The lump of plastic of your desk is only going to become more redundant, says Matt Warman. But what are the other options?
On almost every desk up and down the country, there sits an old-fashioned piece of plastic – the landline. And if you ever want to actually get in touch with somebody, their mobile remains a much surer bet. Indeed, in many offices the landline only rings with unwanted cold callers.
Unsurprisingly, from trials to freedom of information requests, today it is an individual’s text messages that are treated as the best way of seeing who they had a real relationship with. Records of calls to a landline seem scarcely relevant.
But landline phones are not just a problem because they no longer represent the best way to get in touch with somebody: they cost every business money, and they provide a frustrating channel of communication the checking of which wastes time. While some users like the idea of a work phone and personal phone, a host of technologies exist that can route calls to a mobile phone and can easily be used to automatically send them to a voicemail outside of office hours. For my money, the best voicemail greeting says “Don’t leave a message; email me.” And if a worker’s job requires only a phone, they should arguably be working from home anyway.
In part, this is why a growing number of start-ups are skipping the landline altogether, and why a growing number of bigger businesses are going mobile-only. It’s no surprise that Vodafone or Samsung should think mobile first, but with a few basic services, anyone can now do it. And it’s worth noting that mobile phones give users the key freedom to be able to reject calls too.
If I had to choose one transformational service it would be the excellent Hullomail: in short this adds the ‘visual voicemail’ of the iPhone, but supercharges it to make it invaluable.
So not only do messages come in like they do to your inbox, with a sender, but voice recognition transcribes the first few sentences and gives you a rough idea of who it is, what they want and what you need to do. It saves what can easily add up to hours listening to messages.
It also means you can search messages, and receive alerts of missed calls even if your phone was off or out of coverage. The additional ability to email messages to colleagues shows a joined-up, cloud-based service that reminds quite how antiquated the desk phone is. And it costs £39.99 a year.
There’s a coming wave in a similar vein though: increasingly it’s clear that businesses are wasting frightening amounts of time with email too. According to Contatta, which aims to make email more collaborative, on average workers spend 13 hours of their working week reading and answering email.
Whether Contatta’s solution is the right one or not, they’re right to point out that email itself is a system that’s 20 years old and has been little changed by a world that has embraced instant messaging, social networking and self-destructing Snapchats. Try telling a new recruit fresh out of university that email is the main way of communicating and they may well look as incredulous as if you told them to use the landline.
None of this is to say that the importance of communication has diminished – but it’s reasonable to hope that technology can make business more efficient at every level. And that may mean that you even get to make more space on your desk.