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Remote, in-office, and everywhere in between: What meetings will look like in the new hybrid workplace

Adapting to the new normal will require tech solutions to keep up.

Photos courtesy of EPOS
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In some ways, the shift to remote to work during COVID-19 has been simple. There was no grey area, no asking for permission, no negotiation as to when to be in the office and on which days. Working from home was a statement of fact, a nod to the reality of the pandemic.

As things start to get back to something approaching normalcy, though, the situation surrounding work has gotten fuzzier, and trickier to navigate as both employees and employers. Workers are slowly trickling back into the office and companies that promised remote-first policies for their global workforces are considering walking back that commitment — even if workers prefer a hybrid office culture. Recent research from EPOS, the premium audio technology company, found that 53 percent of decision makers think that the majority of employees will work more from the workplace in the next year, compared to 26 percent of employees.

One thing that both sides of the divide can agree on is that more needs to be more done to alleviate the burnout of a blended workforce. In addition to the blurring line between home and work, research has shown that the cognitive load of video calls is an exhausting exercise. Maintaining workforce wellness will require more hybrid solutions that take advantage of audio, video, and face-to-face meetings.

Whatever this new world of work looks like will look like in the future, it will require some adaptation — which is why emerging technologies to meet the changes of the workplace will be vital. “The workplace of the future is going to probably be hybridized in some way,” said expert futurist Jared Weiner on a recent episode of Powered by Audio, an EPOS podcast. “There’s going to have to be this kind of new management of when do certain people go in and when to others work from home. How are we going to operate cross functional teams where some people are on location, and other people are, wherever they may be — this is really what the value of audio technology is going to be.”

EPOS provides premium audio solutions designed for enterprises, using its 115 years of experience in sound and innovation to create technology that will help a global workforce adjust to a hybrid workplace. The right technologies have the chance to transition between remote and hybrid work, reduce the fatigue of remote work, and revolutionize the idea of the office post-pandemic.

Headphones as sonic sanctuaries

After more than a year spent participating in video calls with intermittently tinny and choppy sounds, employees around the world have learned that audio fidelity can spell the difference between a smooth call and a stressful one. Poor audio quality can negatively impact employee health and client relationships. According to research from Ipsos and EPOS, more than a quarter of employees are left frustrated, irritated, or annoyed by bad audio, and 19 percent of respondents reported experiencing stress because of bad sound. Research from the University of Southern California even demonstrated that the quality of audio can impact whether someone believes what they’re hearing or not.

High quality audio, then, will be a pillar of the hybrid workspace as workers will toggling between in-person and remote meetings regularly. (There’s even research that suggests that low quality, flat audio can contribute to video call fatigue.) Headphones with active noise control (ANC) will be a vital tool for hybrid workers since they’re able to use microphones to filter out outside noise and give people a sonic sanctuary wherever they are. There are even noise-canceling headphones like the EPOS ADAPT 660 that use artificially intelligent microphones that dynamically adjust to a wearer’s surroundings, providing some peace whether there’s a wailing siren, office chatter, or a rushing train to deal with.

The next-gen conference room

The importance of microphones and conferencing equipment that can fuse remote and in-person workforces will be vital as workplaces move towards a hybrid future. Technology like AR-equipped conference rooms — to allow hybrid teams to whiteboard in real-time and integrate seamlessly with video conferencing and collaboration software — may become a standard part of office life.

But low quality audio and visual fidelity will still pose a barrier as the world moves from remote to in-person conferencing again. Low quality microphones can lead to misunderstandings and frustrations between employees, and 21 percent of employees from an EPOS industry report say they’ve missed out on critical information because of poor audio. The delay between verbal responses while on video calls can also negatively impact how individuals perceive each other, which not only contributes to exhaustion and fatigue but employee morale as well. Even millisecond delays can short circuit the brain chemistry that dictates rewards, leading to disappointed and weary employees.

For many workplaces, updated teleconferencing technology can be a cost-effective and efficient way to improve audio and video quality on both ends of a conversation. Next-generation speaker phones like the EPOS EXPAND 80 use multiple microphone arrays and software integration to make sure every word you say is captured clearly, whether you’re in a casual one-on-one or a presentation with a dozen colleagues. There have also been significant advances in webcam technology with cameras that dynamically adjust their frames and microphones to pick up users even if they’re farther away from the camera or moving around the room, two things that can help combat video call fatigue. (The ability to move around while you’re talking and working through ideas and challenges is correlated with a higher level of cognitive processing.) The EPOS EXPAND Vision 3T also allows for efficient collaboration between remote and in-office teammates, letting staff share content from different devices directly to the camera itself without having to go through any peripherals or third party apps.

Even updating legacy technologies like speakerphones can go a long way in both bridging remote and in-office workers, and help those working from home stave off the irritation of being misunderstood or mishead. Speakerphones equipped with multiple microphones are able to capture the voices of meeting participants no matter where they are in a room, which can be helpful when it comes to running productive meetings with a hybrid workforce.

Remote, in-office, and everywhere in between

As much as technology has led to exhausted employees sitting on endless video calls, new technologies — or tech being used properly — can also be a stable bridge between hybrid workforces. How employees are heard, seen, and see each others are vital things to consider, and audio technology like that from EPOS will be vital in establishing a hybrid office that fights fatigue. It will go a long way in bringing this blurry period between the “new normal” and “back to normal” into sharp focus.

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