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Users demand virtual timer on Teams, Webex, Zoom

Meeting organizers on Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and Zoom want a virtual timer that limits how long participants speak and take breaks during video conferences.

Thousands of people who use Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex and Zoom for video conferencing want a virtual timer to limit the length of speeches and presentations during meetings.

More than 2,100 Teams subscribers have voted for a countdown timer in a feedback forum since 2018. On a Zoom forum, discussions about the feature have attracted 45,800 views since April, the most for an unaddressed issue. Cisco Webex's feedback channels have similar requests, but the number isn't clear.

The high demand has yet to spark a sense of urgency among the vendors. Microsoft said a timer is under consideration, while Zoom noted the feature is not on its "immediate roadmap plans." Cisco plans to have a timer in the government version of Webex, scheduled for release in December. However, the company has not said whether it would add the feature to Webex's business version.

Ben Berto, planning director for the town of Fairfax, Calif., said having a timer visible to all participants of a Zoom meeting is vital for town halls. By law, the government has to allow time for residents' complaints or concerns.

Fairfax tries to keep individual speakers to three minutes. In the past, town officials set a timer on a table that residents could see as they spoke. However, when meetings became Zoom video conferences, the town had no simple way to signify that a speaker's time was up.

"That is the largest, most immediate need, and I can't believe they haven't come out with it yet," said Tamela Fish, a communications consultant for Fairfax.

Not having a timer everyone can view could foster distrust, Fish said. For example, critics who don't see the timer could accuse government officials of cutting them off too soon.

Peter Viellefont, a consultant at Belgian software development firm Fluvius, said he needs a timer for setting 10-minute breaks during two-hour meetings.

"No worries about when we start again," he said.

Some people have found workarounds for the lack of an online meeting timer. For example, a blog post on SteamGeeks.us suggests displaying a timer via screen sharing. Viellefont uses the application VClock on Teams. Fish sets a physical timer in her video window for participants to see and hear.

Others have resorted to third-party applications like Meeting Timer, Agenda Timer & Clock Countdown, developed by BlueSky Apps. According to Berto, the town has not been able to run the app in webinar Zoom meetings, however.

"People will be using this immediately as soon as it is functional," Berto said of the app.

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