Concerns regarding the global COVID-19 pandemic are causing widespread postponements of conferences, workshops, and in-person meetings. Given the potential for COVID-19 spread and its severity, this abundance of caution is warranted to protect public health.

At the same time, we cannot allow progress on other important activities—including pursuit of novel health interventions targeting more deadly or prevalent diseases—to be put on hold while the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course.

Enter virtual meetings. Meeting virtually can allow groups of experts to continue their important work while also following social distancing guidelines recommended by public health experts.

How to Ensure Effective Virtual Meetings

We have written before about the “three Ps”—purpose, people, and process—needed to ensure an effective meeting. These principles are just as relevant to virtual meetings:

  • Define your purpose
  • Get the right people in the (virtual) room
  • Build a process that will deliver the outcomes you need

10 Tips: A Virtual Meeting Checklist

We have also provided a checklist for effective meetings. That checklist remains largely valid, with a few adjustments to suit a virtual gathering:

  1. Clear Purpose and Outcomes

    Essential for any meeting, virtual or otherwise. Productive, meaningful meetings require a clear purpose and agreement on specific meeting outcomes.

  2. Timed Agenda

    Important for all meetings. One adjustment for virtual meetings: don’t attempt more than two consecutive hours in a virtual meeting. Participants will get tired and will be distracted by other tasks. Instead, break your longer meeting into several two-hour time blocks separated by at least one hour of free time.

  3. The Right People

    Always essential! Virtual meetings can expand your set of participants by allowing travel-restricted experts to join the discussion.

  4. Facilitator-Friendly Room Setup

    The virtual “room” needs to be highly functional, allowing for webcams, screensharing, chat/private messaging, live polling, and recording. Most commercial meeting tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams, and others offer these features.

  5. Ground Rules

    It’s essential to get virtual meeting attendees to commit to engaging. Consider ground rules like requiring webcam use, posing questions via the chat function, and strictly adhering to the “no multi-tasking” rule.

  6. Engage Everyone

    This is especially important to keep participants focused. Chat functions allow participants to offer views without speaking. The virtual meeting facilitator can then call on specific participants to elaborate, or to offer their thoughts if they have not participated yet.

  7. Visual Display of Information

    This is one area where virtual meetings are superior to in-person meetings. The use of screensharing and live development of group products can drive highly output-oriented meetings.

  8. Prioritization

    Live voting methods with real-time (or intentionally time-delayed) display of results can be highly effective in soliciting priorities from your virtual meeting.

  9. Organized Output

    Perhaps the best part of a virtual meeting is that work products are available immediately for sharing with participants, unlike in-person meetings that rely on flipchart pages, sticky notes, and other physical media. You also have the option to make recordings of virtual meetings available for later reference.

  10. Action Items/Follow Up

    Every meeting should end with clear assignment of action items and next steps. Virtual meetings are no different.

With appropriate planning, the right virtual meeting platform, and sensible adjustments to accommodate the realities of virtual meetings, many meetings can be nearly as productive as in-person gatherings.

Who knows, you might find you prefer to meet in your pajamas!