The telephone has evolved drastically in the roughly 140 years since Alexander Graham Bell filed the first patent for the transformative communications device. The goal of Bell’s invention was to transmit sounds telegraphically, and over the years, the technology evolved to the point where it displaced the telegraph altogether.
The telephone certainly marks a critical milestone in the evolution of communications technology in the business world. But over the past 20-so years, we’ve gradually seen the phone displaced by email. In fact, recent research indicates that employees send and receive roughly 120 emails each day, or one every four minutes.
Employees and their co-workers and external business partners rarely have the same schedules. To have a productive phone call, both members of the conversation have to be available at the same time. With email, however, people can send and receive messages when the time is most convenient for them. But there is also a drawback to this communication platform: there is a finite amount of time in the workday, and theoretically, there’s no shortage to the amount of emails that can be sent to an employee. In other words, an employee could receive an infinite number of emails on any given day and not have the time to properly respond to them all. As a result, inboxes often get cluttered—quickly.
Because of this conundrum, businesses started embracing instant messaging platforms, allowing their employees to communicate with their co-workers and external business partners in real time. Initially, many businesses leveraged public instant messaging platforms like AOL Instant Messenger and Skype.
But, alas, communications technology had to evolve yet again because of the lack of security on those networks. As such, businesses moved toward unified communications solutions that allowed their employees to enjoy the benefits of instant messaging, video, voice and presence in a secure manner within company walls.
Today, however, thanks to the evolution of technology, workers are regularly collaborating with external business partners. These relationships thrive on real-time communication. But in many cases, businesses have disparate unified communications solutions that can’t interoperate. As a result, many turn to UC federation services that allow workers on one platform to communicate with business partners on another.
Thanks to the rise of smartphones, we’re beginning to see the next stage in the evolution of business communications. These days, employees are constantly on the go. Luckily, mobile devices have evolved to the point where workers can be just as productive as they are in the office from anywhere, so long as an Internet connection is available. Thanks to the rise of the mobile worker, we’re seeing more employees communicate with their co-workers and external business partners via text messages and SMS.
Years ago, business was mostly conducted via in-person meetings, snail mail, fax machines and telephones. In the ensuing years, email largely displaced fax machines and snail mail, and video conferencing technology has reduced the frequency of many in-person meetings. On top of that, the combination of email and instant messaging has also largely displaced the telephone.
While we expect that voice communication will remain an integral part of business communication for the foreseeable future, it appears as though the desk phone may very well become a thing of the past sooner than we think. The proliferation of both softphone technology and mobile devices—not to mention the bring your own device (BYOD) movement—has pretty much made desk phones obsolete when you stop to think about it.
After all, why should businesses spend money on desk phones when their workers are mobile and many are bringing their own smartphones to work anyway? As more businesses embrace the BYOD movement, we can expect that it’s only a matter of time before the analog desk phone goes the way of the dodo bird.
One can’t help but wonder what kinds of communications technologies will displace instant messaging and video conferencing. But if history shows us anything, we can expect that something eventually will.