Muting on Group Calls

by jefftkjefftk1 min read2nd Oct 20202 comments


Online SocializationPractical

Ben recently wrote a post with a lot of advice on how to have better video calls, and reading the HN discussion one of the most controversial suggestions was that you should figure out a mic setup where you can stay unmuted.

I see where this is coming from. We've all been on calls with people who had all sorts of extraneous background noise. It's distracting and frustrating, especially in large groups or when combined with call software that focuses whichever participant is the loudest. If you're just using your laptop's speakers and microphone, then yes, muting is good.

On the other hand, video calls are famously draining. They don't feel natural, and conversation doesn't quite work properly. A lot of this is latency (No Bluetooth! Run Ethernet! Wireless is a Trap!) but every barrier to conversational flow makes things worse. If you have to choose, muting yourself when you're not speaking is generally better than everyone hearing your background noise, but we have the technology so that you don't have to choose: point a directional microphone at your mouth.

This works even in relatively noisy environments: my kids can be playing loudly, even shouting, right outside my door and my coworkers don't hear anything. Compare my voice at the mic(mp3) to 5ft away (mp3). I have a Jabra Evolve 40 (per the Wirecutter) and it works well. My guess is that anything else (wired!) with a boom mic should be pretty good, but I haven't tested.

Since it doesn't look like remote work will be ending anytime soon, if you have a job where are you do a lot of calls, making them feel natural is worth solid investment.