Have you ever been on a call, and the sound quality is so bad that it's nearly impossible to understand what the person on the other end is saying? Ever had the situation at work where your co-workers' conversations distract you to the point where you can't focus on the task at hand? 

Of course you have.

These issues are universal, but correctable, with the right audio equipment and noise-canceling headphones.

EPOS, the leading manufacturer of such equipment, recently conducted the Understanding Sound Experiences 2020 study, polling business decision makers to learn about their experiences dealing with sound quality and noisy workspaces. They surveyed 2,500 end users and decision makers of audio equipment from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Not surprisingly, issues involving sound quality and noise distractions were universal.

How big an issue is this? Consider this: The survey found that end users spend an average of 5 hours 19 minutes on activities relating to sound and meetings each day, whether face-to-face or virtual. The survey also found that 95 percent of end users said their concentration and efficiency at work have suffered due to sound issues.

Because of the global health crisis, many companies are doing business remotely for the first time, and many have learned the hard way that their audio hardware is woefully inadequate. Whether it's trying to hear clearly while on a conference call or blocking out the background noise of loved ones, all too often hearing clearly is next to impossible.

"As remote working is becoming a natural part of our working lives, we see that intrusive audio is not confined to office environments, which exacerbates this problem even further," notes Theis Mørk, vice president, Product Management, Enterprise at EPOS. "Bad audio can result in miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation--altogether having significant consequences for businesses and their employees."

Poor sound quality

The survey focused heavily on issues relating to sound quality, whether it was during telephone calls, conference calls, or video meetings.

Quality audio in video conferences and meetings can be a cost-savings center. The need to travel for business is greatly reduced when virtual meetings have clear visuals and top-tier audio. When it feels like your conference counterparts are "in the room" on these conference calls, business can be conducted as effectively as if you were talking face to face.

This fact has been reinforced during a time when travel is banned and virtual meetings are the only option. The fact is, more and more business leaders are getting comfortable with virtual meetings and are realizing they can cut their travel budgets significantly. In the survey, 45 percent of the respondents included time savings and 41 percent included cost savings among the three most important reasons for using video meetings or calls. 

But video calls and conference calls with poor audio can be frustrating and counterproductive. Fully 34 percent of the respondents said they've had to repeat themselves in meetings because people had trouble understanding what they were saying. Conversely, the exact same percentage reported that they've had to ask participants to repeat themselves due to poor sound quality.

"In fact, 87 percent of the end users say they have experienced at least one pain point due to poor sound quality during calls or virtual meetings," notes Mørk. "This includes excessive background noise, having to repeat themselves, and asking for information to be repeated.

"Additional examples include bad connections on the line that cut off speech, recipients having to ask for information to be repeated, and the need to send follow-up emails to clarify key points. All this results in frustration and wasted time." 

These aren't just annoyances. Bad audio is bad for the bottom line. Respondents reported the following negative outcomes from poor audio quality:

• Dissatisfied clients (23 percent)

• Financial loss due to incorrectly undertaking a task (18 percent)

• Losing a key piece of work or a deal resulting in financial loss to the company (18 percent)

• Losing a pitch or tender (19 percent)

"It all comes down to the quality of the audio," Mørk adds. "Without clear sound, successful remote working will be a pipedream."

Excess noise

Background noise is a fact of life, both in offices and when working remotely. It is not just an annoyance; excessive noise can cut down on productivity and cause frustration and stress. Not surprisingly, the biggest annoyance cited by the study respondents was noise created by loud colleagues, which was reported as a problem by 50 percent of the respondents. In times of quarantine, many of us have learned that it's not just loud colleagues that can be problematic when trying to get work done.

Changes in office configurations have also contributed to the problem. 

"Companies are increasingly adopting the open-plan design, which comes with many benefits, such as enhancing collaboration; but it comes at a cost," Mørk adds. "They also trigger distractions, affect focus, and decrease productivity. This calls for audio solutions that eliminate noise and aid concentration, making noise-cancellation technology essential when choosing the right headset."

Taking action

According to the study, each worker loses 29 minutes per week due to audio issues. This adds up to three work days a year. Imagine a company with 500 employees--that's 1,500 lost work days in a year.

On the positive side, business owners and decision makers understand the problem and plan on taking action. Of those experiencing pain points, 79 percent perceive good audio equipment as a solution, and fully 93 percent plan to purchase new audio equipment in the next 12 months.

  • 37 percent think that the right tools can reduce misunderstandings to a great extent.
  • 40 percent feel they would significantly reduce the need to repeatedly clarify information.
  • 37 percent believe good audio would prevent participants from missing critical information to a great extent.

"We hope that this report can serve as a tool for businesses to provide their employees with the best equipment to ensure optimum productivity levels and maintain their competitive edge in the market," Mørk concludes, "and at the same time, ensure their employees' health and well-being."

To download the full Understanding Sound Experiences 2020 Report, click here