For many of us, the early stages of worldwide COVID-19 vaccination bring the hope of a return to business as usual (or perhaps more accurately, vacation as usual). There's every indication that, by the latter part of the year, life science companies will once again be able to choose in-person meetings or at least begin to plan them.
Despite this hopeful development, some organizations are opting to maintain a virtual-first approach for reasons that center around inclusivity, resource efficiency, flexibility, and sustainability. In-person meetings will always have a place in the life science industry, but a return to the pre-COVID status quo is highly unlikely. Here are some of the most compelling reasons many life science teams will prioritize virtual work for their most critical projects.
Broader inclusivity and deeper engagement
Virtual meetings have a huge advantage over in-person gatherings: there's equal access for all interested attendees. With face-to-face engagements, individuals who couldn’t be present for some reason – schedule, cost, or other limitation – have to forfeit the experience, the knowledge they could have gained, and the insight they might have contributed.
After nearly a year of virtual-only, we’re now seeing a distinct preference for it in some cases – in September 2020, the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association (IPCAA) released the results of a survey addressing the end-to-end virtual congress experience of global HCPs. The survey revealed that 92% of HCPs "would now consider attending a congress virtually which they would not have chosen to attend in person in the past."
Improved resource efficiency
Virtual meetings and bigger events, like congresses, still require a high degree of coordination and planning but are less costly and less burdensome for life science teams to plan and execute – smaller virtual meetings, such as virtual ad boards, can be planned in a few weeks rather than six months or more. Team leaders can spend time focusing on their goals and objectives rather than worrying about travel, venues, hotel blocks, and other logistical details that drain time and resources away from critical tasks. And far from making meeting planners obsolete, virtual meetings are simply another option to offer colleagues who need to keep work moving.
There are efficiency gains for attendees, too. No requirement to miss work or leave family means no need to reschedule shifts, work ahead, or arrange childcare. Online advisory boards mean KOLs don’t spend several days traveling for a meeting that likely only spans a few hours. And let’s not ignore the fact that real-time virtual events like investigator meetings or congresses usually begin and end more or less on time, so attendees can plan around the virtual event agenda with minimal interruption to their regular daily schedules.
When the pandemic ushered in the era of work-from-home (and everything-else-from-home), the traditional 9-to-5 workday became difficult to sustain. Life science organizations turned to asynchronous engagement to allow more flexibility for KOLs, patients, and other stakeholders to log in and provide feedback on their own schedule.
Even when one-time live events like webinars or video meetings are the top choice, recording these events and posting them on an asynchronous platform can ensure more people can view, react, and contribute. In the IPCAA survey, 45% of HCPs stated that they "like the option to view recorded sessions at a time that best suits them."
Sustainability and growth
When we lost the ability to travel and meet face-to-face, we gained a new perspective on the environmental impact of travel. Improved air quality under lockdown restrictions may inspire organizations to curtail long-distance travel and save in-person meetings for shorter trips, or transition internal meetings to virtual-only. Rather than being restrictive, these measures could provide a quicker, more straightforward path to achieving organizational carbon-reduction goals.
But virtual engagement is more sustainable in other ways, too – it reduces workloads, increases efficiency, and speeds time-to-market – all of which go hand-in-hand with many companies’ strategic objectives. The onset of the pandemic gave life science companies little time to make the switch from in-person meetings to virtual work, but with the benefit of time, increased know-how, and lessons learned, teams can begin to plan a more effective virtual-first strategy – intentionally.