Work from Home Warriors: choosing your headset

Many workplaces when equipping their staff generally provide a corded headset as these are by far the most cost-effective devices. The challenge with this, is that it means the person having an online meeting/call is effectively tethered to their device and often their desk for the duration.

In longer meetings this can be a problem as it is both unhealthy to be sitting in the one place for an extended period of time, but also it does not get the best out of the attendee.

What do I mean by that? Well, when people get bored in online meetings their minds tend to wander. They will multitask and start looking at other things on their screen, reply to emails/messages, etc.

Another aspect is that often we’re not at our most creative when sitting down. While it’s not necessarily the case for all people or contexts, some people are able to get more ‘creative juice’ out of their head when walking around and using their hands.

The latter is not necessarily the best thing to have in an office as there would be a lot of foot traffic and noise, however we all know someone that does this now.

The problem is that the latter two are issues with corded headsets, whereas with a wireless headset the person is free to move around whether for physical purposes or creative.

In a work from home scenario there is simply no need to be tethered to your desk; it’s your home so you can move around as much as you like.

In my latest episode of Work from Home Warriors, I take a look at the difference types of headsets available and their pros/cons.

Disclaimer: this video contains two leading brands of headsets, and does not specifically identity a particular brand as better than another; it is simply what I had available to work with.

Life with a headset

Using a headset is not a new concept. Call centre operators, helpdesk staff and those who spend a lot of time on the phone have been using them for many years.

The problem is that the perception of using a headset remains there. Many organisations I’ve spoken to over the years about using technologies such as Lync shudder at the concept of losing their prized telephone handset and having it replaced with a headset.

While many telephony solutions now allow you to log into handsets and use them as your own – this still requires a significant investment in devices and user training.

Unfortunately most telephony vendors still come from a hardware background and as such still make a lot of their money there. While they now offer various software-based solutions such as instant messaging and desktop-based conferencing at the end of it they still want you to purchase physical equipment.

Previously I worked for a telephony provider that was strongly tied to Alcatel-Lucent and Nortel. Both solutions were amazing, but still required a lot of hardware (both in the rack and on the desk) to make them work. Moving to IP phones made cabling infrastructure and relocations easier – but still meant there was a physical piece of equipment.

In any deployment of a voice solution the handsets generally make up a big piece of the bill of materials. A lot of handset manufacturers support headsets and will even have their own – but at the end of the day the user is still tied to the device.

As our devices ecosystem changes (be it Windows, Android, or iOS) mobility becomes a big part of this. While the reality is a lot of people are still tied to a desk based on their job we see the desktop device they use change. It’s now on-par to kit a desk with a notebook or tablet, docking station and accessories – instead of a desktop PC.

With the rise of Lync as a voice solution the necessity for a handset is diminished even further. The problem we are left with is a generational one. While Lync may be powering the enterprise voice solution – many users still want a physical handset they can touch and hold to their ear.

My first exposure to a headset was back in 2004 when it was an add-on to my digital handset. For the past 4.5 years of Paradyne I have not had a handset as our entire communications model has been cloud-driven.

Some may argue that we are a forward facing organisation that works with technology which makes it easier. That is true, but also true is that a majority of my team are in the back half of their 30s (including myself). For new employees at Paradyne they are given a Surface Pro, a webcam, a docking station and a headset. This is just the way it is.

The biggest hurdle most organisations have with transitioning their workforce away from a handset-driven method of voice calls is user comfort levels. Change management is key to helping overcome this hurdle. Many times change management is utilised to assist with the change of technology, however in many sales meetings I’ve seen this particular change cut off in its tracks due to the fear of change.

I don’t need to extoll the virtues of mobility and an anywhere workforce free of cables. In an era where we regularly look down at our smartphones and get RSI from too much mouse or keyboard use – we don’t need to add craning our necks to hold a phone to our ear for long calls. Or rushing to our desk to answer a call. Or not being able to take a call because we’re not at our desk.

My team use the Microsoft LifeChat LX-6000 headset from Microsoft. It retails for approximately $40 and provides amazing quality for that price. When on the road I use a Plantronics Voyager Pro UC 2 which pairs via Bluetooth to both my tablet and my mobile phone. It doesn’t matter where in the world I am, I can use Lync to make/receive phone calls from either my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 8.1 or my Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8.1. Worst case if I don’t have a headset I can just move to a quiet area and use the built in speakers & microphone of my device.

If Lync can run on any device, and you can make calls from anywhere – shouldn’t we champion those freedoms by allowing our workforce to adopt the freedom and not be tied to a handset for doing the communication?

Organisations need to work with their staff to be less fearful of putting down the handset and putting on a headset. They won’t be relegated to being a call centre worker or support engineer. They’ll be free to move around and talk as they would naturally – free from cable-bound constraints. It’s time to adapt.