By Jeppe Dalberg-Larsen,
Professionalism, what does it mean and how is it defined today? In traditional workplace environments, the markers of professionalism were easy to see (and feel): a strong handshake, an impressive venue, strong eye contact. Yet in a hybrid workplace, professionalism is less about aesthetics and more about the content of interactions.
In what’s now a distant memory, the idea of a truly hybrid workplace was an exciting prospect for most professionals but one that was unlikely to happen. Fast forward 18-months to today, and after over a year of remote work, a hybrid future of office and home-based working is our new reality. And the transformative impact on our professional lives cannot be overstated.
This is an exciting change. However, with fewer ways to “show up well” with clients, colleagues, and customers there is increased pressure on the quality of what is said (and how it’s delivered) during business interactions. This poses a risk to organizations who aren’t making use of the right audio technology.
The role of audio in the ‘hybrid’ experience
EPOS recently commissioned a comprehensive research piece from Ipsos, where we heard from decision-makers and end-users on their attitudes towards and usage of audio in the workplace. We conducted a similar piece in 2019, just before the pandemic hit. We thought it would be important to investigate what the impact of hybrid working has been on both end-users and decision makers across the globe, particularly when it comes to their experiences using collaboration solutions, including audio.
Last year we found the average audio solution end-user loses 29 minutes a week due to poor sound quality on voice calls and time spent double-checking information via follow-up emails or calls. Flashforward to this year and you’d expect that there would have been improvements when it comes to collaboration tools and audio calls, alas, this is not the case, things have worsened. Today the average solution end user is losing 31 minutes per week due to poor sound – more than three full workdays each year.
Our 2021 study found that 63% of global end users experience issues during business conversations on a regular basis because of poor sound quality. The most common problems include background noise (32%), interferences on the line (26%), and asking for information to be repeated (23%). The link between bad audio experiences and the impact on business is clear; in simple terms – bad audio is bad for business.
Clients and customers expect more than “business as usual”
At the start of the pandemic, organizations and individual employees could get away with seemingly minor audio glitches. Sound cutting out? Background noise? Loud echoes? Almost every working professional has experienced the stress of subpar virtual communications, and that’s why for a while, we were patient with one another.
But as the world rapidly transitions into a “new normal”, expectations have changed. People are less willing to endure poor quality virtual meetings. That’s why bad audio is more than just a minor inconvenience. It’s a barrier to professionalism that can impact perception and can harm the client experience. One which, if addressed, would help retain clients and prevent lost pitches in the future according to 60% and 71% of global decision makers respectively. It’s clear that technology built for in-office scenarios simply doesn’t work for a hybrid set-up. And yet, the default approach for many employers has been to maintain the status quo: equip employees with the same computer and audio technology that was available in the office/for remote working.
One explanation for this might be the disparity between decision makers and employees’ expectations of hybrid working. In the US, 74% of decision makers expect the majority of employees to be in the workplace when the world returns to normal, compared to just 29% of employees. Many of these employees want more home working – 33% of employees want to increase work from home, while only 13% of decision makers expect this to happen.
This gap demonstrates the need for decision makers to engage with employees to better understand their expectations about hybrid working and what they need to support them to reach their full potential at work. This means using technology that maintains the same quality as in-person interactions, without the distractions of bad audio or poor visual connections.
Maximize the potential of the hybrid professional
Trying to use pre-existing tools has left many employees struggling to maintain efficiency and productivity. The time spent fixing audio issues amounts to 31 minutes per employee each week on average. This leaves 26% of global employees feeling frustrated, irritated, or annoyed; and 19% experiencing moments of stress. Unsurprisingly, this has a detrimental impact on their output with 26% of employees reporting misunderstandings, while 21% miss out on critical information, and a further 17% believe they appear unprofessional because of poor sound experiences.
Working from home and away from the support of colleagues – particularly for young professionals – can be lonely and stressful. Add to this a lack of sufficient collaboration tools to maintain high standards of professionalism and impress clients and senior colleagues alike, and it’s no surprise that employee burnout is on the rise.
Successful businesses will be defined by their approach to ‘hybrid’
Every organization knows how critical employee wellbeing is to the success of the business. When employees lack confidence in their abilities and professional persona, this limits the potential for idea-sharing. Particularly in a hybrid world, where many team members might not have met face-to-face. Without spontaneous interactions between colleagues in office kitchens and corridors, it’s harder to exchange ideas that drive innovation.
Harder, but not impossible. In fact, 68% of modern workers believe that good audio solutions can help solve a lack of confidence or embarrassment. With small changes to visual and audio technology, employees can maintain their confidence and ability to collaborate and facilitate the generation of ideas. A win for productivity across an organization.
Audio quality is becoming a true business differentiator and it can mean the difference between success and failure in virtual communications and the far-reaching consequences of this can affect the long-term health of an organization. While they determine the specifics of hybrid working, employers must acknowledge the powerful role of audio and visual technology in bolstering employee confidence, elevating the client experience, and maintaining high standards of professionalism.
Whether employees return to the office full-time or part-time, there will be an ongoing need to dial in remote working colleagues. If businesses can use the right technology to support them, there’s an opportunity to overcome the barriers posed by poor audio and create truly borderless teams. Good audio quality underpins all aspects of the ‘hybrid’ experience, form ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard, to professional standards are upheld – business leaders today need to ensure their empowering their employees with the tools they need to succeed.
(The author is President, EPOS. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)