Office desk phone dying? Millennials at Chattanooga's startup companies don't have them

Office desk phone dying? Millennials at Chattanooga's startup companies don't have them

April 3rd, 2016 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Freelance graphic designer Ben Dicks makes a business call on his cell phone Monday, March 28, 2016 in the Edney Building.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

“A landline? No, not since 2000 and … never.”
James Cowan CEO of Chattanooga startup business ProviderLinc

POLL: Could you live without an office landline phone?

The office desk phone is dead. Long live the smart phone.

That sums it up for many Millennials working in Chattanooga's startup business community.

"We don't even have landlines at all," said Mary Stargel, the "community manager" at Society of Work, a shared office space on the sixth floor of the Edney Building, the 10-story office building at the corner of 11th and Market streets that's considered the hub of Chattanooga's new downtown Innovation District.

"There's just no need for it," Stargel said. "You assume that someone's going to have their [smart] phone on them at all times."

James Cowan is CEO of ProviderLinc, a startup business with its office at Society of Work that offers "turnkey" telemedicine services so doctors and other medical providers can connect to their patients through a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Cowan doesn't have a landline desk phone at work or at home.

"A landline? No, not since 2000 and never," Cowan said.

Nearly half of U.S. homes no longer have a landline phone and rely on cellphones instead, according to the Center for Disease Conntrol in Atlanta, which tracks the share of the population that uses landlines. The number of residential phone users who cut the cord and have gone cellphone-only has climbed for more than a decade, now, surpassing even the households with both a landline and a mobile phone.

But offices and work places have been slower to abandon landline phones.

That seems to be changing, though, as Millennials continue to enter the workforce.

Millennials are "digital natives." Carrying on multiple conversation over digital platforms has become second nature. Email, text messaging, instant messaging and social media are all communication tools that can be done simultaneously with several people — and provide alternatives to the staid, old office desk phone.

But some experts insist voice phone communication with a dedicated desk phone is still essential for businesses — and it's a mistake to do away with them completely.

"When it comes to your business, accessibility should really be valued," said Charlotte Franklin, an account representative at Chattanooga-based Signal Voice and Data.

It sells state-of-the-art office desk phone systems that use voice over Internet protocol (VOIP), a technology that routes phone calls through the Internet, rather than a traditional landline service.

The desk phone systems can integrate with smartphones, she said. For example, you can forward a call to your work phone from the office phone. And you can check messages left at your office phone using a smartphone app.

"We're kind of a happy medium," Franklin said. "You have a business phone system, but you have all of the independence of having cell phones."

In Chattanooga, where EPB's fiber optic network offers the fastest citywide Internet speeds of any community in North America, the appeal and reliability of routing calls over the Internet is better than in many cities.

Cowan plans to use the Society of Work's 10-gigabit EPB Internet connection to set up a phone bank for ProviderLinc.

"We're going to be setting up a call center, and everything's going to be VOIP," he said.

A few blocks away, desk phones are scarce in startup business offices inside the Loveman's Building, a former flagship downtown department store that's now home to a collection of creative businesses and workers in Chattanooga's "entrepreneurial ecosystem," including VaynerMedia, a social media-focused marketing business that also has offices in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"I don't think we have one [landline] phone in this office," said Cory Williams, a Chattanooga VaynerMedia account manager. "We all use cell phones."

VaynerMedia doesn't list any phone numbers on its website. Potential clients email first. Then, when a VaynerMedia employee calls back, they use their personal cell phone, which is listed in their contact information, instead of a company desk phone.

"It's never been part of our DNA," Williams said. "It's always been digital first — as our company slogan goes."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.