Using only audio to support telepresence in office environments

A comment on: Hanging on the ‘wire: a field study of an audio-only media space

Question: How effective is an audio-only connection for office-based collaborative work?

Method: The authors setup a conference-call-type (but full-duplex) connectivity in the offices of a group of video editors who were already a social group, within 100 ft of each other. Each editor received a mutable open mike and speaker system that all users to speak and hear each other simultaneously. In their regular routine, the editors rarely worked on the same video segments.


– The lack of a formal way to take and release “the floor” led to overlapping speech and the need to repeat oneself and overtly manage the floor…this appears to be done most of the time through facial expressions and gestures. It was also more of a problem than in phone conversations, since interactions were open-ended (hours long) and less formal.

– There was lots of joking and voice play

– What little time was devoted to work tasks involved scheduling meetings, primarily

– Similar to the problem of managing the floor, another major problem was determining who was “on” the system and thus how careful one had to be about what was said…in at least one case, catty gossip was overheard by the subject of the gossip

– A phone ring that interrupted the speaker evolved into an informal sign-off, since it typically indicated that the speaker muted the mic and took the call

– Some sudden background noises, like ringing phones, caused pain for some participants who were listening in with headphones instead of speakers. This was the only problem that the authors thought merited automated help (i.e. to monitor and squelch loud noises)

IMO, this study showed that open-ended, non-task-related exchanges aren’t served well by an audio-only Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) system. But this result suggests a followup study of how audio-only conference connections might help limited, task-related exchanges. The mobile blue collar subjects in one of the other studies here would be an ideal group.

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