When lockdown hit, in-person medical communications all but stopped. A core component, advisory boards, were put on hold for a quarter as pharma companies preferred to wait until they could resume face-to-face rather than attempt to run them virtually. As that quarter delay became an indefinite delay, companies started to experiment with virtual advisory boards using online tools such as JAM, which blends video sharing as provided by Zoom, with collaboration software which allows participants to share, compare and rate each other’s typed ideas and to participate in live voting.

Here’s four things we learned from our initial experiences:

1. Convenience is king. Virtual advisory boards are much more convenient for participants to attend. Typically occurring at the end of the working day – 6-8pm – participants can join from home with no special arrangements needed. With increased convenience comes, according to our clients, higher attendance.

 

2. Short is sweet. There is plenty of research to show that remote working – and remote meetings by extension – can lead to additional stress. Forbes Article – Three Warning Signs That Your Remote Employees Are Starting To Crack Under The Stress Of Working From Home. Virtual advisory boards are no different so they should be kept as short as possible. We found an absolute maximum of two hours ensured we maintained productivity and focus without fatigue creeping in.

 

3. New forms of communication. In our meetings we alternated between asking participants for their opinions verbally – via  Zoom-style video sharing – and asking them to enter their ideas in typed form first and then discussing the resulting list of ideas verbally. Without exception, the latter approach, of collecting ideas first in written form and then discussing, yielded richer insights and much wider participation.

 

4. Assume nothing with technology. As in all walks of professional life, there is a big disparity between the technical confidence of different participants. We had some participants rocking high definition cameras and encoders, and others who were unsure of the difference between a web browser and a file browser. It’s crucial, in the run up and in the event itself, to level the playing field between these two constituencies to ensure everyone can participate.

 

What have been your experiences of running virtual advisory boards? A necessary evil or a new form of communication?

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