Who thinks the desk phone is dead? It depends on whom you ask. Analysts, journalists, and businesses will lean one way or the other, depending on two factors: what they are selling, and which one they prefer using themselves. The fact that one can argue either side fairly compellingly says something in itself: there is a need for both.
Increasingly Mobile Workforce
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), softphones, and mobile sharing apps make it possible to take your work with you anywhere. In fact 3 out of 5 workers say they do not need to be in the office to be productive, according to Mashable. You have to wonder if these employees were used to working away from the office (preceding softphones) and suffering from the lack of communications prior to the advances in mobility? Or, has the number of remote workers significantly increased due to the availability and adoption of mobile communications options? It’s probably a mix of both. One thing is certain – research shows the mobile workforce continues to grow, even if it's not completely taking over the traditional norm of the 9-to-5 desk workers. And this move away from the desktop is influencing softphone use. Sure, you can use a softphone at your desk with a headset (and many do), but the rise in mobility continues to play an important role in the increased usage of softphones.
Many Employees Still Need, Want Desk Phones
Even with all the hype surrounding mobility and softphones, there is still a need for the desk phone. A global survey by Forrester indicates that 7 out of 10 workers still spend 4 to 5 days a week at an assigned desk with 88 percent of phone calls still made from a desk. The same survey indicates that more than half of work-related calls are actually made using a desk phone. In a recent Pew Research Center survey of currently employed adults with Internet access, 35 percent say that desk phones are “very important” to their jobs, while only 24 percent say the same of mobile phones. Also, Enterprise Connect Co-Chair Eric Krapf claims millennials actually prefer the desk phone, which he says serves as a symbol of job security for the generation.
Do We Have to Decide?
Rob Arnold, the principal analyst for Information and Communications Technology at Frost & Sullivan, says this about desk phones:
“People are not throwing away their existing investments. In fact, our research shows a single-digit increase in the volume of IP desk phones shipped over the last couple of years, and we expect to see that happen with a small incremental increase year-after-year. In 2014, just about 20 million IP phones shipped globally. That has really been driven by the increase in SIP phones and IP media phones. What that is telling us is that the number of devices per user is actually growing. So users do have mobile phones, but they’re not ditching their desk phones. This is also because these newer phones, and the back-end systems behind those phones, are delivering more value to the desktop in terms of functionality.”
Softphones enable remote workers to have access to the same features available on their desk phones - bridging the gap between desk phones and mobile phones. According to a survey by Software Advice, the advantages of using a softphone include ease of working remotely and ease of software integrations. The same survey also found that the main advantages of a desk phone included reliability and audio quality. Here are some more key findings:
- Among organizations with VoIP service, desk phones are still the most widely adopted phone type, used by 64 percent of the sample.
- A majority of respondents (54 percent) say they’re equally comfortable using softphones and traditional hardware phones to communicate.
- Desk phones remain popular even among employees who spend half of their week (or more) working remotely.
- Approximately 74 percent of respondents who spend at least half their week working remotely use a softphone on a daily basis.
While mobility is increasingly considered a business-critical function in a modern unified communications (UC) solution, it's worth noting that oftentimes the mobility feature is one of the hidden "gotchas" that drive up costs. Many providers charge an extra fee to include mobility, and charge that fee on a per-user and annual basis, adding thousands of dollars to your communications costs. For a better ROI, look for a solution that includes the mobility feature for every user at no additional cost.
As the above results (and other research) shows, all IP devices play a role within today's business environment. If your business chooses a premises-based UC phone system, having a mobility feature and softphone option for employees allows your team the flexibility to work when, how, and where they want, without losing the functionality that's inherent with the office phone system.
When deciding whether or not the ability for employees to work remotely is worthwhile, consider some of the many benefits it offers. Not only does the flexibility to work remotely increase productivity, it can also decrease overall costs. Additionally, having a workforce that is enabled to work off-site is often part of any disaster recovery plan to keep your business functioning in the event of a natural disaster or any type of event that could disrupt business at your primary site.
The mixed use of desk phones and softphones is the popular resolution due to the variety within the workplace and the need for both mobility and reliability. Wherever your allegiance lies, carefully plan your communications strategy based on the real needs of your employees, which may very well be a combination of both desk phones and softphones.
Cora Cloud is Digium's Content Marketing Specialist. She has over seven years of sales and marketing experience, working with businesses on their content and social media strategies. She worked full time while attending the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and graduated with honors, earning her degrees in Marketing and Communication Arts. She enjoys writing about Unified Communications, mobility, and millennials, and other topics to help keep SMBs informed about business communications.