Do Not Underestimate the Headset
The Last 3 Feet: Endpoint Selection When Working from Home
I am surprised by how many people underestimate the importance of a headset when using their PC or mobile device to join calls. I have come to the enlightened and statistically-supported opinion that these people are just plain selfish. They can’t hear how bad their audio quality is, and they are fine with how I sound coming through their speakers.
Anyone with a bad headset or other endpoint is a distraction to any work conversation and will often degrade the productivity of a conference call as they repeatedly have to repeat themselves. Plus, they frustrate me.
As a new wave of workers flood the “work-from-home” cohort, the chances of people joining with poor endpoints increases dramatically. In all seriousness, bad endpoints can be a significant detractor to communicating remotely and can undermine many employers’ efforts to maintain productivity during this season.
So, this blog post is my PSA on what employees and employers can do to not make the endpoint the issue that causes collaboration friction.
We had a sales VP who always worked from home and always had poor voice quality. He would blame the UC platform or the network. I would blame his Mac, because that is what my tenure at Microsoft taught me. One day, he joined a call and was super excited to unveil his new endpoint.
I remember it as one of the worst voice quality experiences I had had with him. It turns out that his new “device” was a snowball speakerphone he purchased off Amazon. In case you do not know, the snowball speaker phone is not certified on Skype for Business, nor, I trust, on Cisco, Zoom, Avaya, or any other collaboration environment you can think of.
Spend the money on a certified device. At the very least the voice quality will be greatly enhanced. Many certifications between endpoints and platforms also increase the integration between the two. For example, my Plantronics headset had enhanced functionality with Skype for Business that made my life a little easier and made me a bit more productive.
Ironically, we recently moved to Microsoft Teams and my device is not Teams-certified, so it does not work nearly as well. It’s little things like my hang-up button on my headset does not hang up my Teams call. This is a handy feature if you happen to wander away from your PC and had not returned when the call ended.
Wired vs. Wireless
Using a wired or wireless headset does not inherently impact voice quality. Technically, wired headsets run the risk of Bluetooth interference, but that is much less of a factor in most homes.
The wired vs. wireless decision generally comes down to personal preference and habits. Wired headsets do not require batteries or charging, so they last longer and you don’t have to put them back on the charger when you’re done.
However, a wired headset can wreak havoc on your desktop clutter if swing your head quickly to, 1) look out the window, 2) spin your chair around for fun, or 3) whip you head around to glare or snap at the loud children (or at least so I have heard).
Wireless headsets allow you to pace (if you’re restless or important) or wander (if you’re distracted, bored, hungry, or need to use the facilities). Just be careful that you do not wander too far because then people can no longer hear you or you get disconnected from the call. (again, pure hearsay)
Know Your Mute Button
If you have children at home, pets, or a small bladder, the mute button is your best friend. It is important that you know exactly where the mute button is because you cannot predict when:
- The dog will bark at the mail carrier or a random passerby or apparently nothing at all
- The kids will come running through your office screaming
- The garbage trucks will show up
- You will have to yell at the kids for <insert valid, justifiable reason here>
My wired headset was a Jabra BIZ 2400 because it had a little puck with a mute button I could get to quickly. I actually velcroed the puck to my desk so I knew exactly where the mute button was. My current headset is a Plantronics Focus. It’s Bluetooth, it’s comfortable, and the mute button is directly on the boom, so I can get to it quickly.
It also helps if your endpoint gives you some indication that it is muted. I like Plantronics Focus, because the Bluetooth Dongle light turns red when I am on mute. A red light means I am free to yell at the kids or divulge sensitive information to my wife.
The red light on the puck of my Jabra BIZ 2400 offered the same freedom. My Plantronics has the additional feature of an audio cue when mute is on or off. So I can press the button and confirm I am muted before I turn on the faucet or the coffee grinder or divulge sensitive information to my wife.
I love my Plantronics Focus. I have loved it for several years and I have gone through a few of them. How does one “wear out” a headset, you ask? Valid question. Apparently, my head is a just a bit bigger than the Focus, so I put pressure on the plastic sleeves that attach the headband to the earpieces.
Over time, the pressure is too much and the plastic sleeves begin to break. If I catch it early, tape can prolong the life of the Focus, but eventually tape stretches. A colleague has given me a new hack to try. So, please pray for my headset.
All that to say, if your head (or your hairdo) is unusually big, find a headset that fits.
Worth the Investment
If you are an employer with a new wave of employees working remotely, quality headsets are worth the expense and will increase the productivity and reduce the “drag” of employees working from home. If you are an employee newly adjusting to work-home life, encourage your employers to make the extra investment.
Not sure which headset is best for your workforce (or for you)? Check out the remote worker hub at unifiedcommunications.com
Want to read more of my blog series? Here’s another post on work from home best practices.
-Matt Christopher @mc_on_uc