Relatively few offices have abandoned their phone lines in favor of Internet telephony, often called VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). If you are in the majority not quite ready to cut the telephone cord, transferring some of your work onto the Internet may save you time and money.
I use Skype, a free, downloadable program for PC or Mac that allows you to get phone service up and running with minimal set-up. For hardware, you only need a way for sound to get in and out of your computer. Many computers, especially newer laptops, have built-in microphones; older models and desktops have jacks for microphones and headphones. There are USB headsets that combine phones and mike, including Bluetooth headsets that will allow you to wander as you talk. Skype also works with webcams for face-to-face chat and video conferencing.
Calls between Skype users are free. Reaching callers who don’t use Skype is still cheaper than many telephone services: pay-as-you-go calls are $0.021 per minute to 34 countries including the United States, and there are subscription plans as well. There’s no additional charge for conference calls. Just get your entire team on high-speed Internet and operating on Skype; additional callers can be added to any call without the need to set up or order a conference (and non-Skype users can be added at the regular billing rate).
Let’s say you want to keep minutes of your conference call, or you’d like to record an interview. Skype doesn’t offer this as a built-in feature, but you can download third-party software that makes capturing your calls a snap. On my Mac, I use Call Recorder from Ecamm ($15, shareware). The program allows me to hit a record button within Skype and records the two sides of the calls to separate tracks so I can adjust sound levels if necessary. Pamela ($24.95) and Freecorder (free) are popular with PC users, and there are other recommendations at the VOIP-Sol blog and in Skype’s user forums. Now you can put aside the clunky telephone recorder switch (which may not work with mobile or cordless phones) and forget about having to transfer data from a handheld recorder into your computer — it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping a file. Your need for recording gear won’t be completely eliminated — you’ll still need a set-up for the field. But recording at home is a lot easier once it’s all in the computer.