With so many trends to follow in the communications technology space, it’s easy to miss the forest from the trees. SMBs (small and medium business) in particular have limited bandwidth to do this, as their resources are largely consumed with keeping the business moving forward. This tends to make them late adopters, which also means they will hang on to legacy technology longer than enterprises.
While most SMBs are still using legacy phone systems, the transition to VoIP is definitely underway. Replacement scenarios are almost all going to IP telephony, but depending what trends you follow most, this does not tell the whole story. Some businesses are not replacing their old phone systems, relying instead on other options, namely wireless services and soft phones. As the workforce trends younger, this pattern will become common, reflecting changing work styles.
Stepping back, several broad trends would suggest we are in a post-PBX (private branch exchange) world now, where there’s less need for desk phones, and in some cases none. It’s not hard to find people who haven’t used their desk phone in ages and don’t miss it at all. By most accounts, they are the market leader in that category, selling over 2.4 million IP phones in the last fiscal quarter.
Telephony still has utility
Vendors wouldn’t be selling phones if businesses weren’t buying them, so clearly there must still be utility. This certainly holds for end users, as voice remains a central mode of communication, and desk phones are often the best option. The real-time nature of voice still trumps near real-time modes such as text, IM and email, and being so familiar, telephony is often the default mode. Of course, a desk phone isn’t always available, but when employees are at their desks, it tends to be the mode of choice for voice.
Related to this is the fact that for everyday tasks, a simple phone call is all that’s needed. Vendors are aggressively marketing the virtues of collaboration and team work, but this does not cover all scenarios for doing work. While their collaboration solutions have great selling points, a lot of work gets done very effectively just by using the phone.
Great user experience
Related to the above is the fact that desk phones work so well. Everyone knows how to use the core features, and the experience is usually very consistent. For those who want to be more adventurous, today’s IP phones can go beyond telephony, so there is another layer for an even richer communications experience.
Whether the phones are legacy or IP-based, the comfort level will be high, and unless the phones are breaking down or low quality, employees won’t have an aversion to using them. This is especially true when considering the alternatives. The convenience of mobility certainly has distinct utility, but the user experience falls far short of the desk phone. Similarly, soft phones make the PC a proxy for the desk phone, but the experience is more complex and less intuitive for many employees. Furthermore, unless you’re prepared to don a headset, these calls won’t be very private.
Keeps employees at their desk
This speaks more to the employer than the employee, especially in situations where there is concern about employees not being in the office enough. Some businesses and certain types of people can work very well this way, and be just as effective as when at their desk. While this may reflect mores about yesterday’s work styles, that is still the norm for many businesses, especially SMBs.
While productivity can be difficult to measure, employers may have valid concerns when employees view mobile devices are their primary work tool and primary mode of communication. When that happens, they don’t distinguish between being in or out of the office, and this presents a challenge for managers trying to monitor both individual and team performance.
The absence of desk phones simply reinforces this scenario, and will only make employees even more dependent on their mobile devices. Conversely, having desk phones signals an expectation that work still gets done in the office – just like it always used to – and that if employees made more use of them, they might actually work more effectively. This may be little more than wishful thinking, but if the desk phones go away, employees will undoubtedly spend even less time in the office, making it that much harder to build a strong culture upon which effective teamwork is ultimately based.
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