Are Businesses Hanging Up Their Landlines for Good?

Varun Bhanot
Varun Bhanot|

As originally published on Virgin

We’ve all experienced the instant regret when we take a chance on picking up the landline only to find ourselves roped into a conversation with an obscure relative, double-glazing salesman or – worse – the startling allegation that we might have been mis-sold PPI.
It is therefore little wonder that as mobile devices and remote applications become the most popular modes of communication, at least one in three people now confess to ignoring their landlines altogether.

This trend has begun to spill over into the workplace too. People choosing to contact colleagues and clients, now use mobile numbers as first preference, and company hotlines are actually diverted to mobiles. As a result, some offices are ridding themselves of a landline completely.

Lack of availability and mobility have been cited as key reasons for the landline decline but it also due to broader changes in the flexibility of the workplace. As workers begin to hot-desk more, work from co-working environments and travel all over for meetings, a landline has become more of an inconvenience than a necessity.

Here at Hubble, we chose not to have a landline along with the other start-ups in our shared office. The reasons for this were that, like many others, we wanted an office that was simply ‘plug and play’. We could just set down with our laptops, a nice flat white coffee, pick up our mobile phones and get to work. For companies that are focused on high growth, it means their offices will probably change every year or so, as they outgrow their immediate environment. As a result, fixing in wires is a big hassle.

In addition, the rise of free WiFi calling services such as Aircall and Whatsapp Calling has helped accelerate the shift away from landlines. The former of which has meant that businesses can mask their numbers with a landline code, while in fact diverting to a mobile, which of course can be reached anytime, in any location. Landlines fix us to a specific spot and a restriction to business hours. WiFi calling or Voice Over IP (VOIP) has also led to the rise of phone substitutes such as Skype for Business which has arguably replaced the need to meet for face to face meetings and has pushed video conference calling into the mainstream.Newly launched broadband companies such as Relish have recognised this need and offered an innovative solution in the form of a wireless router. This provides WiFi without the need for line rental. If a phone line is not needed for the internet, then it is certainly not needed for calling. Relish is therefore a particularly smart option for companies of 20 employees or more, pop-up shops, coffee shops and companies moving offices.

Indeed it could be further argued that we are experiencing a shift away from phone calling altogether. Savvy entrepreneurs have taken the opportunity to innovate through start-ups such as oLark and Intercom.

Using such tools, internet site users can be directly targeted via a little chat box that pops up on certain web pages. Intercom allows users to be targeted by tailored emails depending on certain criterion; making the process perhaps almost as personal as a direct call. Using such online methods also helps start-ups capture user information and refer them to pages and links easily and quickly, which would have been slower and more cumbersome over the phone. These simple tools have meant that businesses have relegated use of a typical landline to a last resort option.

At Hubble, we’ve found that start-ups and new businesses have begun to care more about having access to bike racks, 24 hour usage and whether pets are allowed in the workplace, than whether there is a working landline set up. This is due to the plethora of alternatives to a landline that now exist. It is simply not deemed a necessity any more. Many smaller businesses prefer to invest in smart phones for their employees and cover their bills. Paying telecommunications providers for line rental is seen as inefficient and bureaucratic – especially for a workforce that is increasingly dispersed and works to flexible hours.

Larger and professional industry businesses might take longer to transition to landlines as their workflow and client base is more predictable and usually centralised at a main headquarters. But as hot-desking and client site working becomes more common, mobile devices will start to take priority over fixed lines. A company ultimately will need to access its workforce no matter where they are, at whatever time they require. A landline will always be a prohibiter to this.

One in four people in the UK do not know their own home phone number, and more than half confessed to “rarely or never” really using theirs. While the decline of the landline has not fully spilled over to the workplace just yet, it is slowly creeping in. It could be said that the scope for innovation in the workplace is perhaps broader than that for homes, as businesses are constantly finding new and more personal methods of communicating with their client base and colleagues. Ultimately, it will be a race to find the most efficient modes of communication amongst an increasingly mobile and fragmented workforce, and this will almost certainly result in people hanging up their landlines for good.

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