Drawing upon a study of 2,000 IT decision-makers conducted last month by XMOS, in this comment piece, Aneet Chopra, EVP Marketing and Product Management, XMOS examines the scale of the growth and establishment of remote working (with the Office for National Statistics suggesting that 40% of the London workforce has worked remotely as of January 2023), the disconcerting prevalence of audio problems in remote work, with over three quarters (78%) of workers facing regular struggles and  the emphasis that should be placed on user feedback in addressing specific concerns, and the market opportunity therein for engineers and manufacturers.

Finding autonomy in restriction is something of a paradox, but it’s one that applies to the ‘new normal’ of hybrid work. It’s still not all that long ago that, confined to our homes, employees across every industry were freed of their obligation to the commute, the office, and face-to-face contact with their peers. 

Of course, any ‘new normal’ will become simply ‘the norm’ after enough time has passed. A flexible approach to work has become so normalised so quickly that governments and corporations are still in the process of refining the structures within which it takes place.

In the UK, for example, the Royal Ascension of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill has recently codified a worker’s right to request home working. In the US, we continue to see huge companies – Google, Disney, Lloyds, Tesla – try to walk back the freedoms that carried them and their workforces through the restrictions of the pandemic.

The ascent of flexible working to this extent has been made possible, in part, because technology can bridge the gap between work and home – or anywhere else. If conferencing solutions can deliver a consistently high-quality experience, then the communications that drive and underpin the working day can still take place.

That’s dependent, of course, on the tools we use being up to scratch in the first place. According to the latest research from XMOS, that’s far from the case.

Voicing concerns

The majority of the two-thousand remote workers surveyed echo the importance of high-quality audio, with nearly two thirds (63%) confirming that this is the most important aspect of any conference call. 

This is especially the case given how much of the working week is absorbed by such calls. Nearly a third (32%) of respondents in the UK and US report spending 1-2 hours a week participating in meetings; one fifth (20%) spend up to 3-4 hours, and over a fifth (21%) say they attend meetings for over five hours during the average working week.

With calls taking up swathes of the day, crystal clear conversation is paramount. Gone are the days of tolerating below-par integrated speakers and microphones in the average laptop.

For most workers, conference calls are going to be a continual presence in their everyday lives. It’s immensely frustrating, then, that difficulties in hearing during virtual meetings remain a consistent challenge. 

In fact, a majority (51%) of respondents report a poor quality of sound in the last 12 months. There are a host of reasons for this, with more than half (51%) wrestling audio latency, 50% reporting annoying echoes, and two-fifths (42%) experiencing a complete lack of sound on calls. 

A further 48% have reported volume issues, while 52% experience distracting background noise during meetings, and 48% say their audio doesn’t sync with their video. Given the similar percentages across the board on these frustrations, it appears that many of those suffering from such difficulties experience more than one of them.

Under such a strain, it’s understandable that poor-quality communications can slow things down, with key information slipping under the radar, and collaborative sessions being more disjointed and less productive.

Workplace woes

Beyond the business side of things, challenging audio is also immensely frustrating on a personal level. Miscommunication commonly leads to misunderstanding, and the same is true of the collaborative workplace.

For example, almost half (48%) of respondents are concerned that continuously asking participants to repeat themselves makes them and their company look unprofessional. More than two-fifths (44%) also said it’s annoying that their conferencing set up doesn’t ‘just work’, thereby enabling them to simply get on with their day.

Remote workers are frustrated and angry with the status quo – as it undermines their ability to perform on the job. More than one in eight workers (13%) have broken something in anger due to the inefficiency of their devices; another 14% have simply stopped using them altogether. It’s a bad sign for the manufacturers creating these tools. 

The final word

With such widespread irritation, clearly the current state of audio conferencing isn’t up to scratch. With flexible working here to stay for the long-term, the lack of reliable solutions to enable collaboration has only highlighted the necessary demand for products that are fit for purpose.

While some consumers solely rely on their PCs to support their conferencing activities, there are also many that grapple with additional devices, whether it’s a portable speakerphone, video bar or microphone puck. To deliver a consistent experience no matter what the device, a dedicated, turnkey solution is essential.

If new or refined devices are honed to reflect user feedback, device manufacturers can capitalise on heightened demand. In bringing new solutions to market that provide the high-performance audio that business professionals clearly want and need, they’ll massage the keenest pain points of their target audience. This is a sure-fire route to commercial success.

That said, with superior sound being the most desired feature, they’ll need to consider which components are best suited to embed quality audio into their products. Ideally, we’ll see technologies that specifically speak to the more prominent frustrations experienced by users. Acoustic echo cancellation, noise suppression that can block background sound, and accurate voice capture technology are all top priorities, for example.

Such functionality will prime manufacturers to deliver the best possible conferencing experience. In doing so, they’ll gain a vital competitive advantage in their market.

To uncover more detailed insights, download the Remote Possibilities report.

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