When the Internet Ate the Phone

You’ve got five new hires coming in for their first day, a meeting about a new product planned for 2 p.m. and a prospective client who might call in any time. The problem? You had to leave the office unexpectedly first thing this morning to put out a fire at a remote office.

Scenarios like this one have been terrifying managers for decades. These days, though, they’re a lot less scary because of the increased prevalence of VoIP systems. Short for voice over internet protocol, VoIP covers a huge range of products from fairly simple phone systems to integrated tools that allow for video conferencing, seamless access to office lines from mobile phones and the ability to get detailed information about an office communications network from anywhere.

Aside from email, VoIP is probably one of the biggest factors in the rise in telecommuting among office workers in recent years. Yet occasional breakdowns and poor quality on VoIP systems—most notoriously Skype—have made some suspicious of the technology. Providers are responding to the issue with redundant networks and sometimes the ability to switch over to the regular phone network in the case of a network emergency. The systems require different phones than traditional networks, but they are also usually much less expensive.

A report last year said that 31 percent of installed business lines in North America were VoIP-based, and it predicted adoption would rise to more than 66 percent by 2015. If that turns out to be right, it could mean traditional landlines are on their way to extinction.

Just one example of the ways that modern VoIP systems can change the office landscape is found at California-based ShoreTel Communications. ShorTel can let companies run their own VoIP system internally or handle it for them in the cloud. A firm offering ShorTel consulting can help firms figure out which option works best for them. Either way, a sleek interface offers users a way to monitor employees’ use of the system and quickly plug new workers in. Even people working from a remote location can get immediate access to everything that’s available at the main location through either office or cell phones.

It could be enough to make managers find they don’t really need to go into the office, even on the fullest of days.