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My workplace team has meetings between remote participants using a group phone call. Each member dials into a number which allows them to voice chat with all other people who have called in.

The meetings suffer from the same issues that would affect any group meeting, except in addition, (1) there is a one-second lag between when people begin speaking and when they are heard, and (2) it's more difficult to provide social cues.

To expand on my first point: The caller may begin speaking and then a half-second later hear someone interrupt them. The caller may be frustrated at being interrupted, but in fact due to the lag the other caller began speaking first. Other members will hear you second, interrupting. It is sometimes ambiguous whether you are being interrupted.

To expand on my second point: It's hard to know when a person is done speaking. It's hard to make it known that you want to begin speaking, or that you want to interject in the conversation, without interrupting.

These issues primarily arise with 3+ people. It makes it difficult to have quick and effective discussions.

Some coping mechanisms we have developed: Long wait periods between people talking; anticipating when another person will finish talking, and begin talking one-second prior in order to reserve the next speaking position (and awkward results when the prediction fails, or when multiple people do it at once); If I hear someone interrupt me within the first one-second of my beginning to speak, I will immediately state "sorry, please continue." since I will be heard as interrupting them. Although due to the ambiguity, sometimes two people will continue speaking over each other assuming the other will realize they are the interrupter and bow out;

Some other mechanisms we haven't tried, but that might be good to explore for a voice meeting: Giving audible social cues for intention to contribute, interrupt, speak next, or finish speaking. The visual equivalent might be raising your hand. Such audio cues could be briefly stating your intention, or maybe pressing the number pad; using an accompanying text chat like Slack or Teams to organize and facilitate mini-conversations; using a different service without lag.

How can we organize our audio-only group conference calls so that each participant has the capability to contribute and be heard, without participants stumbling over each other or interrupting one another?

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  • Is everyone using landlines or VOIP, or a mix? Speakerphones? I've been on VOIP with people scattered over 5 continents and we'll get feedback or can't hear someone but not a 1 second lag. – mkennedy Jan 17 '20 at 17:41
  • Did you consider to use services like skype or hangout? They worked for me in many cases and with 5 to 10 participants – Romeo Ninov Jan 17 '20 at 18:16
  • +1 for asking a question not related to getting or keeping a job! – shoover Jan 18 '20 at 1:41
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You know, and I know, that one second latency (people hear you one second after you speak) will cause problems. Typically when we speak we make small pauses to allow people to interrupt, and if nobody interrupts then we continue to speak. We all do that without thinking about it. This causes problems when in some places people make shorter pauses than in others - that's why a guy from Michigan thinks New Yorker's are rude, and a guy from New York thinks Michigans are slow. Now with a second latency, it all goes completely wrong.

So at the start of the conference call remind everyone: We have a connection with one second latency. So take that into account. If you stop talking, stop for a long time. Don't take it as rude if someone interrupts you or speaks at the same time as you, that just happens.

Or you have a controller who tells people who is allowed to speak, and everyone speaks only when allowed. If there is video as well, raise hands if you want to speak.

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Audio only is going to be very difficult, but have you considered designating a mediator? Combined with a chat service where participants can "raise their hand" it could work.

It does require some discipline from the participants so that no one interrupts the speaker.

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    The hand raise is what happens when multiple people are part of a webinar and everyone is audio but has a way to signal the moderator. Even without the hand raise, a moderator helps. I Chair a panel where some are in the room and many on the phone. It is on me to decide who talks next. Either I say “Sue what do you say?” if Sue is the expert on the specific issue or if it is open and I hear 2 or more speak I will stop and say who should go “Bob, let’s hear from Alice, and then you are next.” – Damila Jan 19 '20 at 23:53
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Option 1

Reduce latency in your VOIP setup. (by far my most preferred solution)

Option 2

Become a tyrannical moderator. Use a written agenda to assign topics and speakers, either on a shared Google Doc or on Asana. Limit each speaker to 2 minutes or 30 seconds. And teach your team to use this radio lingo when speaking.

Over

Your message is finished – invitation for others to respond/transmit

Out

All conversation is finished – no answer is required or expected

Ten Four

Message received and understood – similar to Roger that or Copy That

Break, Break

Interruption to a transmission to communicate urgently

Wilco

I will comply

https://www.hytera.us/news/communications-101-a-quick-guide-to-radio-lingo

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