Market musings

Does the Desk Phone Have a Place in the Future of Work?

by Sasha Viasasha
July 25, 2017

It seems like everyone is selling a desk phone system these days, even as they race at the same time towards virtualization of the hardware in the cloud. The cloud is eating the channel. The graveyard of defunct business phone systems is growing. Yet, to be fair, the desk phone is still a fixture in many offices, although demand has been steadily declining and actual use has plummeted.

In conference rooms, reception areas, and co-working booths, the desk phone sits, gathering dust, but imparting by its presence a sense of business-like professionalism. It occasionally performs perfunctory but unessential tasks, such as a paging a member of the staff when a visitor arrives, like a loyal but now unnecessary administrator who is kept on the staff out of good will. This new world we call, "desk phone optional." You can stay, desk phone, but we don't need you anymore. 

To banish the desk phone will mean confronting the inevitable starkness of a software dominated world. First an empty desk, and then an empty office. Before you know it, the office itself will have vanished.

Obsolete on arrival

The rate of technological transformation has sped up to the point that hardware has a hard time keeping up. When your smartphone is no longer supported, you upgrade. When your business phone system is obsolete, it isn’t quite so simple, as users of Avaya’s IP phone network learned this summer. And while other technologies have simplified their operating systems, moving towards a more invisible UI, the business phone system has grown increasingly complex, without delivering a reciprocal increase in value. 

An enduring icon

In its quest for relevance, the desk phone probably jumped the shark a long time ago. And yet, it remains a powerful symbol of business—perhaps one of the most expensive statement pieces the world has ever seen. Despite its dwindling role, the desk phone seems unwilling to relinquish its hold on the enterprise.

On IP life support

For its part, the enterprise shows a similar reticence, rooted perhaps in nostalgia. Despite its decline, businesses are still investing in traditional desk phone systems, to the tune of around $81 billion a year, and the development of VoIP technology seems to promise the business phone system a second life, even as landlines are cut. Will the internet keep the desk phone alive? Or even better, should it?

The virtual office changes everything

Corporate entities have long been long divesting themselves of real estate and making smaller capital expenditures in equipment, infrastructure and hardware. The employee is becoming a contractor, and brings the training, tools and skills to do the job with her. The nature of work becomes transactional rather than contractual. 

As the smartphone develops its AI potential, it will need to become increasingly personalized. The desk phone of the future, if there is such an animal, will be one object among many, operated and controlled by applications on a device that is intimate to one particular individual.

On demand markets

Even manufacturing will likely not look anything like the fixed facilities of yesterday, around which entire towns sprung up and flourished. Hyper-localized pop-up production, using more resilient materials and 3D printing, will usher in an era of on the spot, on demand, just-in-time (JIT) production. Here, too, workers will transact relationships and conduct business over their phones, as both employees and customers.

Collective space

While corporate headquarters have downsized or been shuttered entirely, shared office space companies like WeWork have been building and buying real estate across the urban landscape. They are bringing a new look and feel to the office—with coffee bars and common rooms—as the distributed workforce swells its ranks.Call it a sign of the times or just a natural evolution in the way companies look and act. Distributed teams and freelance workforces allow companies to wax and wane with the cyclical cycles of supply and demand—to enter and exit markets, and to build products or supply services as needed.  Coworking spaces appeal to SME's  because they can join a networked space and leave the headaches of property ownership far behind them. 

Automation hollows out offices

Automation has taken a big bite out of office administration. Software is automating routine processes and outsourcing others to lean, highly specialized companies that can perform the functions of a department or even a single person much more efficiently. This also offloads the risks of error and liability. Advances in cloud storage, computing power, and analytics will accelerate automation’s reach, eliminating more of the traditional office infrastructure. Automated services may vary seasonally, adjusted to the demands on the business.   

Decentralized and global

The virtual office is everywhere and nowhere. Decentralized, mobile and agile, it is radically restructuring capital’s relationship to industry, to labor, and to markets. The long hoped for boom in business investment may never quite materialize. The promise of the future looks quite different from the promise of the past.

Virtualization allows communication infrastructure the dynamism and flexibility to scale and up and down as well. This allows freelancers, talent markets, and consultants to enter or exit the company structure, which they experience as a virtualized space.

More than a phone

The smartphone today is a powerful networked computer, and a greater potential lies ahead.  Developments like AI, increased battery life, and miniaturization will make the smartphone even faster, smarter, and more versatile.

Quantum computing and memristors will impart the processing power of a data center into your hand, putting even more advanced predictive analytics in your palm in real time and making it easier to make more intelligent decisions on the fly.

Smartphones, digital assistants in more than name, will greatly accelerate business reaction rate, and time-to-market will be measured in instants rather than months. Speed will become the new currency of business, and time its most precious resource. Voice rather than touch will become the interface of this future world.

Smartphone for business

The smartphone is the incontestable winner of the technological lottery and the hero of the business world. Insanely successful people run megacorps from their smartphones, accessing databases, initiating voice calls, and documenting outcomes whenever and wherever they are.

Nearly all (98%) millennials own smartphones, according to Nielsen surveys. For Baby Boomers, though, there may always be a small segment who will never let go of their feature phones or landlines. In any case, the rapidly changing state of telecom and the connected word is ruthlessly ushering in a new era for the rest of business. The dominance of the internet across social and economic spheres makes it increasingly difficult to conduct the basics of modern life without the help of a slim, app-enabled device in your pocket.

The use of a smartphone has become not just a personal preference, but also a necessity for business. As the smartphone becomes even smarter and more personalized with the help of AI, it’s harder to imagine a future working world that isn’t essentially designed around it.

In the end, it’s not just the desk phone, but the office itself that is being dislodged by a radical new way of working and living. In this rapidly advancing world, the desk phone has a rather precarious future, and will likely acquire a second life only in a virtualized form. 

Let's Just Talk

Legacy office phone systems like hosted PBX were too expensive and too frustrating. They weren't made for the mobile world we live in today. New systems like business VoIP services and SIP phones were less expensive, but still far too complex for the average small business. The consumer app market has changed what business buyers expect from a turnkey solution. 

Spoke is a next-generation virtual phone system, designed to transform the phones that your employees already love into a global mobile network, with local numbers in 56 countries.

In researching how employees at small companies actually use their phones, we've found out that less is more. The intuitive Spoke interface contains all the business phone line essentials that small businesses want and none of the bells and whistles that distract employees from doing their work.

Spoke is as easy to install and easy to use, yet powerful enough to replace your office phone system, eliminating up to 88% of your telecom costs.

Contact us for an interactive demo or a free trial and let's figure out how we can get you talking.