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UC Headsets: Don’t Cheap Out
As I know from my experience with users and in speaking to vendors about their inventories, the popularity of UC headsets has increased along with the workforce’s transition from the office to work from home and the adoption of nontraditional methods of communicating. The increased use begs the question: Are UC headsets necessary while working from home? And to that I say the answer depends on you and your job function. If you’re on the phone most of the time — absolutely. If you don’t have a physical phone and use a softphone or cell phone — again, absolutely.
UC headsets aren’t just a luxury but rather they’re a necessity to free up both hands for notetaking. In addition, they’re an important factor of ergonomics. For people who have neck, back, shoulder, or even elbow issues, UC headsets are a requirement. Every call center agent should have one and anyone who regularly attends conference calls should consider one. And the last point I want to make is about quality. The microphones that are built into quality UC headsets and earbuds are typically better than the microphones built into laptops and even many phones and consumer-level stock earbuds.
When evaluating UC headsets, many considerations come into play. Let’s take a look.
- Wired or wireless — UC headsets come in two fundamental options: wired and wireless. Wireless UC headsets provide the convenience of range of motion. I often will go get a cup of coffee while on a call or pace the halls just to stretch my legs. While wired UC headsets are more restrictive than their wireless counterparts, they are easy to carry between the company and home office — and come with the benefit never needing to be charged. Let’s consider wireless UC headsets. My wireless Jabra Evolve 75 allows me a great deal of freedom to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen while I’m on the phone, but if I decide to work in the office one day, I’d have to take the base charger; the power, EHS, RJ11, and USB cords; and the bulky base station into the office with me — and that’s not at all convenient. So wireless UC headsets stations are generally not considered portable, but the wireless option does provide comfort and freedom is outstanding.
- Three-way functionality — Some full-featured wireless UC headsets can work with your computer, your desk phone, or your mobile phone. For example, my Jabra Evolve 75 will connect to my PC via USB, my phone via RJ11, and my cell phone via Bluetooth. Some will work with all three, and allow easy switching between devices. I enjoy the flexibility of listening to music on my computer, switching to the phone to take a call, then switching back to my music again.
- Audio delivery — Many UC headsets can provide audio to either one ear (monaural) or both ears (binaural). If you want to block out the background noise of the office or coffee shop, binaural audio is a necessity. It’s also nice (some would say a necessity) for people coding, writing, creating, or entering data while listening to music. Blocking out distractions and replacing them with audio of your choice can help improve concentration and productivity. I do have one wish list item here, though. For me, because I have a mild hearing loss, I don’t like using speakerphones or talking into my laptop, and I especially appreciate it when people I’m talking with use a quality microphone. One feature that I wish these headset manufacturers offered is an equalizer so that I could make adjustments when I’m having difficulty hearing during phone or video meetings. In a previous No Jitter article, I gushed over the built-in equalizer in my Android smartphone. While the audio is excellent on most UC headsets, an equalizer would be a classy touch for those of us who need to boost a few mid-range frequencies in human speech or turn down some of the background noise of others.
- Active noise cancellation (ANC) — I once thought ANC was marketing hype or nothing more than an equalizer to reduce noise outside the human vocal frequency range. But I was wrong. In fact, ANC is more elegant and effective than that. ANC typically consists of two microphones: one facing you, the speaker, and the other facing away from you listening to your surrounding environment. ANC technology compares and contrasts the two audio sources. Your voice will obviously be more pronounced to the microphone facing you. That’s the difference. All other noise is filtered out. I should note that ANC is a professional courtesy for the party on the other end of the conversation. It doesn’t enhance your conversational experience except that you are less likely to need to repeat yourself in noisy environments. This can be extremely important for call center agents sharing important information with customers. With that said, ANC is absolutely a pleasure to experience when listening to music (or podcasts, videos, etc) on higher-end headphones or earbuds, such as Apple’s AirPod Pros. Silencing a surrounding noisy environment feels magical and definitely evokes tranquility and brings focus for me in my own cocoon.
- Wearing options — UC headsets can be worn over the ear, around the neck or, my personal favorite, over the head. Jabra and Plantronics, the large players in this space, each offer wired and wireless options. Earbuds are an option, as well. Most smartphones come with cheap wired earbuds, but wireless options are available from vendors such as Apple, Sony, Sennheiser (EPOS), Samsung, and Jabra — all of which I’ve seen in use during video meetings I’ve attended.
- Portability — As mentioned above, wired UC headsets and earbuds are portable enough to fit nicely into a briefcase and make the daily commute to and from work. In general, wireless UC headsets lack the same convenience because the charging base and the four cords are not made for portability. There are some exceptions to this rule. If you have specific requirements, such as a headset that that is portable and works with both a softphone and a physical phone, your options become limited. Currently, the Jabra Evolve 65 fits that bill, but you need to work with your account manager to order the right parts to go with it. It’s a good idea to discuss these with your account manager as technology is always changing.
- Battery life — Technology has improved so much that battery life has become a non-issue these days. On the days that do drag into the nights, a quick 10- to 20-minute charge is enough to carry on a few more hours.
- Comfort — We all come in different shapes and sizes, and comfort will vary from person to person. Since I’m typically on the phone five to six hours a day, having a comfortable headset is very important to me. With the variety of options available, you shouldn’t have to compromise on comfort. Typically, most UC headsets and earbuds will come with adjustable headbands, ear tips, or even style attachments that allow changing from headband to a neckband, for example.
UC headsets and earbuds provide your team members improved audio, ergonomics, and environment flexibility. If you are a manager shopping for UC headsets for your team, realize that it’s a personal choice. I would encourage you to let your employees select the headset that works best for them with a blank check. Let them know that you value them. Don’t cheap out. Your investment in them will pay dividends down the road.
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