It’s easy in the telecoms industry to be so used to talking about advanced communications solutions that we sometimes forget about the basics. “How to use an office phone” isn’t really something that comes up often in conversations with partners, but the meaning has fundamentally changed.
The office phone has long been a staple of the workforce since telecoms became a major part of daily life. It was no longer enough to have a building where people could go; you had to have some way of answering questions and queries before people got to your office. This invariably involved a physical phone, whether one of the old rotary ones or a digital one.
Yet times move on, and we started seeing more and more office phones that employed wireless technology. These could take the form of Wi-Fi phones (notably office phones) and there are even some Bluetooth office phones out there. But DECT is the standard through which we measure success.
DECT technology vastly improved call quality for wireless devices (provided you follow the tips in this article by our Product Marketing Manager, Elena Kornilova), and the transition to Bluetooth-compatible headset systems and wireless deskphones has made answering calls very convenient. Yet with the advent of softphones through computers and mobile phones, there’s an entire debate to be had about what is an office phone.
What Is an Office Phone: Definition
An office phone is any communications device that is used in an office to make voice calls. They often have advanced functionality (e.g., multiple lines, call forwarding, voicemail and even videoconferencing) to make office communications more efficient. There are traditional corded versions, but there are also wireless versions. Most office phones use VoIP now.
Not all office phones are equal, however. An old office phone may not work with a new VoIP setup, for example, and many lack basic features.
Bu the question unanswered is this: Is a computer-based phone system an office phone? For our purposes, yes. It is a communications device that’s based in the office (even if it can be moved around), and it can have advanced features such as those mentioned above. But let’s look primarily at hardware phones as these are the traditional “office phones”.
Understanding Office Phone Basics: How Do Office Phones Work?
In many respects, there are now few differences between a hardware office phone and a software-based one. Both rely on printed circuit boards within the device to do a job, and many devices are based on modern operating systems, such as Android. For a hardware phone, you generally have:
- Base unit
- Display screen
- Programmable buttons/function keys
Most of these are self-explanatory, so the big points of interest are the display screen and the programmable buttons. The differences between these can make a major difference to the phone’s ease of use. A larger display makes it easier to see more contacts at once, so managers can quickly decide who to contact at a glance (especially if presence information is available). And programmable keys make it easier to quickly do complex tasks.
If you’re asking how do office phones work and want a bit more detail, we’d recommend this article by HowStuffWorks.
Then there are two-line phones. These used to be special because they’d allow you to take two different telephone numbers and answer them through the same telephone number. The availability of voicemail to email means that it’s easy to send a message in the event of an emergency. In addition, the ease of setting up low-cost lines combined with the relatively low cost of basic handsets ensures that this route is almost always preferred.
This makes two-line phones largely redundant.
The only time when two-line business phones are required is when you have a setup that uses a very old office phone system — with physical lines still running throughout the office. At this point, you often need multiple connections to the phone. However, these systems are gradually being phased out.
Softphones, however, often make it very easy to add multiple lines. With x-bees, you can quickly select which number you wish to dial out on, for example, through a simple drop-down menu.
How to Dial Out on an Office Phone: Making Outgoing Calls
Dialing out on an office phone is usually simple: lift the receiver, dial the number and check that it’s ringing. In some cases, you’ll have to use an extension number for external calls, but that’s relatively rare for modern systems.
With a Wildix system, however, you can access phonebooks easily. The SuperVision phone, for example, lets you search your contacts in the PBX phonebook and place calls directly from it. It’s as simple as searching for a name and then tapping the green icon on the screen.
With the W-Air Basic2, you can similarly manually dial out, use a speed dial button or search the central directory from a company phonebook.
How to Transfer a Call on an Office Phone
Again, call transfers are simple for most systems. Using the Wildix SuperVision phone, you:
- Accept the call
- Tap “transfer”
- Enter the number for the transfer into the search field
- Choose attended or blind transfer
- Press transfer from the call window to confirm the transfer
However, for our W-AIR Basic2, it’s a little different
- Press the Trans… soft key
- Press menu to search contacts (or type the number directly)
- Press the green off-hook key
- Press the Trans… key to complete
If you’re asking how to transfer a call on an office phone that’s one of our other W-AIR phones, it’s very similar (difference: press the Transfer soft key). Other phones may vary substantially, whether they’re from Polycom, Cisco or Snom.
Extensions are simply added to the end of telephone numbers to allow calls to be diverted to specific individuals. Typically, this improves efficiency and makes it easier to scale, traditionally. However, with the latest technologies, extensions are becoming slightly less relevant — especially with the rise of low-cost phone lines.
If you’re wondering how to use an office phone with an extension, it differs depending on the phone. However, most simply allow you to dial the short form extension, press the call button and you’ll be connected to the internal number. This is true for basic deskphones and wireless office phones.
Extensions provide a consistent way to reach specific individuals or departments, regardless of changes in personnel or office locations. In addition, they can maintain the privacy of individual employees. Callers don’t need to know the direct phone number of an employee; they can reach them through the main number and extension. Finally, they facilitate call management features such as call forwarding, call transferring and voicemail setup. Employees can set up their extensions to handle calls according to their preferences and schedules.
There are some simple rules; extension numbers cannot be common emergency numbers, so no ext. 911, 999 or 112, depending on where you are. In addition, the longer the extension number, the less practical it is.
Overall, though extensions can be very useful.
Most phones designed for modern systems have advanced features. When you’re considering how to use an office phone, these extra features should be simple to access.
BLF keys: These let users monitor the status of other users within the same organization. This means presence information of those users must be available. This can be extremely useful to discern whether someone is available or not at a glance, reducing wasted time going straight to voicemail.
Voicemail: This is always useful, and it’s often highly underappreciative. Although it means the caller hasn’t got through to a human directly, it’s vital for businesses that have standard operating hours or when key personnel are on holiday.
Videoconferencing: Some of our phones, notably the SuperVision office phone, let you take video calls straight from the phone itself. With a 2MP webcam and a 8-inch capacitive touchscreen, it’s easy to see and respond to callers when face time is required.
DECT: Cordless office phones, such as our W-AIR series, must use DECT as standard. This gives them a range of up to 300 meters (although this varies drastically depending on what’s in the way), and it provides great audio quality. In addition, the DECT standard has far lower energy use than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and they’re highly scalable.
Bluetooth: While there are a number of systems that offer a Bluetooth office phone, most of the time, it refers to the ability to connect a headset to the phone. This means that you can move around the office freely, without being restricted by cords.
Navigating Old Office Phone Systems
Of course, we recommend all old office phone systems be kept as up to date as possible — after all, if you need a complete manual on how to use an office phone to handle the basics, it’s likely too complex and obsolete. Key issues may include:
- Limited functionality with major features such as mobile integrations, advanced call routing and voicemail to email missing
- Higher maintenance costs as the system ages out
- Lack of support, notably where companies have gone bust or been bought out
- Poor scalability as the number of compatible models shrink
- No call recording, making it harder to establish accountability
- Security vulnerabilities
- Lack of redundancy
The answer is not easy. These can represent business-limiting issues, making it difficult to get to the right person, keep data secure and expand a business. These are critical pain points for many businesses with old office phone systems, and they generally need addressing rapidly.
Troubleshooting Common Office Phone Issues
Too many old phone systems (and some modern ones) suffer from a wide range of issues. Common ones include poor call quality, connectivity issues and hardware failures.
Poor call quality: Static, echoes and dropped calls can be frustrating. Typically, these can be resolved by moving base stations (whether for wireless office phones or DECT phones) or ensuring you don’t move too far away from the desk if you’re using a Bluetooth office phone headset. It could also be caused by a poor internet connection. Although good systems have jitter buffers that help prevent this, they can only do so much to compensate.
Connectivity issues: This can be related to the previous issue. Office phones might be too far away from the base station or wireless hub, depending on whether they’re a DECT phone or a wireless office phone that’s on a desk.
Hardware failures: If you’re struggling to connect your phones, make sure they don’t have a hardware fault. In some cases, the phone may appear to run while not recognizing the Wi-Fi or Ethernet module. Wildix has a hardware-as-a-service option for MSPs and customers that makes it easy to stay up to date and ensure you have a completely functional phone system no matter what happens.
Media gateway issues: In some cases, media gateways can cause issues. This is often because the provisioning, network or functioning of the BRI devices isn’t working properly. In most cases, a reset will work — full details are available in our Confluence documentation.
How to Use an Office Phone, Ultimately
Using an office phone should be simple, but there are many factors that go into how easily it’s adopted by the company. A well-envisioned system with all the features you need to maximize efficiency can help deliver great results. An old office phone system that lacks features, on the other hand, can hamper business growth, especially if you’re missing calls or just can’t hear anyone.
If you’re interested in reading more about VoIP and telephony, check out our VoIP vs. Landline Phones article.
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