Lab Operations | Scientific Experience | Managing the Lab

How To Run Successful Virtual Lab Meetings During COVID19 Times

By now, most of us have gotten used to virtual meetings. However, some meetings seem to run better than others.  What makes an effective remote lab meeting?

Here are some tips on how to run a successful virtual lab meeting. Of course, what makes a “good” lab meeting depends on personal tastes and agenda so do adapt to the needs of your group.

Will the lab meeting be daily, weekly or bimonthly? What is the purpose of a meeting that is held daily or weekly? Lab meetings take time and commitment so make sure that every member of your group agrees on the purpose, frequency, time and duration of the proposed meeting. The easiest schedule would have meetings on a consistent day and time, such as every Monday at 11:30 am. Even with a predictable schedule, create a calendar that lists all the expected dates and times of the group meeting that spans for a few months. Some people appreciate a guide as a reminder. These guides are particularly important when scheduling plans around holidays, conferences or mutual “no-meeting” dates and will limit inquiries such as “Do we still have a lab meeting on Labor Day?”

It’s important to get meetings and links on people’s calendars. Just get it on their calendar. Despite having the meeting on the master calendar, some people might still forget. Yep, it happens.  For important meetings, such as having an external speaker give a presentation or having a student give a practice presentation, it might be worth sending a reminder email a few days in advance. Some people might forget about a meeting if you email too far in advance. This task can be easily delegated if you are dealing with too many emails. You might be able to automate this task through your calendar platform. A simple reminder will significantly increase your attendance.

Isn’t it funny that even though you’ve had over 100 web meetings by now, you will still manage to run into unexpected technical difficulties?  Yep, it happens. And everyone will still make the same excuse, “Ugh, I don’t know what is happening. Technical difficulties.”  To spare everyone from waiting, just log in 5-7 minutes early. You can always check emails while waiting for others, and it is always better to be too early than too late.

Let others know in advance whether the meeting will involve one person giving a 45 minute semi-formal research presentation, everyone giving a brief update of research progress, or a group discussion of some lab issue.  This sets the expectation for the meeting. Setting an agenda is particularly useful if you would like discussion or feedback from other lab members. While some people are good at on-the-spot thinking, others might need some time to think in advance. It doesn’t hurt to allow others time to prepare.

Many people crave face-to-face time during COVID and sometimes lab meetings are one of the few times they get social interaction. Doing a quick check-in or having friendly conversation is good to foster community and well-being. However, lab meetings also take time and planning so not all lab members will appreciate 10-20 minutes of time “chatting” rather than focusing on the agenda. Some attendees may have another meeting afterwards while others may be juggling remote learning with their kids. It is important to welcome personal conversation but limit its duration.

The purpose of group meetings is to share information among members of a group. This sounds redundant but lab meetings that only involve the speaker and perhaps one other person in the lab is quite common. Do not assume that a passive listener is learning and appreciating the information. The best lab meetings always seem to find a way to engage all members of the group. This does not necessarily mean calling out the most quiet attendee but finding ways to invite questions, curiosities or discussion from all point-of-views. Even saying thoughtful simple phrases such as, “Aaron might be interested in this, with his bioinformatics background” can really perk someone’s ear and engage.

Not everything needs a meeting. Zoom fatigue is real. Do you even need a group meeting for some issues?  Can the issue be resolved by a simple email or phone call? If you are going to ask a group of people for their time and attention, carefully evaluate the agenda and necessity.

During COVID, people are multitasking and many have personal or family situations to manage. Time may be very limited for some. With meetings, sometimes less is more. Some of the most impactful and valuable meetings only take 5 or 15 minutes, rather than an hour. During a meeting, stay focused and be value-driven. We all are trying our best and hanging in there during COVID so be considerate of others’ time.

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