The Challenge of Audio Data

I’ve worked remote from my co-workers for nearly 20 years. In that time, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone, as well as in audio and video calls. Quality has often been an issue, both with seeing others and hearing them. Add in accents, speech patterns, and equipment quality, and I’ve often found myself frustrated and upset with calls. Over the years things have improved, and I have to say that the modern Zoom/Teams/Slack style of everyone working separately and being in their own environment has made it easier to communicate.

However, it’s still not great. I was on a call a few hours before I wrote this, where someone was talking on a laptop microphone, and as they moved their head, the audio quality changed dramatically. They also raised and lowered their voice, depending on their interest in that part of the update, which had me constantly raising and lowering the volume on my side.

There was an article recently that noted employees can struggle with bad audio as they try to work remotely with others. Stress, frustration, embarrassment, and more can affect employees. For a once a week hour-long meeting, this might not be an issue. For daily stand-ups or multiple meetings a day, this is likely going to be a long term problem.

When I’m on a call, I don’t know how I sound, unless someone tells me that there is an issue. I sometimes use a headset and mic, but I also take meetings with my PC speakers and external mic. To b fair, I haven’t often reviewed my audio sounds on a recording, but I know that there are times I get annoyed by heavy breathing by others, typing on keyboards, or even echos from someone else’s laptop speaker.

It’s not often, but it does happen regularly. I haven’t even mentioned the issues at the beginning of calls of getting people connected to audio on calls, which are frustrating and often waste five or more minutes at the start of the meeting. We’ve tolerated and dealt with a lot of issues across the last few months of this pandemic, and I’m glad that most organizations, in most situations, have done so.

That doesn’t mean that continued issues will be as easy to handle over the long term. We will see stress and struggles go up if we can’t ensure that audio data has a high quality, as we expect from email, chat, and other written data. I’m going to try and ensure that I listen to some recordings of myself in meetings, and ensure my audio setup is good, not just for me, but for everyone. I hope others do the same.

Steve Jones

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