Conference calling is a mainstay of the modern office, enabling hassle-free communication and collaboration so workers can focus on what really matters. With the rise of the mobile phone and the gradual move towards mobile conference calling, conferencing has begun to transcend the four walls of the office, allowing communication without limits.
And yet, despite the ubiquitous nature of conference calling, a few key issues still plague the conference call experience. One, in particular, stands out as the largest threat to productivity: bad audio quality.
Bad audio quality can make or break a meeting. Don’t believe me? Check out how bad audio quality negatively impacts your brain during a conference call.
Background Noise Inhibits Brain Activity
A key issue that stems from poor quality audio is susceptibility to background noise on your conference call. Background noise is more than just a nuisance or concentration-killer; background noise can actually have a negative effect on your health. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health argues that background noise can increase stress levels and exacerbate stress-related conditions like high blood pressure, migraine headaches and even coronary disease.
Furthermore, continued exposure to background and ambient noise when you’re trying to focus can actually worsen and compound upon these stressful effects. When you’re trying to focus but your brain is also forced to process the sound of background noise, the sensory overload floods your brain, causing your brain to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Excess cortisol in your body can inhibit the functions of your brain’s prefrontal cortex, the hub of emotional learning that enables you to regulate ‘executive’ functions like planning, reasoning and exhibiting impulse control.
The prefrontal cortex has also been linked to short-term memory storage and inhibition to this area can disrupt an individual’s ability to think clearly and retain information. The implications of background noise on your work performance aren’t to be ignored. The stress caused by background noise may decrease higher brain function and impair learning and memory
Struggling to Understand Your Co-workers’ Speech Impairs Your Cognitive Function
In a 2012 study examining the effects of hearing loss on cognition in the elderly, researchers discovered that when the elderly begin to experience hearing loss, their struggle to understand the speech of others can draw on cognitive resources that might otherwise be available for encoding what has been heard in memory, or for the comprehension of the rapid, informationally complex speech that is a regular facet of everyday life.
Put more simply, as hearing loss gets worse, it’s harder to understand the speech of those around you. And the process of straining and struggling to understand speech — even if the speech is eventually comprehended — requires so much additional work for your brain that areas that would usually be devoted to tasks like forming memories or problem-solving are instead devoted to trying to understand the speech. This type of listening, in which a concerted effort is made to understand what is being said, can be referred to as ‘effortful listening,’ and this type of listening is associated with increased stress responses, changes in pupil dilation and degraded memory performance.
Though this study was centered on hearing loss in the elderly, the cognitive implications are profound. It would seem that, even for those of us with adequate hearing, struggling to understand speech has the potential to flood your body with stress and negatively affect your cognitive performance.
Poor Audio Quality Causes Brain Fatigue
The brain is not great at handling multitasking when it comes to hearing. With vision, the brain reacts quickly and can focus rapidly on new visual stimuli. With hearing, however, the brain can’t as easily switch between stimuli. Generally, the brain reacts to the loudest source of input. When a conference call features any number of negative audio issues, including echo, background noise, poor volume or static, the brain has to work extra hard to focus on the most important source of sound. If you’ve ever had a day full of conference calls and felt tired easily, it’s because your brain experiences fatigue when it must deal with poor audio quality.
Let’s face it: to have a good conference call, good audio is the end all be all. Better audio means better communications and improved brain function. If you’re experiencing poor audio quality on your conference calls, it may be time to make a change. To learn more about high-quality conferencing, check out PGi’s GlobalMeet®.