In 2020, many of us went from wishing we could work from home more often, to missing the structure and resources afforded by working from an office. With very little preparation, conference room meetings turned into long drawn out video calls. Our “new normal” involves finding a space to work quietly, hoping your household doesn’t barge in midway through a meeting, and juggling between emails, spreadsheets, team chats, and video conferencing.
For some of us, this has been the very first time we have had to use video conferencing software, and we’re still getting accustomed to it. We’ve sat through meeting where the first five minutes are spent in silence as coworkers struggle to figure out how to unmute themselves, and then felt embarrassed ourselves when we forget to unmute a few minutes later. Tiny icons on the corner of video screens often get buried behind the rest of our work and can be a scramble to find. Instead of quickly unmuting and re-muting, we have to minimize our email, our presentation slides, our relevant online links, unmute, and then bring all of those windows back and try to catch our train of thought again. By eliminating the need to play “Where’s Waldo” with the mute icon, a physical mute button sitting on your desk increases productivity by eliminating those awkward pauses as you scramble to find the right window.
Most tech savvy workers don’t have a problem quickly switching windows to find that mute icon, but still find themselves double checking, just to be sure. The added bit of uncertainty is just one more thing that can undermine their confidence. For new employees, it can be the difference between speaking up in a meeting and making a name for yourself, versus sitting back and playing it safe. It’s embarrassing to think you’re muted only to find out your whole team heard you when they weren’t meant to. A physical light on your desk gets rid of that uncertainty and lets you focus on your content, not your mute status.
Some of us have become work from home pros and can switch through windows with confidence. But even then, interruptions can be hard to manage. Roommates and partners still tentatively whisper “Hey, you busy?” and children usually yell instead of whispering. For them, MuteMe acts as a status indicator. Whether you mute through the device or mute through your application, MuteMe lights up the appropriate color so your household no longer has to guess whether you’re concentrating on a meeting or just listening to music.
In the span of weeks, many of us went from in office, in classroom experiences, to communicating solely through a virtual environment. It has been far from easy. Students today struggle with not only learning new material, but also learning a whole new mode of communication. What was once a classroom where students spread out their notes, looked across an entire whiteboard of information, and could quickly ask a classmate for help, has turned into a single 12 inch screen with multiple windows open for their notes, handouts, classroom chat, and their video lecture.
For years, teachers have known that higher student participation correlates to higher student outcomes, but now these students are struggling to quickly switch to the correct video tab, make sure their environment is quiet enough to talk in, and find the small buttons in the corner of screens to mute/unmute and speak up. Encouraging students to speak up has always been a challenge, and virtual environments have added another barrier to that. However, a physical button on a students desk that lets them mute/unmute without navigating their screens means a student who feels lost within their lesson can quickly speak up and ask for help.
Early education often focuses on tactile and physical learning, and these crucial elements have been removed from the equation. Seven year olds today who are just figuring out what m-u-t-e spells are expected to know how to navigate their devices quickly and are struggling. In virtual classrooms with upwards of twenty children, vital time is lost as students navigate through menus. For young children, touch is intuitive and the ability to quickly press a button means they can focus on their lesson, instead of focusing on computer skills.
While all of us struggled with the initial transition to virtual environments, many workers were able to purchase larger or second monitors, microphones, and second devices. For some students, the transition to virtual learning was initially a scramble just to purchase a laptop. The students most affected are those who often face steeper learning curves to begin with. SPED (Special Education) students and underprivileged students are even less likely to engage in their virtual classes. A key part of education is nurturing a student’s confidence, and for many students struggling to find a quiet place to work and to sit patiently, the fear of accidentally being unmuted and caught in an embarrassing moment feels much greater than the benefit of speaking up. A red or green light that lets them know exactly what their status us alleviates anxiety far more than a small icon buried behind other windows.