Why Do I Need a Desk Phone?

"Tell me again why I need a desk phone?" Such is the question I heard last year from a client after building up the value of using a communications technology consultant.

We were there to assist in designing the company's network infrastructure, redundancy, and business continuity plans. We discussed Wi-Fi coverage, cellular usage and needs, PRI contractual commitments, and features of the installed phone system. And after all the discussion, I got a polite but perplexed look asking the desk phone question.

And I thought, "Wait a minute...this IS a good question."

So how did we get here, and what's next? Over the past 10 years, the consumer industry has had a strong influence in the workplace. It used to be the other way around. Remember when everyone started canceling land lines at home? Then employees wanted to use their own smartphones instead of carry two (one for work, one for personal). This brought on the bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, movement.

Now many employees are questioning why they should have a desk phone at all. The smaller and more mobile organizations are going first. Here are the typical follow-up questions:

  1. If my work number rings my cell phone (twinning), why have a desk phone?
  2. If I get an app for making and receiving calls, as well as messaging and even texting through my work phone system, why have a desk phone?
  3. If the phone system/service has software integrated into the desktop computer, why have a desk phone?
  4. If I'm away from my desk but reachable at my smartphone, I'm more productive. Why can't I do the same thing in the office?

Technology, collaboration, and a good work/life balance are three of the six things Millennials want at work (and to keep them from quitting), according to Inc. columnist Larry Kim, formerly CTO of WordStream, which he founded, and now CEO of his latest startup, MonkeyMobility. Letting them use their own smartphones, or even tablets and laptops, allows for flexibility in the workplace, encourages team collaboration (with the right platforms for communication), and even leads to greater productivity since work isn't confined to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and in the office.

Keep in mind we are NOT talking about removing phone systems or hosted VoIP service, just the phones on the desk. And we are not talking about employees choosing to communicate with others via the platform du jour (Apple FaceTime, Slack, WhatsApp, etc). So this causes some head-scratching for IT staff and their own questions:

  1. Fewer phones means fewer devices to support on the network. Is this a good thing?
  2. Does IT now have to support staffs' personal devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops)?
  3. Troubleshooting poor call quality is more complex when dealing with smartphones or Bluetooth devices connected to the desktop PC. Do we really want to take on that?!

Of course, you have to consider alternative factors, too:

  1. Cellular call quality in your office(s)
  2. Does the app use cell minutes or data (VoLTE), which also affects call quality?
  3. Cellular data plan allowances
  4. Wi-Fi coverage and ability to prioritize voice calls via app
  5. Possible additional cost for softphone on the desktop and/or smartphone
  6. If your PC is slow, software needs upgrading, or the smartphone is lost or damaged, you're out of luck

More than 95% of American adults have a cell phone (77% smartphone), according to Pew Research Center, and everybody likes options. Perhaps a coworker has asked you "why do I need a desk phone?" Communications technology continues to go through significant changes. Make sure you are adapting too.