Five Reasons Why the Desk Phone Will Disappear

Updated: July 15, 2010

Reason 1 - I'm not at my desk - call my mobile

How often do you hear that these days? Modern technology is supposed make communications more efficient, but half of all phone calls still end up in voice mail. This is not a very good success rate, but to be fair, some of this is by design. While voice mail is an invaluable failover for missed calls, people also use it defensively to ensure that calls don't get through. That may be counterproductive and an unintended consequence of voice mail, but in reality, it's actually a good survival strategy that helps us manage the volume of messages coming our way every day.

Regardless, the point here is that we're increasingly not at our desks, and if people really need to reach us, they better call our mobile phones. Of course, callers may just as likely get voice mail again, but at least they have a chance of getting you live - wherever you may be. If this pattern persists, people will eventually figure out there's no point in calling the desk phone. Once behaviors around this change and calls go straight to mobile, that will serve as a death knell to the desk phone.



Reason 2 - I don't make a lot of calls and nobody calls me

Most of my research is qualitative or anecdotal, but it's hard to dispute the fact that we just don't use the desk phone as much as we used to. I think most will agree that we make fewer calls on the desk phone, as well as receive fewer calls there these days. The desk phone works perfectly well, but our habits are changing. Voice is still the preferred mode of communication, but we're increasingly using other channels - namely mobile devices, soft phones and PC calling. Video calling and video conferencing are also voice channels, and their adoption is growing rapidly, providing even more alternatives.

Another related factor, of course, is the proliferation of text-based modes - email, chat, texting, IM, etc. - and there is little doubt that these are serving many communications needs that would otherwise be taking place over the phone. Aside from the convenience of these modes, I believe that privacy is another key driver behind their popularity. Open offices have become the norm, and with closely-packed cubicles, private phone calls are all but impossible. The same could be argued for concentration - open offices tend to be noisy, and there are many scenarios where a quiet space is needed for calls. Again, as a survival mechanism, many office workers have simply shifted away from the phone to text modes to mitigate the challenges around privacy, noise or both.



Reason 3 - It only does phone calls


For better or worse, multi-tasking has become the norm, especially among the Internet generation. Technology gives us a lot of great tools to be productive, but it also overloads us with information from all directions. Developing multi-tasking skills has become critical for managing all this, and this stands in direct contrast to the desk phone.

Whether you're using a PBX, IP PBX, Key System, or just a basic unswitched phone, it pretty much does just one thing. These phones handle telephony rather well, but aside from the very latest and most expensive models, they do not do much else. Prior to the PC, of course, this was all we had, so the desk phone was highly functional.

Back then, we could do most of our job with only a telephone, but the exact opposite is true today. We still need to make calls, but this activity is almost always connected to other things, which requires us to multi-task when using the phone. This mode of working is manageable, but not always efficient, and as we figure out other ways to make calls that make multi-tasking easier, the desk phone will fall out of favor.



Reason 4 - Web calls are free


This factor may resonate more with the CIO and CFO than with employees, but free is hard to beat, especially for businesses that do a lot of long distance calling. Historically, this has been a major cost factor, but LD charges have come down significantly with the advent of IP networks.

In fact, a strong selling point of IP PBXs is the ability to bypass toll charges by routing calls over IP. As such, desk phones can save the business some money this way, but there are even better options online. Businesses have been reluctant to embrace Web-based calling services, but to varying degrees, all the major IM platforms offer them - namely Skype, Google, Yahoo and MSN. Not only do they offer low per minute calling rates for domestic LD and international markets, but calls within their federations are entirely free. This is a feature that no desk phone can match, and for global businesses, it may be the best reason of all to dispense with them.



Reason 5 - I work from my desktop - that's where I need to be

Long term, this may be the biggest driver of them all. At home or at work, our world is becoming increasingly web-centric, and most of what we need to do in our job is on the desktop. Communications technologies have shifted from being hardware-based to software-based, and along with that we move from the physical world to the virtual world.

Until recently, telephony was separate from the desktop, and underneath that, voice and data were managed from completely separate networks. Today, for a variety of reasons, those networks are converging, and voice is becoming integrated with all forms of desktop applications. As this trend continues, it becomes less practical to keep supporting voice with a standalone endpoint, especially since everything else is taking place at the desktop.

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