Market musings

Can a Phone System Improve Company Culture?

by Nina Quasebarth
January 25, 2017

Whatever happened to the improve company culture phone system? There was a time when the telephone was the primary tool for conducting business. You would use the phone on your desk to call customers and suppliers and to confer with colleagues to gather necessary information quickly and efficiently. In the past few decades, the telephone has been virtually eclipsed by email, which has become a ubiquitous communication tool that many feel is more efficient, albeit less personal.

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The Millennial workforce lives by email and text messages, and the company phone system has often been overlooked as a potential tool to promote better collaboration. That’s changing, however, with new technologies made possible by smartphones. These systems, which can be ready in a few minutes’ time, have the potential to completely overhaul the company phone system.

The fact is that email, instant messaging, and texting applications are sucking the productivity out of the workplace. Forrester Research reports that among leading enterprise IT users, workers are managing up to 10 different apps each day for office communications, data access, and task-tracking. The average employee receives 90 business emails each day and has to respond, organize, and track those emails along with instant-message threads and messages embedded in productivity software. Independent analyst firm,

Independent analyst firm, IDC says that the typical office worker spends up to 2.5 hours each day searching for information.

The growing adoption of email and instant messaging seems to be undercutting productivity rather than enhancing it. Email also has had a huge impact on corporate improving company culture, encouraging impersonal communications that can put a major damper on team-building and collaboration.

Let’s take a minute to consider the pros and cons of relying entirely on a corporate messaging system rather than a company phone system.

The pros and cons: email vs. telephone

In general, email has become the communications catch-all for most businesses. People grow increasingly more reluctant to interact in person, and email is favored for its natural avoidance of one-to-one conflicts. If you ask a colleague whether or not a problem has been addressed, all too often the response is “I sent an email” or “I sent a text.” This is becoming more common as workers forgo true collaboration for convenience; it’s perceived as easier to shoot off an email than to pick up the phone.

But at what cost?

Email has become popular because it allows for communication at any time, on any topic, stored away for later access. As a result, many workers are adopting a stream-of-consciousness approach to project management. When they think of something, they generate another email. While this strategy attempts to ensure that details are covered, it doesn’t necessarily address those details effectively and undercuts productivity. Given the volume of email that workers have to address, tasks and deadlines are easily lost in the noise.

One advantage of email is that it creates a record of what was said. You can refer back to email to track decisions, deadlines, and other points, including who is accountable. This is useful, and, at the same time, it can lead to more finger-pointing. Also, email is notorious for promoting misunderstanding.

People tend to read “tone” into an email, often based on their own mood and biases, which results in hurt feelings and miscommunication.

The telephone offers more immediacy and more personal communication. If you need an instant response to a question, it’s usually faster to pick up the phone than to send an email or text message and wait for a reply. A quick phone call can resolve simple issues more efficiently and effectively. When it comes to a detailed strategic discussion or addressing a sensitive issue, there is no substitute for the one-to-one interaction of a phone call.

Hesitations for employees to pick up the phone often stem from issues that are simple technology fixes. For example, they may be frustrated when a colleague doesn’t pick up the phone. But that is easily remedied when your phone system is integrated with your calendar. Or perhaps they don’t have an updated phone list and have to dig through emails—that’s all changing now, too.

Unified communications

Unified communications (UC) has been gaining momentum with businesses looking to enhance collaboration by expanding the company phone system. UC systems take advantage of high-speed computer networking to provide a single pipe that enables multiple types of communications: voice, email, text, file exchange, or video. Users can choose the form of communication that is best suited to the immediate need.

For example, you want to check with a coworker about upcoming sales projections. Your UC system has “presence” capability, allowing you to see if he or she is online, so you initiate a chat session asking for information. The chat is then shifted to an email or file exchange to share spreadsheets. The same communications also can be escalated to a voice-over-IP telephone call to discuss data points. The call can even be broadened to a conference call at the touch of a button, complete with the capability for file exchange and even real-time video.

While UC is seen as a great collaboration and productivity tool, it does require infrastructure. You need more network bandwidth and more sophisticated UC handsets and software. And UC doesn’t work well with remote workers or outside the office enterprise networks.

The smartphone revolution

The explosion in smartphone adoption has flipped the perception of communication and collaboration on its head. Research shows that 75 percent of Millennials would rather text than make voice calls. In fact, 19 percent say they never even check voicemail. And the amount of time spent on smartphones for non-voice applications continues to grow.

In 2015, users spent two hours and 54 minutes on their handheld devices, and in 2016, they spent an average of three hours and eight minutes using mobile devices for non-voice activities.

Personal smartphones also are being widely adopted for business applications. According to a Tech Pro Research report, 72 percent of organizations have embraced “bring your own device” (BYOD), finding that when workers use their own smartphones for work, they are more reachable and more productive. More companies actually are mandating the use of personal smartphones rather than providing corporate hardware and are reimbursing employees for part of their phone bill.

With the increase in remote workers and telecommuters, using smartphones in place of the company phone system makes perfect sense. Workers prefer to use their personal smartphones for business communications, chat, and email, and they provide a more cost-effective alternative for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) looking to dump their company phone systems. Smartphones offer all the collaborative capability of UC systems in a mobile handset, which means SMBs don’t have to upgrade their telephone infrastructure.

So, can a company phone system improving company culture? It can if it is well-considered and embraced by employees. The BYOD phenomenon has promised to promote greater productivity and enable a new level of collaboration that encompasses voice, text, email, file-sharing, and more, but without the overhead of traditional telecommunications.

Now you truly can work when and where you like with everything you need in the palm of your hand.

Do you have questions about how to improve your team's communication? Download our free guide, The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Integrating Remote Teams, by clicking 'Download Guide Now" below. 

The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Integrating Remote Teams
The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Integrating Remote Teams