IT support questions and a lack of standardisation of devices. Only 18 percent of the 26 percent not planning on using BYOD cited no employee interest as a reason for not implementing a policy, though.

With the rise in smartphones, most employees at companies implementing BYOD policies are using their smartphones to replace their desk phones. Where desk phones have become obsolete, email has made a smooth transition to mobile. Smartphones now come with email apps pre-installed, and the Gmail app (12) and Yahoo! Mail app (97) are both in the top 100 most downloaded apps on iTunes. The percent of emails opened on a mobile device has increased year over year for the past five years. Smartphones are at once doing away with desk phones and propelling email forward.

Smartphones are also enabling the rise in the telecommuting workforce. Each year, more and more employers are finding it beneficial to allow employees to work from home. A 2015 Gallup survey found that the average worker telecommutes two days per month. The same poll showed that telecommuters are working from home during normal business hours, meaning employees are finding telecommuting beneficial past flexible working hours, and the majority of employers said that telecommuting employees are just as productive as those in the office. Gallup has seen increases in telecommuting numbers steadily over the past 20 years.

What Is VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol)?

Employees growing desire to work from anywhere and occupational travel demands, combined with new technology, is making working from home more feasible and efficient. This means workers just aren’t at their desk as much anymore, making a phone that’s tied to that desk much less important.

Another new cost-cutting option available to businesses today is VoIP, or voice over internet protocol. VoIP is a way to make phone calls using the internet, similar to how Skype makes video calls. VoIP allows companies to completely ditch landlines and turn computers into work phones. Studies have show VoIP can cut communication costs anywhere between 45 and 75 percent for businesses. VoIP is also not going anywhere; a 2015 Juniper Research study projects that there will be 1 billion VoIP users by 2017.

VoIP also has many benefits specifically for business. Because of its online nature, VoIP can scale up or down very quickly at a much smaller cost than traditional desk phones. Employees can also keep the same phone number regardless of what floor or building they move to, avoiding confusion and increasing efficiency. Many VoIP services are also compatible with other business applications like email or cloud storage  services.

Another advantage VoIP hold is that it still incorporates voice communication. While the desk phone is fading, person-to-person verbal contact is still one of the most important forms of communication in business. In fact, in that same Dialpad study, respondents were asked to rank forms of communication in order of importance to their business for both external and internal use. Phone communication was ranked first for external communication and second for internal communication. With desk phones becoming obsolete but phone conversations remaining extremely important, it only makes sense to turn a device many workers already rely on, the computer, into a phone.

What’s Next?

Fundamentally, organisations that want to kill the desk phone need an easy-to-implement and easy-to-use system of connecting everyone involved with the business, whether internal or external. But they also need a system capable of integrating with existing ways of communicating and collaborating, including email, productivity tools (like Google Apps for Work and Office 365), cloud solutions (like Salesforce), and social networks. And, most importantly of all, they need to make sure that voice communication doesn’t go away.

After all, when we investigate what a global, dynamic workforce really requires, it’s clear no one’s asking to do away with direct, person-to-person, voice communications. Voice will always matter to business. But there’s no reason to save useless, outdated technology when there are alternatives. In the world of modern business communications, you probably can’t kill email, but you can certainly kill the desk phone.

Nick Gallagher

Nick graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in multimedia journalism. Nick has been working in the digital space for about 3 three years. Nick now lives in Portland, OR and enjoys playing basketball and hiking along the Columbia River Gorge in his free time.