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Some context: I recently started working remotely (Europe) for an American startup. We have daily video-conference scrums; the devs in HQ call from a room with something that feels like some kind of video-conference-capable monitor in a wall, with a poor mic. There is a lot of echo on their side, which makes things awkward.

So I am wanting to send them a gift, a good microphone; but I am not sure how to go about it. On the technical hand I should really ask them first because I don't know what will work with their device. On the social hand it can be awkward or sound like I'm sneakily wanting them to buy it themselves. (And maybe it can even be a financial/taxes/whatever problem? It's only about $100, but still...)

So, any recommendation about how to do it?

  • The problem is not the logistics, but more the social part (or even etiquette?) of it. – hmijail Oct 26 '16 at 22:52
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    If you're dealing with a company large enough to have an office, it would seem eminently reasonable to ask the company to fix the problem you're having. That may involve buying a new microphone but it could be something else. I doubt that anyone is going to have hard feelings if a new piece of hardware shows up out of the blue. But I'd expect your manager to feel rather bad if a new hire felt the need to pay out of pocket for a piece of hardware for the company because I didn't make him comfortable enough to bring up the problem. – Justin Cave Oct 26 '16 at 23:03
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    I would not buy a microphone for them, especially a USB microphone, most places with any degree of it support would lock down hardware in such a way the device wouldn't work. – Ramhound Oct 26 '16 at 23:51
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    Research carefully. If you send a bad mic and they use it, you're doubling down on the problem! – jimm101 Oct 27 '16 at 0:51
  • Have you (or anyone else for that matter) ever mentioned the echo/bad audio quality before? – Edwin Lambregts Oct 28 '16 at 13:03
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They probably don't realize that the audio is bad -- they're all there, after all. As the remote member of my team I sometimes have that problem too. The answer in all the workplaces I've been in with remote team members has been to talk about the problem and then acquire the needed equipment through the usual channels. The IT folks in the main office will have a much better idea of what will work than you do, and the office quite likely has a budget for things like this. The mic they'll need to buy probably costs less than one of the chairs in that conference room.

In my experience you're looking for an omnidirectional mic that can sit in the middle of the conference table. The ones we use have USB connections and are used with either the room computer (some conference rooms) or somebody's laptop.

At my last company (where I was one of the many, not one of the remote), we put together a wiki page with tips to make meetings work well with remote attendees -- things we learned about mic placement (in our larger rooms), screen-sharing, too many people talking at once, making sure the remote people can participate easily, etc. Treat it as a shared process improvement, not your problem as the remote person.

  • I see and appreciate your point, though ironically it's making me realize that in this case we're not there yet - I need something more hands-on. They do feel the problem, since I'm not the only remote, and during every call the people in the office have to mute their mic whenever we speak. Also, IT matters are more of a shared responsibility for now. – hmijail Oct 27 '16 at 8:23
  • @hmijail ok, then it sounds like y'all are past time to get together for some team problem-solving. Maybe you can take some initial steps via email discussions, chat, wiki pages, or the like, since calling a meeting to talk about it would probably not work so well. – Monica Cellio Oct 27 '16 at 18:49
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When I was the only remote worker in a team, I just bought it and had it sent to the HQ. Once it shipped, I let my PM know (she was the one that initiated the calls). I explained her that it was a tool I needed to do my job better and that if it worked for them, I'd like them to give it a try, and that if they were uncomfortable with it for any reason, they could just send it back and I would get a refund.

It worked way better than what they originally had (both for me and for them) so I'm glad I did it :)

I did my research beforehand into what would work with their setup, and ensured it wouldn't disrupt their environment. I bought one that could be used via bluetooth with any phone, any computer, via usb or just using 3.5mm cables. Also, it could be charged via usb or with its own charger.

YMMV, but I'd say go for it. I'm all about getting stuff done, so I don't get caught in office politics. Also, if you explain your intentions, I don't think anyone could be offended by you taking the initiative.

  • This is much more like the way I see it. It is not only my problem, but seemingly no-one has thought or cared about it yet, so I'd rather just be done with it with the minimum fuss and in a friendly way. Also, good that you mentioned the omni-compatibility; I'll research a bit more. (Could you say which one was your mic?) – hmijail Oct 27 '16 at 8:06
  • I don't have access to the company email, but I think I went with a Jabra one (or Jabra was one of the latest contenders). – g3rv4 Oct 27 '16 at 10:07

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