Just how important are high-quality audio and video to workplace productivity? As one recent television commercial illustrates, absolutely necessary. In it, an anxious sales rep frets over what to wear to a meeting. "Just wear something not too crazy," advises her friend, talking to her over a smartphone app. "Remember: it's a business dinner, not a costume party."
Of course, thanks to poor audio and video quality, the aspiring exec hears and sees it as, "Just wear something crazy. Remember: it's a costume party," causing her to show up to the meeting in full costume.
We're bombarded by sound, every day, everywhere. The key is to make sense of all of it, and a core concept for workplace audio and collaboration is "speech intelligibility," or being able to fully understand what's being said.
Many factors can contribute to making an environment more or less speech-intelligible — and thus enhance or impede workplace productivity. An office's ambient noise level, such as noise from nearby traffic or machinery, can disrupt employees' abilities to work. According to the CDC, a typical conversation is around 60 decibels. If ambient noise exceeds that level, workplace productivity can be seriously impacted.
Reverberation, which occurs when sound bounces off hard, reflective surfaces such as walls, floors, windows, or desks, can create echoes and hinder employees' work.
Not all sound negatively impacts productivity, though. On one hand, a moderate level of ambient sound — that could be background music or a continuous drone such as an HVAC vent — can actually help concentration. On the other hand, too much noise or the wrong sounds are counterproductive. One foundational study found that reducing noise in the workplace increased the ability to focus by almost 50 percent and decreased employee stress levels by almost 30 percent. Meanwhile, spotty videoconferencing audio can disrupt employees' abilities to collaborate effectively, wasting time, energy, and productivity in the workplace.
For IT professionals, establishing clear audio in the workplace means setting up the technologies that enable employees to work efficiently. Solutions for speech intelligibility in office and other corporate environments include using multiple loudspeakers placed closer to the participants in meeting rooms, which reduces the chances of hitting reflective surfaces as they propagate.
Ceiling-mounted loudspeakers are another excellent solution, as they reduce reverberation if placed at the optimal angle for the space. For higher-than-usual ceilings, over 12 feet or so, pendant-type loudspeakers are often recommended, which place them closer to seated participants. In the case of reverberant environments, acoustical treatment, in the form of sound-absorption material, can minimize disruption and distraction when installed in the right locations.
All-in-one solutions, such as the videobar, a USB conferencing device that brings premium audio and video into a space via a single USB cable, can provide all of these audio benefits in a streamlined package. With six beam-steering microphones, the Bose Professional Videobar VB1 captures and channels sound from all angles of the conference participants' locations, enabling clear communication without distraction.
"Acuity" is the visual counterpart of audio's intelligibility criterion: the ability to clearly see what's being communicated. Resolution is everything when it comes to video. Recall what television looked like before the high-definition era: the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio with just 480 lines of vertical resolution. Then came high-def, with the cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio for 1,080 lines of resolution. Today, we're one step further with ultra-HD or 4K technology with nearly 4,000 lines of resolution.
Video quality and its impact on work productivity came into sharper focus with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as offices moved from in-person to online videoconference meetings. As more people return to offices, videoconferencing continues to be used at a high level with more businesses embracing the hybrid workplace and accounting for any physical distancing requirements. The ability to see nuance in people's faces — something that masks take away from in-person meetings — brings video platforms to a dimension above typical videoconferencing pre-pandemic.
Today, video displays have reached an exceptionally high level of resolution, so positioning displays is essential. The comfortable line-of-sight height for the seating within a given space is usually about 1.5 times the diagonal measurement of the display. All-in-one solutions like videobar devices with 4K ultra-HD cameras and autoframing technology allow employees to work in huddle spaces, conference rooms, or remotely while clearly seeing and easily interacting with everyone in the meeting.
Since most videoconferencing is now streamed, quality of service (QoS) of the internet and LAN connections they're the endpoints for is critical. Achieving optimum QoS for videoconferencing boils down to two key elements: bandwidth (which is based on the scale of the enterprise) and traffic management. The right QoS solutions can determine if incoming traffic contains video data. And they can scale back on other traffic-heavy services accordingly to ensure video calls remain high-quality.
Poor audio quality can be distracting, and unclear video can be disruptive. Establishing streamlined solutions that enable team members to do their best work benefits the entire organization. When technology is set up for an optimal meeting experience, people feel connected and as if they're in the same room, which removes distance as an obstacle to productivity.