How I Ditched My Office Phone for Google Hangouts

All I use for phone calls in the office are my laptop, a USB headset with a mic, and Google Hangouts with a Google Voice number. Here's how to do it.

I have an office job, and I have to talk to clients on the phone quite a bit.  But I literally haven’t manually dialed a phone number in years.  When I had a hardware phone on my desk, the number keys remained almost completely untouched.  Now, my hardware desk phone is sitting in storage.

All I use for phone calls in the office are my laptop, a USB headset with a mic, and Google Hangouts with a Google Voice number.

Google Voice Number

I started using Google Voice when it was still invite-only in October 2009.  It was revolutionary.  I’ve written before about many reasons why you should use Google Voice.

But essentially, your Google Voice number becomes your main number allowing you the freedom to switch cell phone carriers or office numbers without having to worry about leaving your old number behind.  No need to send a blast to all of your contacts letting them know that your number changed.  Very few people will bother changing your number in their contacts.  But if your main number never changes, you never have to worry about it.

The reason why you can get away with having one main number with Google Voice is that you can plug in whatever other phone numbers you have so when someone calls your Google Voice number, all your current phones ring along with Google Hangouts.

What is Google Hangouts?

Google launched Hangouts in May 2013 at its I/O developer conference.  It was the successor to Google Talk, merging it with the Google+ Messenger, resulting in Google’s new universal messaging platform complete with text and video chat.  Phone calls through Hangouts were only available through Gmail, but not anywhere else.

Finally, on September 10, 2014, Google merged Google Voice into Google Hangouts bringing VoIP phone calling with your Google Voice number to Hangouts on any platform.  In addition, you can now read and reply to text message sent to your Google Voice number in any Hangouts app, including Gmail.

Google Hangouts now truly is an all-in-one messaging and communications hub.

Hangouts Desktop Chrome Extension

While Hangouts still works fine in Gmail without doing anything, you’re not getting the full experience if you haven’t installed the Hangouts Desktop Chrome Extension.  Go to the Hangouts web page and click the computer icon to download the desktop client (which is actually a Chrome extension that runs in the background).

What this extension gives you is “always on top” functionality so incoming chats appear in the corner of your screen no matter what you’re doing and what tab you’re on.  You can drag your chat windows anywhere on your screen.  It also allows Hangouts to remain connected and accessible by running in the background, even if you don’t have Gmail open.

Phone Calls on Your Computer

Here’s where Hangouts replaces your desk phone.  If you have been giving out your Google Voice number, then when someone calls it, you’ll notice it rings in Hangouts on all platforms, including your computer.  Just click Accept and it opens a Hangouts window with you and the phone caller.

To place a call, either click on a phone number in an email within Gmail, or from the Hangouts widget on the sidebar, click the search (magnifying glass) icon, then click the phone icon within the pop-out.

Then start typing someones name who is in your contacts.  You will see their phone number.  Click it to call them.

Conference Calls with Hangouts

Now suppose you need to make a conference call with co-workers and/or clients… There’s a number of ways to do it with Hangouts.

  1. Call the first person using Hangouts, then click the “Invite People” button at the top of the window.

    If the next person you want to add is typically available via Hangouts, then just search their name there and invite them.  Otherwise, click the “+ Add telephone” link.

    Then, search their name to find their phone number in your contacts.

    When the person answers they will instantly join the conference.  Of course any screen sharing or video will not be visible to the person on a telephone, but any Hangouts users on that call will be able to see.
  2. If you are only conferencing with other Hangouts users, and don’t want the awkward experience of calling one person and then calling rest, you can create a group chat with the individuals you want to call, and then click the video chat button there.  It will call everyone at the same time.
  3. Another way to start a conference call is to invite everyone to a meeting using Google Calendar.  By default, it will set a Video Call URL so that each person can just click on the link when it’s time for the meeting, and they’ll jump right in.  However, since many people won’t notice the link in the calendar event, you can just copy the link and chat it or email it to everyone.
  4. For the traditional-minded folk who want to have a conference number and PIN to call into, like they’ve always done, you can use the UberConference app in Hangouts.  Just click the UberConference “U” icon on the left side and it will call into a conference line and give you the phone number and PIN to give to your attendees.  If you don’t see the UberConference icon, find it by hovering over the “…” icon on the left side, and clicking the “+ Add apps” button.

Use a Good Headset

If you’re going to ditch your desk phone for Hangouts, it’s important you have a good headset.  After trying many different headsets, I’ve put together some criteria for a good chat headset.

  1. USB: Computers seem to handle USB headsets better than ones with a headphones plug and a microphone plug.  The computer usually does a good job at detecting it right away and the sound quality is often better because it’s not depending on the pre-amp on your sound card’s mic input.  Plus, it’s easier to plug and unplug 1 USB cable than 2 audio cables.
  2. Wired: I’ve tried a few wireless headsets but found some issues with them.  While wireless technology seems cool, I didn’t find myself needing to walk around with it, and it spent most of the time plugged in to charge anyway.  I also found that wireless is not 100% reliable.  Some work better than others, but they have a tendency to have audio quality issue or cut out every once in a while when there is some wireless interference.  I switched to a wired headset and found that it’s a very consistent and reliable experience.
  3. Placement of mic, buttons, and cable: After trying many different wired headset models, I think I found the formula for good headset design.  Too many models had a lot of noise on the other end due to the cable brushing across my shirt or by pressing the buttons to adjust the volume.  The best setup is this:
    • One cable off of one ear (as opposed to 2 cables making a Y shape).  The Y shape tends to get caught on my shirt collar or simply feels uncomfortable.
    • The cable and buttons should be on the opposite side from the microphone.  This helps to isolate movement noises from the mic, so that people on the other side don’t hear anything when you push buttons or the cable brushes across your shirt.

The headset I’m using now is the Logitech B530 USB Headset and I love it.  It has very good sound quality and feels very comfortable when wearing it for long periods of time.

Headset Audio Settings

A USB Headset for your PC allows the selection of the headset as the “Default Communications Device” while leaving your speakers as the “Default Device”. This makes Hangouts ring audibly through the speakers and once the call is answered, all communication audio is ran through the headset.

Here is how to setup your audio devices properly:

Right-click on the volume icon in your system tray and click “Playback Devices

  1. Set your laptop speakers or external speakers as the “Default Device”
  2. Set your headset as the “Default Communication Device”
  3. Note: if you’re not sure which is which, right-click on one and click “Test” to make it play sounds through that device.

Now, click on the “Recording” tab.

  1. Set your headset microphone as the “Default Communication Device”
  2. Note: talk in the microphone to see which device shows the most volume bars.

Quick Audio Switching

The above setup is the best default setup since it makes incoming calls go through the main speakers so you can hear it if you are not at your desk or don’t have your headset on, but as soon as you answer the call, the audio routes to the Default Communication Device (your headset).

However, what if you want to watch a video without distracting others or listen to music using your headset?  You can temporarily switch your Default Device to be your headset, but don’t forget to switch it back or you might miss calls and notifications.

To assign a hotkey combination to quickly toggle your Default Device among your available playback devices, install SoundSwitch on Windows.

Troubleshooting Audio Issues

Keep in mind, Hangouts has its own settings that may override the Windows default settings. If you click on the gear icon while on a hangout call, you will see settings for the playback device and recording device. Leaving those on Default will go with whatever Windows has configured, but sometimes they are worth toggling if something got stuck.

If you plugged in your headset while on a Hangout, the device may not be available until you hang up and call back.

Make sure you don’t have a hardware mute activated on the headset and make sure the headset’s volume is up.

In extremely buggy circumstances, you may need to disable a playback or recording device for your headset and re-enable it for it to work.

Tip: To avoid the embarrassment, before making your first outgoing call of the day, open this link and make sure your audio settings are set properly before calling the person.

Welcome to the Future of Phone Calls at Work!

No longer will you need to be looking at a phone number on your screen while dialing it on a hardware phone, hoping you don’t fat-finger it and have to start all over again!  Now, you can just start typing someones name and click to start calling them.  Or better yet, see their phone number in their email signature?  Just click to call.

Soon, you’ll look back at the old days and wonder how you ever built up the motivation to dial someone’s phone number manually.

15 thoughts on “How I Ditched My Office Phone for Google Hangouts

      1. Well, it is the only phone number I give to people and often people have tried to text me a photo. Google Voice does not support that. So they will think I’m mad a them or thought their photo was terrible or something. It has caused strife in relationships. Serious strife. So I’ve had to start telling people upfront when I give them my number that I can’t do picture texts. Then they don’t understand because I have an iPhone so they think I have the latest technology. To be honest, I’m completely fine with not having picture texts. But for most people in today’s world they have issue with that. Of course based on the content of your post, this isn’t as relevant, because it applies more to using it for personal reasons. I use it for everything though.

        I’ve also had situations where someone has called me on Google Voice and then I noticed the call through my iPhone phone number and returned their call accidentally using that number instead of the Google Voice number. Then they don’t answer, think it’s a wrong number, and then when I leave a message they are confused as to why I have two phone numbers. I’ve had people in my personal life get upset with me that I was hiding from them that I had another phone number!

        Maybe I need new friends. :P

        Or maybe Google Voice has some work to do.

        1. Liz, I totally agree, and I’ve experienced the same issues with MMS. However, Google has made some progress with some carriers and now allows MMS (picture messages) to be sent. T-Mobile and Sprint work, but Verizon doesn’t. I’m not sure about AT&T.

          Anyway, that’s one big issues that has plagued Google Voice users that I hope they come to a complete resolution soon. Now that they finally merged Voice into Hangouts, I hope it will be easier to start making progress on issues like that.

          1. True! And I’m still using the Google Voice app instead of the Hangouts app on my phone – so I made need to make the switch. That might help some things.

  1. Seems like an awfully big headset to be wearing in the office. I would love to have my employees use hangouts to dial as we use Apps For Business but I can’t see them adapting to wearing big clunky headsets all the time.

      1. I imagine an office headset more compact. Also, one that is one ear only. Even a Google image search for “office headset” shows the majority as smaller and one ear. The one you mention almost looks like a gaming headset.

        1. Well, the one I suggested is marketed specifically for business. The “B” in Logitech B530 stands for Business. I’ve tried the one-ear headsets and they are not as comfortable, usually have more noise picked up by the mic from the cable or buttons (see my point about that in my post), and are more distracting if there is noise from co-workers in the room. The B530 solves all of those issues in my opinion.

          But, hey, you’re welcome to use whatever headset you like. :-)

  2. I started using hangouts on my phone a wile ago and i want to start using it on my desktop, but it takes too long to pick up a phone call i click on answer it has to open a new window and then i need to click on join, besides this is too many steps and it makes it a bit complicated

  3. Great post. You addressed the issue of creating a “traditional” conference call using Uberconference. However, how do you handle joining traditional conference calls (with and PIN and #) when you are not the owner? 99% of my calls are like that. I can dial the access code, PIN, etc using the soft dialpad once the call is connected, but that kind of takes away from the usefulness, imo. I’ve tried storing the conference numbers as contacts (888-555-1212,,77388#), but GV just ignores everything after the phone number.

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