The importance of headsets

Just over two years ago I wrote about life with a headset. Back then organisations were still wary about taking up softphones, but still happily rolling out “VoIP”-supported conferencing solutions such as WebEx and GoToMeeting. That being said many organisations still utilise traditional telephony systems with desk-based handsets, as well as dial-in conference bridges.

More and more organisations are enabling and rolling out Skype for Business as part of Office 365 as it is somewhat of a no-brainer these days. This is even more so with the Cloud PBX component — enabling Office 365 to all but replace traditional telephony systems altogether.

The issue here however is the headset, and on this I’ll speak beyond just my Microsoft-based view of the world.

In a recent conversation with a customer they informed me that they were rolling out an online conferencing solution (not Skype for Business), but they were not providing staff headsets. The decision was purely cost-driven.

What this means is that while staff are able to share desktops, applications and presentations using the conference solution — they must still dial into the conference bridge using a mobile phone or desk-based handset.

The problem is that staff on calls end up with the familiar position on the left

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Cradling your phone for anything more than a few minutes starts to become physically annoying, but imagine doing this for a 30-minute call, an hour or even longer. The neck and shoulders are not designed to hold this position for any length of time. Over time this posture can place strain on the muscles and other soft tissues, leading to muscle imbalances between the left and right side of the neck. In some cases, it has been reported that this position can potentially lead to a “mini-stroke” causing temporary impairment to vision and limb usage.

The reality is that USB headsets don’t cost much — whether they are Skype for Business compliant or for another vendor (or not at all). Looking at the Plantronics Blackwire 310 mono headset (ie. one ear) the RRP is only about $45 USD (or about $58 here in Australia). If you consider the potential medical cost to rehabilitate staff who have neck and shoulder strain — the cost of supplying this headset is negligible. Being a chorded device it does mean that users at bound to their desk however, but at least they are free to move their head and arms around without running the risk of muscle strain.

The other end of the spectrum is something like the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC stereo Bluetooth headset with active noise cancelling. This is the Rolls Royce of headsets, but priced at a reasonable RRP of $190 USD (or about $380 here in Australia — which is not practical for an organisation-wide deployment). These can be paired with a mobile phone as well, allowing staff to use the same headset for their PC-based calling as well as mobile-based. Plus, these work beautifully for drowning out the sounds of the office and playing music.

I personally use the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC at the office and at home, which allows me the freedom to get up and walk around. In the office I can walk into another room and close the door, or at home I can even go the kitchen and get a drink. I also take these with me when I travel as it gives me the benefit of noise-cancelling headphones to play media through on the plane.

But this post isn’t a plug for Plantronics. It’s a calling to say that each and every single user in an organisation that has a phone or computer should have a headset — either cheap, expensive or somewhere in between. If you want your conferencing solution to be successful — make sure people can feel like they are unencumbered like they would in a conference room. Make sure they don’t end the call with neck or shoulder pain, or have to spend time doing stretches to make up for the stiffness they now feel.

While purchasing handsets for tens, hundreds or thousands of staff is a costly exercise — the impact to productivity and personal health if you don’t will cost even more.


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