Work from Anywhere – A Tale of UC Troubles
Here’s a tale of three colleagues: Sally, Margaret and John. Since they’ve begun working from anywhere, these individuals are well known by their organization’s IT Help Desk, as conference calls they attend are notorious for disruptive call quality— usually caused by these users. It’s obvious that Sally, Margaret and John are in need of some serious assistance to better align them with the three pillars of unified communication (UC) for Work From Anywhere success —hardware, media quality, and user surroundings — all of which must function in harmony to produce the best UC end-user experience.
So, what exactly are these colleagues doing wrong?
- Sally invested in a certified mic, speaker, and webcam and has her own in-home office, but since the onset of the pandemic, she has not upgraded her internet bandwidth, resulting in poor video streaming capabilities.
- Margaret, on the other hand, has just switched to a better Internet Service Provider (ISP) and has the same expensive devices as Sally, but despite three screaming kids and two barking puppies, she still has not found the mute button.
- Finally, John has the quietest work environment possible and a 1 GB internet plan, but unfortunately uses his built-in microphone and speaker, which make him sound like he’s calling from the international space station.
As you can see, Sally, Margaret, and John all have vastly different UC configurations; some of them have invested in the highest quality hardware while others prioritize their internet bandwidth or their user environment. However, they are far from achieving Work From Anywhere success, with their videoconferencing practices miserably failing time and time again. Quite simply, without all three pillars (hardware, media quality, and user surroundings), quality crises will inevitably persist in the hybrid workplace.
As enterprises continue the shift from the COVID-induced remote work structure into the new hybrid work structure (with 73% of employees seeking remote work options in some capacity), it will be even more important to understand these three essential elements that form the bedrock of Work From Anywhere success. After all, there will always be a new set of challenges: users may need upgraded internet plans, a new ISP, replacements for their video and audio hardware, and several updates for their firmware— among countless other IT challenges that likely will arise.
Luckily, most enterprises expected these challenges and have subsequently begun to invest in upgrading their UC systems and other remote work tools. However, many don’t have a good grasp on which parts of their UC environments to prioritize. This blog will break down the three UC pillars of Work From Anywhere success – media quality, hardware, and user surroundings – and explain what companies can do to better understand, optimize, and manage these key components of their hybrid UC systems.
High media quality (the quality of audio, video, and app sharing) is essential for frictionless communications and conferencing. When working from anywhere, whether at the office, at home or elsewhere, users require top-notch media quality on their UC platforms of choice to effectively contribute and participate.
When evaluating media quality, it is crucial that IT administrators keep several metrics in mind: frame rate, resolution, jitter, round trip time, and packet loss are all important metrics that can be used to determine the overall user experience (measured by Percentage of Call Failures or Poor Call Experiences). Yet, while these metrics are helpful, tracking user data and receiving user feedback via feedback tickets or user surveys remain the best methods for companies to understand the success of their remote work tools and UC configurations. Leveraging specific analytics will be important when evaluating Work From Home success, but Mean Opinion Scores (MOS) are far less important than the overall user impression.
To measure a user’s media quality and address relevant issues, it is important to ask two key questions:
1. How is this user’s call quality performing in comparison to others in a similar situation?
To answer this question, organizations must leverage third-party tools that offer benchmarking and city-profiling functionalities. For example, with the help of such tools, IT leadership easily could have identified that John was having inconsistent conferencing experiences with high levels of call quality issues and low levels of user satisfaction. By tracking the user experience, they could drill down even further to decipher that John is using a low-speed internet plan for a subpar experience compared to other people in his city on his ISP; a simple issue that John struggled with for many months could have been effortlessly resolved in the span of days.
2. When media quality suffers, which party or user is causing the core issue?
Similarly, it is helpful to leverage third-party tools that provide call quality troubleshooting and root cause analysis. This data will enable enterprise IT to identify not just the issue but, more importantly, the cause.
It is also vital to track and measure media quality across multiple platforms, providing different benchmarks for each (especially because some platforms will operate better in certain areas, due to proximity to a provider’s centralized data centers or peering points). For more in-depth information on managing media quality, check out our blog post discussing Work From Home IT Support.
Work from Anywhere Hardware
Achieving Work From Anywhere success requires properly integrated software and hardware . Enterprises will have to choose the conferencing and collaboration platform (or platforms) that not only meets organizational needs, but they’ll also need to complement those platforms with perfectly connected high-performing hardware.
As some employees return to the office, conference rooms must be configured for intensive video conferencing and virtual meetings. This may require installing new audio and video hardware in office spaces. Prior to installing these systems, however, it is important that enterprises audit their hardware environments and needs. Conducting in-depth hardware audits will help enterprises discover:
- Peak utilization and predicted future room hardware needs
- How often systems are running Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or other UC and collaboration platforms
This information is essential as most room devices can only support a single platform at a time (most offices will be forced to choose between Zoom Rooms and Teams Rooms). As a result, tracking which systems are used and arranging these rooms accordingly is crucial. Luckily, third-party tools can suggest the ratio of rooms with specific configurations and break down this information by site, department, and team.
Given the ever-evolving hybrid work structure, workers will also need comprehensive hardware setups at home and in the office as virtual meetings continue, irrespective of the physical locations in which employees are working. As a result, enterprises likely will have to invest in high-quality audio and video technology for individual employees, in the office as well as at home. At a minimum, this includes providing workers with high-quality headsets, microphones and cameras for their home setup.
Implementing and upgrading hardware technologies is one part of the challenge of working from anywhere; measuring the success of these systems is just as impactful. Some metrics to measure the success of hardware configurations include those mentioned above such as frame rate and packet loss, as these data points reflect device performance. It is also important to track the average age of hardware assets in systems to plan for upgrades and space out maintenance. Similarly, it is key to ensure that firmware is updated at regular intervals.
If all of these processes are done correctly, enterprises will have successfully tackled yet another part of the UC puzzle. However, it is important to understand that expensive devices in a UC ecosystem will not magically make all UC problems disappear. As Sally and Margaret quickly learned, while high-quality hardware is certainly beneficial, it cannot single-handedly offset disastrous media quality or disruptive user surroundings when working from anywhere.
In a hybrid work environment, users’ calling environments are entirely variable. Unlike a Work From Home (WFH) environment in which employees are always stationed in one place (home), hybrid work leads to far less controlled employee environments, varying between several different spaces: the home, office, abroad, on the road, and infinite other locations. It is essential for Work From Anywhere success, however, that users can easily join, participate, and contribute to calls and meetings in the ways they normally would, regardless of location.
Users must be cognizant of their environments and adapt their behaviors in virtual meetings as necessary. To help users understand this expectation and adjust accordingly, IT administrators should focus on educating individual workers and creating an expected Work From Anywhere protocol. It is important for IT to remind users to practice mindful behavior and best practices during virtual meetings, with the following examples serving as a helpful instruction tool:
- If a user (like Margaret) is at home or somewhere with a noisy and disruptive environment, the user should mute their microphone when not speaking.
- If a user is utilizing their car’s Bluetooth mic and speaker, there is a higher risk of echo and the call volume tends to be lower.
All in all, users are responsible for relying on their surroundings to inform their video and audio conduct. Videoconferencing practices are not fixed; they entirely depend on user surroundings and should be thought of as a flexible and adaptable set of practices. While this may seem obvious, users should know that while they cannot always control an environment, they can prevent it from detracting from the video conferencing quality for others.
If IT administrators take the time to help users understand which environments are better suited for successful meeting experiences and high call quality, they can help reduce and mitigate poor call experiences organization wide.
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A Final Thought on Work From Anywhere Success
While enterprises cannot entirely control all aspects of the three UC pillars for Work From Anywhere success, it is still vital that organizations and employees recognize all three pillars while continuously tracking and managing the factors within their control. To do so effectively, enterprises can take advantage of third-party management tools to elevate their hybrid UC environments and practices to the next level.
With a tool like PowerSuite in an organization’s back pocket, leadership can always stay one step ahead of any UC and IT issues by leveraging powerful data, insights, and analytics through a single pane of glass.