Desk phones going the way of the fax machine

Some Canadian companies are replacing desk phones with cellphones to provide freedom inside and outside the office.

Why some companies are throwing out desktop telephones and computers

You won't find a desktop phone at the Canadian headquarters for De Beers in Calgary. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Walk through the new Canadian headquarters for global diamond giant De Beers and you'll notice that typical desk phones are missing. It's deliberate.

Some desktop computers still exist, but employees are more likely to work on a tablet. Phone calls are made using a headset on those devices or using a cellphone. No desk phones allowed. 

I can integrate work and life and be a little bitmore successful inboth.- Cori Morris, ATB Financial

The company wanted an office where employees can move around to join colleagues for a meeting or walk into a conference room and begin giving a presentation with ease.

More companies may jump on the bandwagon, considering Rogers Communications is pledging to ditch the desk phone and urge business customers to use wireless devices that can perform all of the same tasks, according to a report in the Globe and Mail last week.

De Beers has about 65 employees at its headquarters, so the switch was much easier for the company than for ATB Financial, an Alberta bank with a workforce of 5,000.

ATB says its mobile workforce initiative, introduced five years ago, has been an overwhelming success. 
Some companies are replacing desk phones with cellphones to provide freedom inside and outside the office. (Associated Press)

Freedom from 9-5

ATB says productivity is up, real estate requirements are down, and it's easier to attract and retain employees. 

One of those workers is Cori Morris, an HR adviser who works from home the majority of time. With a laptop and a cellphone, she has the freedom to work when and where she wants.

"[I'm] very flexible with the type of hours I work. I have a two-year-old, so heading out of the office to take him to doctor appointments or taking advantage of the fact grocery stores are a little less full on a Tuesday morning as opposed to a Friday afternoon after work," she said. "I can integrate work and life and be a little bit more successful in both."

She lists many other advantages such as less commuting time and increased efficiency.

"I would be hard-pressed to go back to having your standard bum in a chair from nine to five every day," Morris said. 

Cori Morris uses a laptop and cell phone for her job and spends most of her time working away from the office.

7 years ago
Duration 1:34
Featured VideoListing all the advantages of ditching the desk phone and having a mobile workforce

Mobility from top to bottom

The move to a mobile workforce that doesn't chain workers to their desks every day has helped the company focus on its customers, ATB says. CEO Dave Mowat and many other executives do the majority of their work on just a cellphone and a tablet.

"We're totally mobile," said Lorne Rubis, ATB's chief people officer. "We need to be where our team members and customers are, so we need to live and work on mobile devices." 

Rubis accelerated the company's shift to a mobile workforce after he joined the bank four years ago. Results have been hugely positive, he said, as it has built trust and respect among colleagues and increased productivity. 

The challenge is not the technology, it's the people.- David Potter, Workshift Canada

Not all employees have the freedom to chose where they want to work, but most do. Whether that is at home, at a coffee shop or on a beach, it doesn't much matter, Rubis said, as long as the person achieves results.

Mobility paid dividends during recent natural disasters in Alberta such as the 2013 floods and this summer's Fort McMurray wildfire. Rubis said productivity wasn't impacted as employees accustomed to working outside of the office were able to pitch in for colleagues who were forced from their homes.

Some departments, such as the wealth management group, don't have their own office anymore.

"Our real estate space has gone down dramatically," Rubis said. "We just think about it differently."

Change not always easy

Creating a mobile workforce is natural for many startups. For larger, existing companies, the shift can be difficult to execute.

"The challenge is not the technology, it's the people," said David Potter with Workshift Canada. "People are often uncertain about why they are making this change. There can be a perception the company is trying to make them work more."

Desk phones and computers are slowly becoming relics. Potter suggests it's a trend in Canada as more offices jump on board. 

"It's one that's been building for a little while," he said. "People are becoming more accepting of the idea. Things that we are seeing in personal lives, with cellphones and other technologies, are being adopted and expected in the workplace." 
Rogers Communications urges business customers to use wireless devices instead of the traditional desk phone. (Canadian Press)

Potter says increased productivity is the biggest benefit, since not everyone is at their most effective during traditional business hours, so companies can get more from their workers by giving them flexibility. In addition, he says, with a mobile workforce, it's especially important for managers to communicate what results are expected of employees and how they will measure those results, something that good managers do anyway.

Employees are also much more engaged.

"It's really not a millennial thing, it's about people," said Potter. "You have to find the way they work and give them an opportunity to find the balance between life and work."


Kyle Bakx

Business reporter

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with the network business unit at CBC News. He files stories from across the country and internationally for web, radio, TV and social media platforms. You can email story ideas to