No more office phones – why the business landline is dying out

As the office phone performs a vanishing act, we explore why and how businesses have been replacing the traditional desktop landline.

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When did you last use the office phone? The days of being chained to your desk by the curling cable of your landline are long gone. Most of us are now accustomed to answering communications from customers, clients or colleagues while we’re on the go.

This may involve juggling Slacks and calls on your business mobile (or personal phone), or taking video calls over Teams and Zoom – a lasting business change of our lockdown working habits during the pandemic, plus younger generations aversion to picking up.

One thing's for sure – with traditional landlines being phased out entirely by 2025, office managers have a decision to make on whether to keep VoIP-powered desktop phones, or simply cut the cord completely.

Why are office phones dying?

Renaud Charvet, founder of business communications platform Ringover has some bad news for the office phone – its impending extinction. “Over the past 12 years, business landlines have decreased by an average of 374k per year,” he says. “This continued rate would see the extinction of office phones by 2036.”

In the business phone’s place has come mobile data use, increasing by 1964% in just over eight years. Charvet says the phone’s demise is due to the march of improved technology. “Most people don't lament the death of a typewriter; the death of the office phone is a similar situation where technology changes and businesses adapt.” Renaud says that there are still several years where the office phone will continue to be part of life, so smaller businesses can keep using one “if that’s what suits them in their first days of growth”.

Businesses are also increasingly looking for cost-effective alternatives so the shift away from office phones aligns with a broader trend of streamlining operational expenses. “It is always worth considering costs and benefits against what your individual business requires to grow and perform effectively,” Charvet advises. “Don’t let an old phone hold back your growth.” For example, VoIP operates over the internet, which most businesses already have, so no need for extra lines to be installed at extra cost.

What are the alternatives?

Entrepreneurs and business owners have several effective solutions to bypass the office phone altogether.

These include

Virtual Assistants

Freelance virtual assistants can answer your calls as well as handle other administrative tasks for your business remotely.

Physiotherapist Nell Mead, from London, says this is effective for her business – she can’t be answering the phone during client appointments and does not want to miss any clients or potential clients. “My team is worth its weight in gold for me,” she says. The VA service also answers Mead’s emails so that everyone is dealt with quickly.

Cloud-based  or VOIP phone systems

If you don’t want a regular landline but still need a more traditional phone system for several employees, these systems can give you this functionality.

VOIP (or Voice Over Internet Protocol) allows you to make all your calls over the internet, making it cheaper and providing functions such as video conference and file sharing. Derek Bruce, Operations Director for first aid business First Aid at Work Course says that these systems are more affordable than traditional office phones for his business.

Cloud-based telecoms services, unlike more traditional VOIP systems, require no hardware to set up. “These present an attractive model for small businesses,” Bruce says. These phone systems can also often accommodate remote workers because they work across mobiles and computers as well, making them more useful for today’s hybrid workplaces.

Paul Needler runs iParcelbox, a business that provides ‘safe places’ for parcel delivery. He uses a remote computer system over the internet to handle all incoming calls, emails and chat. “Everything is virtual, so customers can contact us by email, chat or by phone, and it all comes through to our computer or phone,” he says. “That gives us the flexibility to be able to interact with customers even when we’re not in the office, without having to hand out mobile numbers.”

No phone at all

Some businesses prefer to do away with call functionality altogether, relying entirely on email.

We killed the phone due to costs and thought it might cost us some customers but that hasn’t been the case,” says baker Reshmi Bennett, who founded Anges De Sucre bakery in Brentford. “It’s helped productivity as well – no more breaking off doing what I’m doing to answer the phone- helped traceability and records as everything in writing via email, and helped my sanity.”

Of course, no office phone hardly means ‘no phone' full stop. Staff may well be expected to take calls on their mobiles throughout the day, meaning business owners may wish to consider subsidising costs by providing a business mobile plan as a benefit.

Keeping the connection

Whatever your business chooses to do when it comes to office phones, ensuring your customers can still connect with you and receive a timely response is key.

Tessa Cobley, who sells pest control insects for gardeners through her business Ladybird Plantcare, says that when she started out, speaking to her customers on the phone helped her to connect with the community she was serving. “It was essential for my immersion in the wants and needs of my customers as it gave me real insight into my users,” she says. Now her business is more established, she has moved away from answering her phone herself,  firstly using a paid-for answering service, and now gradually phasing it out altogether. “I can serve people better via email,” she admits.

If you aren’t connecting via phone, though, it’s important that the systems you are using allow customers to connect with your services and brand.

Bryan Clayton, CEO of lawn mowing business GreenPal says that most of us don’t want to pick up a phone any more but expect “quick, seamless service interactions without ever having to pick up a phone.” He explains, “The key lies in leveraging technology to build efficient communication networks. Tools like CRM systems integrated with chat functions, automated SMS updates, and user-friendly mobile apps are becoming essential. They not only streamline operations but also enhance the customer experience.”

Switching off

While larger businesses still might want a separate telecoms system, even if it is cloud-based, smaller businesses are more likely to rely on employee’s own laptops or other devices loaded with software such as Zoom and Teams to ensure that connections occur.

Mark Knops, founder and CEO of Office Search Agency, Sketch Labs, says that one of the problems with this is that employees and business founders are ‘always on’ “People are “wired in” more, unable to detach from work as their phones become their lifetime companion and livelihood,” he says. “This means that whilst it's advantageous to have your mobile connected to emails and be the main number to call, it's not always good and can cause heightened stress and burnout.”

He says that email blockers disabling emails after a certain hour are best practice, while business cards should have business telephones first and mobiles second. “Embrace technology such as chat bots for enquiries after work hours,” he suggests. 

A money-saving, customer-serving brave new world

While office phones look increasingly obsolete, the world of cloud-based telecoms systems could save your company money. If you embrace digital communication tools, from chatbots to online video conferencing software, your connections between employees and customers should not suffer either.

If you are mindful of keeping a connection with customers and ensuring staff get a break from being ‘always on’, digital communication could boost your business. 

“The demise of the office phone isn't something to fear; it's an opportunity to innovate and better meet the evolving needs of your customers,” Knops concludes.

Why wait until 2036?

You may also be interested in how audio clarity on phone calls can improve your customer experience.

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