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Stellar Audio: Invisible Tech Can Make, Break Collaboration

With distributed workforces and virtual collaboration now forming an integral part of the daily work experience, the quality of conferencing technology matters more than ever.

To ensure focused collaboration and clear communication, excellent audio quality is key to optimizing productivity, according to a global IDC study of 600 business leaders.

Subpar audio quality affects trustworthiness, intelligence perception, and content importance, underscoring the need for quality audio in meetings.

Mick Heys, vice president, Future of WorkSpace & Imaging for IDC EMEA, explains the research clearly shows mixed mode meetings, with in person and remote participants, are now a normal part of business—however, companies continue to experience a lot of problems.

"For example, 60 percent of companies reported that remote participants can’t contribute fully," he says. "Once we started asking people about the role of audio quality in this, we got some surprising results."

Almost half (49%) of companies who had invested in improved audio reported improved decision making and 90% said that it enables and encourages meeting equity.

"You really need trustworthiness, intelligence and likability if you want to have an effective, collaborative meeting," he says. "We all recognize audio quality is important, but we don’t always appreciate how important it is – that’s why we talk about it being a hidden influencer."


Involving the Right Stakeholders

The study emphasized the importance of high-quality audio in driving effective communication in hybrid environments, but also found rushed decisions often led to suboptimal audio solutions, with price considerations outweighing audio quality in initial purchases.

For organizations looking to prioritize audio quality as part of their technology investments, Heys says its critical to involve the right stakeholders to ensure you get good audio quality.

"We saw a lot of companies doing this the second time around after initially focusing on price and then encountering issues," he says.

In terms of companies who were planning to implement systems, price rated higher than audio quality in terms of important factors. For companies who had already purchased, this was reversed.

"We call this the circle of frustration – a lot of companies have a problem then get the wrong people to buy the wrong things for the wrong reason--usually price--which in turn generates more problems," Heys says. "You break the cycle by involving the stakeholders and focusing on the desired outcomes."


Improved Audio Quality Enhances Experiences

The report found companies at a higher hybrid maturity level, who have invested in better audio quality equipment, reported an enhanced hybrid working experience.

For instance, 72% of financially thriving organizations use professional audio equipment, while 63% of those with stable economic performance opt for professional audio equipment.

Robin Hamerlinck, senior vice president and chief information officer at Shure, says as organizations strive for a competitive edge, having the right technology equipment and solutions in place will continue to be of utmost significance.

"The findings emphasize the importance of not only considering cost-effectiveness but also ensuring that the chosen audio technology delivers superior audio quality," he says. "Organizations should prioritize investing in solutions that provide clear and reliable audio, as it significantly enhances communication and collaboration in remote and hybrid work environments."

Gartner analyst Tapan Upmanyu says when selecting the technologies for virtual collaboration especially audio technologies, organizations must improve the audio capabilities for office-based employees.

"Implement best-in-class audio options in the office-based meeting spaces so that the in-office and remote participants can hear each other clearly," he says. "The technology must be implemented according the size and acoustic dynamics of the meeting space."

This means the microphones must cover the entire space, and the speaker system must be loud enough to hear the remote participants.

"Identify the ways and technologies that offset the noise from outside the meeting spaces," Upmanyu says.

Equally important is to provide high-end audio devices to remote employees--the audio capabilities laptops, tablets, and smartphones are good these days but not enough.

"There are options that reduce the background sounds for employees working from home offices," he explains. "Remote employees can be provided with high-end audio headsets with microphones that have some degree of noise cancellation."


AI, Beamforming, Spatial Audio Evolving

As technology continues to advance, several impactful innovations are emerging around conferencing audio.

Artificial intelligence-powered audio enhancements, for instance, can intelligently adapt to changing environments, automatically adjusting audio settings for optimal performance.

Beamforming microphones with advanced algorithms can focus on capturing the speaker's voice, effectively reducing background noise and improving speech intelligibility.

Spatial audio technology creates a sense of presence by reproducing sounds as they would occur naturally, contributing to a more immersive experience.

"These future trends hold immense potential for further improving conferencing audio quality and revolutionizing the way we collaborate remotely," Hamerlinck says.

Heys notes the top problems reported with meeting room systems are that they are not intuitive enough--this results in meetings starting late and/or attendees giving up and crowding round a laptop.

"Obviously, you want the system to be able to work with the main videoconferencing application with the minimum user intervention and set up time," he says. "It needs to be as intuitive as possible, and it needs to be able to cover the entire room so that everyone present is audible."

Companies reported numerous issues with background noise getting in the way. Interestingly they also reported that lack of fidelity caused the loss of meaning and seriously impacted the participants ability to achieve a natural discussion flow.

"You really need to think about technologies that can filter out the background noise and enhance the quality of the human voice," Heys says.