If Landlines are Dead, What’s Next on the Tech Hit List?

Today’s workplace is all about mobility, but before you follow PwC’s steps in eliminating all landlines keep in mind that they can be a revenue source for flexible workspaces
  • PwC’s commitment to remove all landlines from its offices is ‘five years too late’
  • Flexible space operators are pushing for more innovative technologies
  • Still, connectivity issues could prevent the complete annihilation of corporate landlines

A few weeks ago, accountancy firm PwC announced it will remove all landlines from office desks by the end of the summer to make way for mobile phones.

This news was met with a collective shrug from most businesses. After all, does anyone still use a landline anymore?

It’s difficult to find definitive numbers on business landline use, but anecdotal evidence does suggest a decline. Neil Usher, an author and executive consultant for design firm Unispace, said: “It’s a surprise that PwC’s announcement is actually news. Once there was a single ringtone and amid the silence, we would wonder if it was ours and reach for it in case – now, it’s a patchwork of barking dogs, heavy metal, and synthesised ditties. We ditched the landline on our own years ago, we didn’t wait for the company to do it – who needed to be tied to the desk?”

This shift from landline to smartphone is (naturally) prevalent in the flexible workspace arena where mobility reigns supreme. Caleb Parker, co-founder and CEO at Space-as-a-Service provider Bold, said:

“I think the PwC move is five years overdue. Personally, I’ve been 100% iPhone since 2011. We won’t have landlines in Bold spaces either. Our customers are people like us who lean into the future. We’re techie, savvy and embrace flexible working, which means we’re often outside of the office.”

As such we’re also very mobile and have apps to replace the static ways of working. So, you won’t find a fax or copy machine in a Bold space. Paper is not efficient. It takes up too much space and requires a physical signature, not to mention the negative environment effects.”

Other flexible workspaces are shifting to far more exotic amenities, as Emily Prichard, brand and content manager at coworking operator Huckletree, explained: “We aren’t seeing any demand for landlines from our members, which reflects the mobile-first nature of businesses in our community. Traditional means of communication have been replaced by video calls and conferences.”

Prichard added: “Conversely, we see high demand, especially from gaming and healthtech startups, for in-house immersive tech kit, so much so that we built a VR Studio at our White City workspace to meet that need. A fun one: we always get requests from our members for sleep pods! Not a tech requirement as yet, but you never know where advancements in napping technology will take us.”

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Nap pods at Google HQ. Image: Alamy.

Nap time is certainly taking precedence among some of tech’s biggest players. Google, for example, installed high-tech nap pods in its offices a few years ago, which look a little like Pac Man’s gone on a murderous rampage of Silicon Valley’s finest…but I digress.

There are downsides to cutting the cord on your landlines, including call quality and organisational control. For example, if you disconnect every landline, you’ll need to make sure you install some robust call forwarding tech to keep your business connected to your customers, clients and colleagues.

Mobile coverage is also an issue, particularly when you move indoors and signals weaken, leading to poor call quality or dropped connections. While distributed antenna systems can help, nearly half of UK workers can’t make calls or use data inside the office, according to a recent survey.

While innovations including the anticipated 5G network and nascent LiFi networks could help to address this connectivity issue using VoIP-based calls, most businesses still need to have landlines in place for emergency situations where, for example, the mobile network may go down.

Landlines also serve an important purpose in the small business space, as Frank Cottle, chairman of the Alliance Business Center group of companies, explained: “Startups and small businesses must have a landline as  it helps them to get a credit rating. You have to remember that PwC is a big corporation. As a result, they are not faced with the same financial or logistic risks if they do not have a landline, plus they do not generate any revenue from having landlines, as flexible workspaces do.”

“There is definitely a blurring of services in this space. Often, you may be ringing what appears to be a landline number and will be unaware that this connection is actually coming across a VoIP network. VoIP can also be used to forward calls to your mobile phone,” Cottle added.