A few months ago, Plantronics released their new premium headset, the 8200UC. Being a Plantronics device enthusiast I was lucky enough to acquire one of these to add to my already growing collection of Plantronics devices, and thought that I’d share my opinion on the devices I use, why I use them and which ones I prefer. This isn’t so much a technical review of each device, but just my experiences with them, what I like and what I don’t to help you choose the right one for you.
Before I go into the specifics of each device, I have to look at the communication profiles or personas I float between. Whichever persona I am working in decides which device I will use. This is an interesting point, because when we have originally profiled users, we define them a single persona and that outputs the communication profile we assign to them. In reality though, many people will have multiple personas that are dependent on their working pattern. So assigning them a single device even though 65% of the time they will be using persona, they might have completely the wrong device or configuration for 35% of their working time, which to that person is a significant handicap.
The people most likely to have multiple personas are going to be the smart workers, the ones that work from home, the car and the office. However, if you follow the Persona advice from various vendors, the output of the persona you define for them will often supply them with a binaural USB headset. I fall into this category, my work life is split as follows:
- 65% work from home
- 25% customer site
- 7% travel by train or car
- 3% work from company office
Breaking down my day in each of these personas I often require the use of more than one device, depending on the type of communication I am participating in. Even from home, I can float between as many as 3 devices. For instance, I could be listening to music, having a P2P audio call with a colleague, a meeting that lasts 30 minutes or less, or multi-hour meetings with customers. The way I interact and concentrate also affects the device I use. For instance, talking in an internal meeting, I am usually sat by my desk multi-tasking until it is my turn to speak. However, if I am in a pre-sales meeting with a customer and explaining to them why they should invest in Skype for Business, I tend to pace up and down my office to keep my concentration and flow. But that’s not all of my meeting profiles, technical calls with customers where I am going to be in the meeting for hours, the last thing I want is a headset on my head, so I’ll tend to use a speakerphone for those.
When I am working away from home I will travel as light as I possibly can. My priorities for travel are based on these questions; “What can I fit into my carry on?” and “what am I going to be doing the other end?”. Generally, my travel is always planned in advance, I have very little events where I have less than 72 hours notice, so I typically always know what I am going to be doing. The question that changes things is what mode of transport am I taking? For instance, if I am travelling on a day trip to London, I will go on the train, the last thing I want to be doing is lugging by rucksack around on the tube during rush hour, the mass of people, the heat, and the confinement of space already stresses me out enough without having to lug a heavy bag around with me. So I will carry my laptop, its charger, a USB cable (for charging phone and headset) and the most mobile, lightweight headset I have and pack them into a traditional over the shoulder carry bag. If I am travelling by car, then I tend to take my laptop bag with a bit more in like travel plugs, various connecting cables, speakerphone, headset, spare battery pack, external hdd, USB sticks etc. I think I even carry a small toolset somewhere for those less glamourous moments. The reason, I’d rather go more prepared than I need to, and generally it is only a short distance between car park and the seat where I will be working. But in some cases, I have emptied the bag into my boot (trunk) and gone light in some cases. When in the car and someone calls my mobile phone, I will have it paired with the car’s built-in bluetooth phone system. I know that I sacrifice audio and I have no active noise cancellation, but I have tried the “white van man” approach with a in-ear monaural headset and I find that an intense distraction to driving because I like to have stereo hearing to fully appreciate my surroundings.
Aside from the where I am working, what am I doing questions I ask myself, the other important element to me is multi-device support. I could be at home listening to music on my headset, nose into a design document and some one tries to calls me on my mobile phone, which could be away from my line of sight. There is a potential I could miss that call if I was using a USB headset connected to my laptop. So a device that can connect to both my laptop and phone at the same time and notify me of calls on either is critically important to me.
So as I build my personas I can start to see that a single device and single persona is not suited to my way of working, and this is the point. In order to be productive, the end user has to use their own techniques and methods that work best for them in different surroundings. As a business or employer you cannot enforce productivity, all you can do is offer the means and support to encourage your staff. The rest is down to them. This is where people get it wrong, by assigning a single persona to a user, you are in effect trying to enforce a way of working on a staff member without considering their personal needs, it’s counter productive and goes against everything you are trying to achieve.
Let’s take a look at the devices I use. In my Plantronics collection I have:
- Focus UC
- 8200 UC
- 5200 UC
- Calisto P620-M
- Voyager Edge UC
Now, I am not saying that you should go out an buy all these devices for your staff because they transit multiple personas, that would cost you a fortune. But hold this thought!
So when do I use these devices?
Each device has it’s merits, however, I tend to gravitate to 3 of them. When I am at home and I have a day full of short meetings I will tend to use my Focus UC. For some enthusiasts out there will be saying why not the 8200 UC? Well, I find the Focus UC easier in many respects that the 8200UC. It’s easier to get on to your ears, it’s lighter in weight, which when you spend the majority of your day in calls it makes a significant difference in fatigue. When I tried the 8200UC for a day I found after a while my next started to ache a little and moving to the Focus UC, it felt like a feather in comparison. I also find the audio quality received by the other party to be generally better when using the Focus UC over the 8200UC. I have put this down to the fact that the Focus UC has a microphone boom, while the 8200UC is boom-less with microphones built in to the ear cups. I find I tend to have to talk louder when using the 8200UC than the Focus UC for the audio to be clear the other end. However, it’s not just the device that causes this, I also have to factor in the way I speak. I tend to speak nasally and with a lot of base in my voice. I find it hard to emphasize words, or put expressions on phrases and the 8200UC doesn’t quite pick out the definition that well. For others who are able to project their voice with different emotion, or who generally have a more alto style voice the 8200 UC may not have the same problem. The other element I like of the Focus UC over the 8200UC is the desk docking station where I can keep my headset charged all the time. With the 8200UC you have no docking station (its too heavy and bulky), instead you have to charge with a USB cable, which having to do that midway through your day can be a mild inconvenience when you need to use it!
This is not to say that I don’t like or use the 8200UC, but I tend to use that for quiet days where I may have the odd add-hoc call but spend most of the day focused and listening to music. The over the ear cups and ear speakers give really good audio range and they are perfect for listening to music. They also keep outside noise out almost completely which when you work from home and have a screaming baby in the background is critical for keeping your concentration on task. So these are more my life savers than my day to day headset of choice.
If I am out on the road or at customer site, I will travel with my 5200UC, a single ear bluetooth earpiece and microphone modelled on the Legend UC but comes with Focus UC style active noise cancellation. It’s small, lightweight and the built in battery into the carry case means that its almost always charged and ready to go with at least 5 hours of talk time. It allows me to have good audio participation away from the home office without carrying a substantial headset around with me. It also allows me to ensure that I am fully aware of my surroundings and to keep the volume level of my voice down to an appropriate level. This headset is so good at it’s job that I have completely shelved the Voyager Edge UC device (it’s older anyway).
The Calisto I keep in my bag and that only comes out in two cases. One, where I am expecting a long multi-hour call and I don’t want my ears to get sweaty by wearing a headset all the time, or two I am at a customer site (or company office) and we have a meeting where we need to bring in external participants in a Skype meeting. It always looks good when you have the technical solution to solve the problem in front of the customer, while they are busy running around trying to see if they can bring a desk phone in on loud speaker or some other weird solution. It opens their eyes to how easy UC can be. Although I have a Calisto I also have a Jabra Speak 710 (ssshhh), but as this is Plantronics focused I won’t say too much about it. The only thing I will say is that the 710 has a slightly better microphone pickup at range than the calisto, but you’d only want to swap to the 710 if you had two of them (they can be paired) and in a large room. On a one to one comparison in a small huddle room either devices perform well enough.
So that’s how I use my devices and my preferences. Back to the point where it does not make sense to buy all these devices for your workers.. You are right it doesn’t. What I find works best is rather than IT decide what device to ship with a “back office” designed persona is to allow the end user to make their own choice on the device they want.
Now choosing blindly of course everyone is going to order the most expensive one right? Not quite.. The way to handle this is to have an internal catalog of approved devices per persona definition. For instance for smart working you may offer a USB headset, A Focus UC, or a 8200UC, and maybe a speakerphone by request. You wouldn’t necessarily list the RRP price or the price at all on the catalog page. Instead, as part of your adoption program, you would educate your users to look within themselves on how they work and give them advice on the type of device that they may benefit from. Design a questionnaire for them to complete, like a self assessment to make them think about what they do on a day to day basis. Once they understand that, they are more than likely to order the right device for them because it has a direct impact on their working lives. The end result is you as an employer get more productive staff, less complaints about how bad Skype for Business is and better overall return on investments in hardware and people.
Mark is an Independent Microsoft Teams Consultant with over 15 years experience in Microsoft Technology. Mark is the founder of Commsverse, a dedicated Microsoft Teams conference and former MVP. You can follow him on twitter @UnifiedVale