The end of landline phones is upon us. And we won’t miss them. We won’t miss them because everything they currently do will continue to happen.
Most of us already live without them at home, and we still manage to keep in touch with our friends and colleagues just fine through our cell phones. In fact, it’s even better now, because smartphones have personalized audio calls, so anyone can call the specific person they want to talk to, rather than an entire household of people with a shared number and handset.
The same idea applies to our offices, where the same trend is underway, though more slowly. Where now the big plastic lump on your desk can do nothing but make an audio call, soon it will be replaced with a web-based, mobile, multimedia service that’ll still let you listen to the voices of others, but will also bring in video calls, messaging, and the entire internet. Businesses across the country–anecdotally, this transition has already been completed in ahead-of-the-curve areas like Silicon Valley–are ditching their landline handsets for sleek new digital devices connected through their desktops and laptops–and there’s no reason for anyone to turn back now (do you miss public phone booths?).
Once the landlines disappear, your work phone will still ring as it always has, and your colleagues’ phones will still ring, but when you answer, there’ll be a human face on the other end, not a disembodied voice.
The Move Toward a Phoneless Desk
The phoneless office is already a reality for one of the world’s business heavyweights. KPMG, one of the Big 4 accounting firms and auditor of 96 Fortune 500 companies, last year pulled the plug on all of the desktop phones in its Canadian offices. That left around 5,000 employees to use their laptops and desktops for voice calls. The company has switched to Skype for Business for audio and video, with calls of both kinds rerouted to mobiles when employees are away from the office.
KPMG is not alone in Canada, either. It has been reported that two-thirds of Canadian organizations have at least some staff working without office phones, while a third of all employees are entirely dependent on smartphones and web apps.
The same trend holds true in the U.S., where 31% of businesses use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), even if they haven’t totally abandoned the landline. Businesses haven’t been as quick to ditch the landline as residential users–only half of U.S. homes have a landline, as opposed to 90% in 2004, and AT&T is trying to disconnect the service across the state of Illinois for lack of use–but that acronym, VoIP, is becoming more and more common.
VoIP Makes It Easy to Ditch the Landline
VoIP performs one basic trick, which then enables a whole slew of internet-based possibilities–it turns analog signals into digital data. In the case of communications, that analog signal is the human voice. Once our voices become digital, they can be transported around the web as fast as pieces of computer/electronic information, what you’d traditionally understand as data.
The advantage VoIP has over a landline connection is that it can send your voice alongside all kinds of multimedia information, including video, that your desktop phone can’t handle–that, and the fact that it’s much cheaper, potentially even free.
When an employee of a company like KPMG is presented with a VoIP connection, their life is about to get easier. Once they master the new operational mechanics–which mimic the phone’s numeric pad–they can make video calls and audio calls and send messages and emails from a single device.
That’s the key to the landline’s downfall–the switch to a more powerful service is easy for the end user to make, and ultimately, more rewarding.
Once accessing a service like video conferencing becomes easy, you’re left with a level playing field where people can judge the merit of audio-only vs. video on its potential–and video is always going to be the more effective form of communication.
The End of Landline Phones Means Video Trumps Audio
The current champions in the fight against landline phones are the workplace collaboration apps that have sprung up following the success of Slack. These messaging and video calling services link every member of a team through a Facebook-like interface that puts them in instant communication with each other. If they want to speak to each other they can hit a button and be face-to-face in seconds over a video call. During that call they can message others, exchange files, and watch multimedia streams. No landline was ever that efficient.
Externally, every business wants to have as many open channels between itself and its customers as possible, and combining video and messaging with audio from the same device makes that easier. With the fading away of landlines, we believe video will become the default desktop reality for the average employee.
Ultimately, however, video will triumph over audio because the conversation is better. Video takes in all the human facial movements, gestures, and social eye contact that audio leaves behind, leaving users feeling more connected and more certain that no signals were crossed or subtleties missed. VoIP is making this possible, and making our offices a little more like our homes–landline-less.