Improving Communication - Part 1: Hardware and Software

in Business, Culture by Piotr on November 28th, 2015

Communication is the key, they say. It’s true that you need to communicate properly to achieve goals nowadays. But what does it mean exactly? In this short post I will show you how the communication between the client and the software developers looks like in Desmart. This time I'll focus on both hardware and software aspects influencing our communication.

The Internet connection

Problem

It seems normal and obvious that the Internet connection should be stable and have decent speed. Still, you wouldn't believe how many times we had to deal with a bad and choking one. It's a real nightmare when you have to speak to someone who has a broken or weak WiFi or uses 3G/LTE connection.

Solution

It is essential to make sure that you have a stable connection to the Internet. Speed is less important as most of modern internet providers offer a decent speed (3-6 Mbps is enough in most cases, even if you use video). You can check your Internet speed on the most popular SpeedTest website or test your VOIP Connection - if everything is green, it means your connection should be fine.

But what if it's not? There is a variety of different device producers in the Internet/WiFi world. If you can, connect the cable directly to your router - it will eliminate the problems with bad WiFi reception. You can also buy a more sophisticated router, like we did.

This router (AC3200 by D-Link) is amazing. I know it looks as if an alien spaceship landed on your desk, but besides the otherworldly design, it's marvelous. 3 bands (two 5Ghz and one 2,4 Ghz) and 6 antennas give you a lot of power and options to setup your WiFi correctly. Believe me - it helps. I have a lot of experience with other routers, both cheap and more expensive, but I can recommend this one as a very good device.

Try to avoid 3G or LTE connections - they are usually so unstable that the voice of the other person will be stuttered or there will be lags which lead to misunderstandings, or very long discussions about your bad connection, rather than the topic you originally wanted to talk about.

Speakers and mics

Problem

Let's assume that your connection is great, you bought the cool alien-looking router, configured it properly and have a decent Internet connection. You try to connect to call someone and… they can barely hear you.

Solution

When the voice of your interlocutor is not stuttered, but just quiet or they cannot hear you well, than it is a good idea to have headphones handy when you want to talk privately with someone. Most of the VOIP programs have an echo cancellation feature, but sometimes even with minimal jitter, your interlocutors might hear an echo if they listen to you on loudspeakers. Which is detrimental to the quality of your conversation, creates distraction and is really unpleasant. Headphones should help. In Desmart we have two of these little oval Jabras:

These are not cheap (around $150, Jabra Speak 510) but believe me - they are worth every penny. You can connect Jabra simply with USB (works almost instantly with OS X and Windows) or with Bluetooth (I don't recommend it) and it is an outstanding speaker, so you can hear everything loud and clear. Also, the mic is a masterpiece. According to the manual, it has "BUILT-IN OMNI-DIRECTIONAL MICROPHONE" which means you can hear and be heard thanks to a 360-degree microphone that picks up sounds from any angle. I highly recommend buying one.

I can see you!

It's really nice to see you! I mean, literally. People like to see other people. It allows us to understand their emotions better, see who's talking at the time. These days cameras are build-in in almost every laptop, both Macs or PCs, so try to remember to switch your camera on when talking to your team. Communication just got better!

If you don't have a camera, consider buying one. In our company we use the Genius WideCam which has a decent 120° ultra wide angle lens. It's not superb in terms of quality, but shows every team member even if they sit on both ends of a long table.

Software

Proper software is almost as important as proper hardware. There are plenty of solutions for online calls, but Skype is by far most popular. Even though I'm not a big fan of Microsoft's software, I admit that sometimes it's fast and reliable. A while ago Microsoft decided to give an option to talk with couple of people at once, even with the cameras turned on for free. It works.

But if you are not able to install Skype immediately, you can just browse (using Chrome or Firefox) Whereby website and launch a discussion, even using a camera right away. Easy and effective. I prefer using it when someone is not forcing me to use Skype.

Last but not least - sometimes you need to instantly send a document, a picture or discuss something with your team, but without speaking to them directly. We use Slack for that. It works both in the web browser, as well as a stand-alone program on your Mac, PC, iOS or Android. It has "rooms" which you can create to talk about a specific topic with people you invited. You can also chat with someone directly. Again, Slack is similar to Skype in that matter, but in my team's opinion on Slack it's easier to manage teams and people who have access to each conversation, see who's online etc. Not to mention the integrations that you can do with various types of external software we use (like Pivotal Tracker or GitLab)

What's your experience with software or hardware designed for good communication? Share your insights with me in the comments.


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