Preparing Your Home Office for Optimum Voice Quality

The Problem

Despite the exhortations of celebrity CEO’s, remote work is here to stay. We as IT leaders must determine how best to achieve our goals in this paradigm. Even before the pandemic, conferences and remote users have had their share of technical issues. Now collaboration systems’ disparities exacerbate the challenges. Audio quality is one of many such problems. Whether it is delay, echo, jitter, low bandwidth, poor equipment, background noise, or other factors, some simple actions can make your remote work environment sound more professional. If your teenage gamer were speaking in a Discord server chat and exhibited such poor audio, they would be kicked out or muted by the moderator. They may not fully understand why their peers use a particular vendor or technology, but they do heed the trend. So why does their parent, working for a prestigious employer, use a $20 headset in their home office and place transactions, and your firm at risk?

Many years ago, a customer had a small trading floor where a single trader had ‘static’ on all his lines. It was odd that only one person experienced this, and odder still that the lines were IP, and the problem was intermittent. I joined the tech on the service call at 7AM on a Summer morning before trading began. The trading turrets were older vintage, but in good working order. There was nothing remarkable about that desk. We tested both handsets and several lines with no issues. We checked for all the usual IP related issues like jitter. Nothing. We put it on speaker and checked the gooseneck microphone.  Suddenly there was the static. What we found was an extremely sensitive omnidirectional microphone with no windscreen which was aimed upward directly at the overhead air conditioning vent. I blocked the air with my hand and the static ceased. The telecom manager (remember those?) was highly embarrassed. While not a remote work example, it illustrates the point that even on a main trading floor, you can encounter unique circumstances. If you have such issues in the controlled environment of a main trading floor, imagine the issues you would encounter in the hundreds of uncontrolled remote work environments?

What Employees Can Do

  • Correctly prepare your environment:
    • Do not use rooms with vaulted ceilings, wood floors, and vast open space
    • Use acoustic dampening panels when there is a chance for reflection
    • Choose a room with a door to close if others are home
    • Close windows
    • Do not have fans or air vents blow on your desk
  • Provide sufficient bandwidth:
    • Dedicated if possible
    • Use a cable not Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for all connections when possible
      • Ear buds are EXTREMELY sensitive and pick up every noise so avoid them
    • Choose the best SSID connection to your home router
    • Use a VPN
    • Test your up/down bandwidth with a speed test provider
  • Correctly layout your desk
    • Do not put the speakers and mic too close; angle the speakers towards you
    • Use a headset if possible and do not put the mic boom too close to your mouth
    • Do not put anything in front of you speakers and mic to impede their quality
    • Turn off other mics not in use such as camera mics that can cause feedback
    • Use the mute button judiciously

What Employers Can Do

  • Provide quality equipment:
    • Simply providing a stipend does not mean employees will spend it correctly
    • Name the high-quality brands and exact model numbers of I/O devices
    • Choose the correct microphone polar pattern for the environment:
      • Cardioid (NOT omnidirectional)
      • Ensure it has a foam windscreen cover
      • Position the Speakers in the rear dead zone of the mic’s polar pattern
    • Provide a home office best practices manual
    • Test and monitor home offices as if it were a corporate site
    • Provide up to date PCs:
      • Provide a dedicated device if your other tools are processor hogs
      • Traders have less screens when remote but want the same apps
      • Is the OS, processor, drivers, settings, and memory up to the task?
      • Check users Task Manger for utilization and performance and turn unnecessary items off
      • Enable noise reduction on the PC, APP, and equipment
      • For WebRTC apps, are browser extension disabled?
      • Is security software slowing things down?

What Technology Vendors Can Do

  • Provide best practices recommendations for remote use of your products
  • Do not sell less than what your customer needs just to get the deal:
    • Make sure your remote desktop vendor manages voice correctly
    • Procure all the required software packages
  • Provide tools that clean up inferior quality audio or noise even if it is introduced:
    • AI can do easily determine that a barking dog does not belong on a call
  • Provide a platform such as XOP Networks that can solve this for you:
    • Extend the life of your legacy assets
    • Account for every user’s setup being potentially different
    • Provide protocol conversion and bridging when necessary
    • Provides multiple access methods to suit your situation or as a backup
    • Reestablish connections upon failure for business continuity and reduced interruption
    • Normalize access methods to provide a common user experience
    • Allow a single pane of glass for administrators ease of management


Is all this obvious? Remember the example of my visit to the trading floor for static? For the want of a foam windscreen, or moving the trader, they frustrated a key revenue producer, wasted their time and the vendor’s time. Do not skimp on remote worker costs as it is never worth the few pennies you may save. Listen to a voice recording of a poor-quality trader voice call and ask yourself if it would lend itself to the conflict resolution of a disputed trade. Why risk your reputation, and profits from that trade made on a $20 headset because a manager was more concerned about their budget? The Federal Reserve Banks use the fable, Shopping Wisely with Olivia Owl, to teach children the value of money. The moral is that if you compare price options before you shop, you will use your money more productively. As IT managers, we need to plan and choose vendor partners wisely, then test, monitor and maintain our remote workers’ equipment and applications the same as if they were in an office. If not, we risk being the telecom manager responsible for 100 angry traders under 100 air vents.


Bill Wagner is a financial industry technology consultant with over 30 years’ experience as an industry executive in hardware, software, engineering, operations, R&D, product development and introduction, and strategic development.