Letting other people know you’re busy with non-verbal communication

In case you hadn’t noticed, times are changing.

How we meet has changed in that we no longer have to go into a meeting room to meet with people.

We no longer have the same office designs; meaning we have less doors to close when busy or on a call, and often are surrounded by noise in open plan offices – so therefore wear headphones to drown out the sound.

Thanks to technologies such as Skype for Business and more recently Microsoft Teams (as well as their predecessor Lync, and competitors Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting, etc.), people are having more meetings at their desks, and in some cases on mobile devices. However, merging in the previous point – when someone is wearing headphones; how do we know if they are listening to music or in a meeting? This is especially harder as many premium headsets don’t have a microphone boom sticking out to make it evident that the microphone is in use.

If we dare walk up to someone at the office wearing headphones and want to communicate with them, we need to somehow enter their visual range and indicate that we want their attention. I’m sure we’ve all been in the scenario where we’ve attempted this, only to be greeted by either a flustered facial expression as they remove their headphones (if they only cock it off one ear, it’s a good sign they expect it to be a short conversation), or the hand gesture of the thumb and little/pinkie finger indicating that they are on a call.

One particular device I’ve been using for a number of years is the Kuando Busylight, which displays the presence from Skype for Business. It comes in two forms: Alpha and Omega.

The Alpha is designed to be stuck to an actual device such as a monitor or laptop:

To assist with this, it comes with a swivel base and that can be either permanently attached with a sticky pad or alternatively can be temporarily attached through the use of a magnetic pad.

The Omega on the other hand, is design to be sat on or attached to a desk fitting for permanency:

The Busylight requires a small software agent to be installed on the computer in order to pass on the presence status from Skype for Business to the unit. This allows for customisations such as colour settings and whether you want an audible ring when a call comes in.

I have my status lights for relative ease of understanding: green for available, red for busy, and pulsing red for active on a call. Regardless whether I am connected to a Busylight Omega at home, someone’s office, or even the Alpha on my laptop; the status lights remain the same as they are controlled by my device.

The case for these devices makes itself as they are relatively inexpensive and improve the office communications experience. The Kuando Busylight devices have actually been around for a number of years and are quite popular, and I’ve enjoyed using them in a few different office scenarios.

Recently however I installed them for my home office and that has made a world of difference.

Being a person who works from home a lot as well as being a father, means that sometimes my home work space is similar to an office space. I’m sure people similar to myself can attest to having their partner pop in to ask quick questions, or their young children for any number of reasons (“can we watch Netflix?”, “where is mum?”, “who is that on the screen?”, etc.).

The reality is I embrace my work from home style and am not embarrassed when on calls and a family member pops in, because at the end of the day I’m a human being who has a family – it’s nothing to be ashamed of on client calls. What is not ideal is that one of the audiences is not going to get the best version of me; either the people I’m talking to as I will be temporarily distracted, or my family who in some instances may feel brushed off. This is especially relevant when delivering a presentation or a webinar.

As I recently installed the Kuando Busylight for my home office, this has all but removed the challenge of the family interruption as they have a visual signal before even entering the room.

The devices are relatively inexpensive, ranging between $30-50 per unit. Depending on your home office layout a USB extension cable may be required, as well as clips to keep the cabling neat.

One thing to note is that at present these devices do not work natively with Microsoft Teams as the presence status from Teams has not been exposed through the Microsoft Graph API (this is expected in early 2019). For organisations or users in Teams Only mode; the lights will not turn on. If however Skype for Business is your primary instant messaging, calling & conferencing application and will be for some time; the devices work perfectly.

At such a small price point, organisations should be looking to fit these out at every desk space, and home workers should get one and mount it outside their door – it will help set expectations before anyone has even opened their mouth.

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