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How is remote work affecting enterprise telephony?

Enterprise telephony is on the decline as remote and home-based workers lack access to enterprise phone systems or seek alternative modes of communication.

The utility of enterprise telephony was changing well before the pandemic, but the effect of COVID-19 added some new challenges -- especially with the rise of work from home. In broader terms, desk phone usage in the office has been declining, not only due to changing technology, but also because digital natives prefer other modes of communication.

Remote working is another trend that has been affected by the pandemic. With working from home becoming the norm now for many businesses, enterprise telephony as we know it is finding fewer use cases. Two factors in particular are at play here.

The phone's changing form

The first factor is many employees are working from home for the first time, so they won't have IP phones that tie into the enterprise phone system. And, with the rise of mobility, most employees have also given up their home-based landlines. Unless the business furnishes employees with an IP phone, they won't have a dedicated telephony endpoint for work-related voice calls.

Most wireless devices are not a viable substitute for desk phones, and given how important voice communication is for everyday productivity, home-based workers need something better. In most cases, businesses don't provide employees with IP phones. Instead, telephony is migrating to PC-based options. Consumer-grade applications, like Skype, are one option, but increasingly, businesses are using softphone clients that provide PBX-like functionality. Web-based voice over IP quality today is good enough to make softphones the go-to application for standalone telephony.

The rise of multimodal communications

The second factor speaks to a broader trend for supporting employees at home. Home-based workers won't have the standardized set of tools and applications they would normally have in an office, which is where unified communications (UC) and collaboration platforms come into play. The more distributed the workforce, the more productivity will suffer if everyone is using their own tools to collaborate, so this challenge goes well beyond just supporting telephony.

IT decision-makers have turned to UC during the pandemic, mainly because it provides that consistent set of tools -- including telephony -- and UX to enable home-based workers to stay productive. Enterprise telephony in its conventional form will continue to decline, not only because other telephony options are more practical, but because IT needs a more holistic approach to support the multichannel communications needs of employees working from home.

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