Microsoft Study Shows Human Brain Needs Break From Meetings

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Image credit: Zoom Video Communications

Staff timeout needed? Too many virtual meetings can be stressful for the human brain, research from Microsoft has revealed

New research from Microsoft has highlighted the need for employees and staff members to take breaks from meetings.

With many people utilising back-to-back Microsoft Teams or Zoom video conferencing services whilst working remotely from the office, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the latest research from Microsoft could prove interesting reading.

The software giant essentially ran a study to measure the electrical activity of brains during meetings.

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Stressed brains

And the key takeaway from the study was that brains not provided with breaks between meetings endured higher stress levels.

Interestingly, the Microsoft Human Factors Lab study looked at how stressed people’s brains were when humans interact with technology.

The study asked 14 people to take part in video meetings while wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment – a cap to monitor the electrical activity in their brains.

The 14 volunteers each participated in two different sessions of meetings.

On one day they attended stretches of four half-hour meetings back-to-back, with each call devoted to different tasks.

On another day, the four half-hour meetings were interspersed with 10-minute breaks. Instead of hurriedly jumping from one meeting to the next, participants meditated with the Headspace app during the breaks.

Resetting the brain

Breaks between meetings allow the brain to “reset” the study found, reducing a cumulative build-up of stress across meetings.

This reset meant participants started their next meeting in a more relaxed state. It also meant the average level of beta waves held steady through four meetings, with no buildup of stress even as four video calls continued, Microsoft said.

The key conclusion therefore was that back-to-back meetings can decrease ability of a person to focus and engage.

“Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings,” said Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group, who oversaw the project.

So management should try and factor this into daily operations.

The study data meanwhile has resulted in Microsoft updating Outlook to have a feature for scheduling organisation-wide breaks.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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