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A sample score sheet from the behavior monitoring application described in the patent filing.

Is Microsoft taking inspiration from Dwight Schrute these days?

Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute in The Office (Credit: BBC)

It almost seems that way based on a newly surfaced patent application from the Redmond company. The filing describes a computer system that would monitor behavior in the workplace with the goal of stopping bad habits such as co-workers cutting each other off during meetings and bosses bugging their direct reports on their lunch breaks — but at no small cost to workplace privacy.

The idea is to analyze interactions over video conferences, telephone, text messages and other forms of digital communication to look for patterns of behavior that have been defined in advance as negative or positive, and then assign a score to each person based on what the system finds.

An excerpt from the patent filing …

[In addition] to an email or voice conversation, other forms of interaction such as gestures, mannerisms, etc. in a video conference may also be analyzed and reported (e.g. nodding one’s head in agreement, shaking one’s head indicating disagreement, hand gestures, and similar ones). Additionally, patterns of communication may also be detected (in addition to distinct phrases or mannerisms).

For example, cutting off others during conversation, prolonged monologues, and comparable ones may be included in the category of behaviors to be discouraged. Similarly, a time of day, or day of week of initiating a conversation and likewise patterns may be of interest to the analysis (e.g. a supervisor calling his supervisees frequently during after hours or at lunch time, or when they are busy may not recognize that habit until shown by the application). The patterns may also be pivoted on the relationship. If an individual calls a direct report during lunch, it can have a stronger negative impact on the score than if they call a peer (though they both may be construed as negative and have a negative score impact). …

As discussed above, scores may be computed based on phrases, as well as gestures, mannerisms, and patterns. Mannerisms may include visual cues such as wearing dark glasses in a video conference, wearing unacceptable clothing to a business meeting, and similar ones.

As with most of these things, there’s no indication whether Microsoft actually plans to bring the idea to market. Originally filed in May 2010, the patent application was made public Nov. 10.

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