Microsoft is trying to eliminate one of the biggest video conferencing problems…with science

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Microsoft is exploring a new avenue of research that could help address one of the most common video conferencing issues: interruptions and pauses.

As explained in a new blog post (opens in new tab), researchers at Microsoft recently trialled a new method for charting interruptions over the course of a meeting, by analyzing anonymized versions of call transcripts.

To help identify useful patterns, the team mapped data points like speech duration, number of words spoken and frequency of interjection onto a timeline. According to Sean Rintel, one of the Microsoft scientists, “you could clearly find patterns of people taking longer turns or interrupting on a regular basis.”

Hybrid meeting headaches

Microsoft has long been aware of the problems unique to the digital meeting format. Alongside attendees forgetting to unmute themselves, the difficulty of interjecting in a seamless and polite way is among the most common issues, only made worse by the shift to hybrid working.

“If you are in a lot of hybrid meetings, you’re familiar with the awkward overlaps and pauses that can riddle those digital interactions,” wrote Microsoft. “The chat thread and the hand-raise function help, but as (some) people return to work together in person, side conversations in the on-site conference room and office setups that aren’t equipped for a hybrid experience add to the complexity.”

The hope is that studies like the one recently conducted by Microsoft will go some way to resolving these complexities and helping hybrid meetings flow more naturally.

By mapping out interactions over Microsoft Teams calls, for example, it may be possible to determine the optimal size of meeting for maximal inclusivity. Data on the kinds of employee most likely to dominate conversations or interrupt others could also be used to inform training sessions on meeting etiquette.

Although Microsoft was careful to acknowledge that this strand of research is still “in its infancy”, the company believes customers could benefit from data dashboards that help analyse the level of inclusivity of digital meetings “in the not-too-distant future”.

“Ultimately what would be really interesting here is giving companies, teams, and organizations the opportunity to run experiments themselves, helping teams understand their own processes so they can work better in ways we can never anticipate,” said Rintel.

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