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Even before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, imagine telling a teenager that people on busy sidewalks used to walk up to pedestals that had old-school telephones attached and pick up and jam the old-fashioned plastic receiver next to their faces so they could make a phone call—knowing that multiple strangers had done the same thing with the same receiver in the last 24 hours. And that this used to happen all over, in places like Times Square, during an era when Times Square was not the sort of locale where you’d willingly touch any public amenity.

I guess what I’m saying is, maybe now the desk phone really is finished.

The standard line on desk phones’ future has been: Lots of companies will curtail or eliminate their spending on them, but the phones that are already deployed will continue to get used. After all, they’re already there, it’s more trouble to take them away than just leave them, right?

But now as enterprises start planning to reopen their offices, some recommended to-do lists are including the removal of phones. Any piece of office equipment that could be shared, especially if its proper use involves close proximity to people’s noses and mouths, is to be examined carefully, if not eliminated. If we’re talking about wiping down whiteboard markers between uses, then what about the thing that you breathe directly into?

So, it’s possible that some of your communications infrastructure will simply be swept away in the wave of deep cleaning and office reconfigurations that is beginning now and will accelerate in the coming weeks or months. Conference room phones may remain, but conference rooms themselves will be much more sparsely populated.

Much of the guidance for telecom within the new office aims at having people simply use their personal mobile devices for everything, to avoid shared items. And, of course, the shift to mobile devices is something users were already doing for convenience sake, even before the pandemic.

Reception-area phones seem like a no-brainer for removal, but in many offices the state of the art for signing in as a visitor had already progressed to the touch-screen pad running a sign-in app. That probably will have to go, too. Again, the go-to is the user’s own mobile device, so enterprises will likely need to make the sign-in function accessible within the meeting’s calendar entry, the company’s website, or an SMS text notification.

Each enterprise’s return-to-office plan is unique, and there will be variations when it comes to exactly which communications devices must be removed, which are recommended for removal, and which can remain. But the general principle seems to be to get all extraneous stuff out of the offices—desks cleared off every night so they can be disinfected; furniture removed from tighter spaces where it could facilitate gatherings; lockers removed wherever possible.

Your teams likely are already working with those in your enterprise who are leading the back-to-the-office planning. The impacts of this transition will be felt on the communications infrastructure, budgets, and network planning. The process could make you feel like this guy.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair Enterprise Connect & WorkSpace Connect Publisher, No Jitter 

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