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5 steps to manage desktop phone systems for hybrid work

Even as hybrid work gains traction and video communications grows, some employees still prefer using desktop phones. Supporting these devices means making sure they're up to date.

When it comes to desktop phones, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. Despite the rapid growth of remote work and the expanded use of video, desktop phone system deployments remain important in the communications landscape.

Indeed, almost a third of companies plan to expand their use of desktop phones, according to a 2021 study by Metrigy that polled 395 organizations around the world. The report, "Unified Communications Management and Endpoints," also found that nearly a quarter of respondents said employees still preferred desktop phones to headsets, while almost 23% provided desktop phones to remote employees who wanted them.

Those preferring desktop phones cite a variety of reasons, among them better sound quality without risk of interference or Bluetooth drops; availability of features, including shared line appearances and speed dial buttons; and, finally, the good old message waiting indicator light. In addition to individual use, desktop phones remain a mainstay of meeting rooms, common areas, reception desks and call center agent installations.

Successfully supporting a desktop phone system installation requires the following:

  1. Giving users a choice. If you don't allow desktop phones, you don't have to worry about supporting them. But given a significant percentage of employees still want a phone, it makes sense to provide desktop phones as an available option.
  2. Ensuring performance. Traditionally, desktop phones connect to networks via wired Ethernet, with network administrators provisioning them onto their own VPN. This prioritizes voice over other less delay- and jitter-sensitive traffic. Today, desktop phones often connect to Wi-Fi networks or to PCs via USB. This makes voice prioritization challenging unless it can be accomplished through the Wi-Fi access points. To that end, proactive testing and voice performance management -- all the way to the phone -- is critical.
  3. Integrating the phone and the desktop. Deciding between a softphone and desktop phone doesn't have to be an either/or decision. Most calling platforms today support integration, letting employees answer or control a call via a desktop app while using the desktop phone as an audio device.
  4. Adding new capabilities on a regular basis. Some modern desktop phones can charge mobile phones, and they often include features that allow users to connect their devices, via Bluetooth, with headsets or mobile phones. Features like background noise elimination and voice-to-text are also increasingly available. Regularly refreshing desktop phone deployments lets you take advantage of these new capabilities as they are introduced.
  5. Managing devices. Desktop phone deployments require companies to proactively oversee provisioning, control inventory and manage voice performance. Most phone vendors provide management apps designed to give support personnel easy access to configuration information. In some cases, these apps are integrated with IT service management and unified communications management platforms. Don't ignore the need to manage endpoints.
Deciding between a softphone and desktop phone doesn't have to be an either/or decision. Most calling platforms today support integration, allowing employees to answer or control a call via a desktop app while using the desktop phone as an audio device.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, ensure all desktop phone system deployments support Kari's Law and RAY BAUM's Act requirements in the United States as well as adhere to local emergency service regulations in other countries. This means that if a user places a 911 call from a desktop phone, that call must be routed to the appropriate emergency call center or public safety answering point with location information accurate enough to ensure speedy dispatch. On-site security personnel must also be notified. Supporting this capability is particularly important when providing desktop phones to remote employees. You can't assume the phone sitting on a desk in a home office won't be used to dial 911.

Desktop phones are likely to be around for a long time, and their capabilities will continue to improve. Successfully supporting desktop phones requires proactive management, smart integration and a focus on optimizing employees' experience.

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