What the death of the landline tells us about how we work

TelephoneOne of the items that always used to grace the brochures of office furniture companies when I started work in that particular industry was a telephone table. For the uninitiated, this was used as a home for the office landline, shared by a team of people, who were often expected to take turns to answer when it rang. It came with a shelf for telephone directories, fax machine and a Rolodex. This might all seem quaint or, if you’re under 25, make absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it was under twenty years ago. One by one the items involved in this particular workplace scenario have vanished. But like the Cheshire Cat’s smile, the telephone itself has remained. Until now, that is.

JFK PhoneA new survey of 300 telephone system buyers commissioned by RingCentral confirms what many of us observe in our daily lives: people prefer to use their mobile phones, even when sitting at their desk or and right next to a landline. Over half of people now do this according to the research. Over two-thirds (70 percent) believe their office landlines will eventually be completely replaced by mobile handsets, with younger workers most likely to believe this.

margaretthatcher2There is something symbolic about this shift. For one thing, it will mark the end of a longstanding tradition of portraying work for the powerful as making a call on a landline. Work was a desk, a phone and some paper.  And maybe, this iconography will continue for presidents and prime ministers because the landline is more secure than a mobile phone.

David CAmeron phoneBut for the rest of us, it seems the landline is on its way out and the swapping of a phone with a cable for one which emits microwaves is symbolic of the untethering of work from place. The RingCentral survey characteristically links the trend it identifies with BYOD practices and it has a point. The smartphone we use and pay for ourselves even when there’s a free-to-use line right under our noses shows just how enamoured we are with this particular piece of technology and how willingly we are blurring the boundaries between our private and working lives.