Over the last 10 months or so, journal editorial offices have hosted thousands of editorial board meetings in a virtual environment.
Different journals have different ways of managing editorial boards, with some meeting quite frequently via conference call (or now video) to discuss the day-to-day operations. It is typical, however, to have one or two in-person meetings a year to discuss strategy and trends in a more in-depth way. Many of these meetings for society journals might happen alongside a conference or annual meeting. With these in-person events going virtual, editorial board meetings are moving to video conferencing as well.
Planning these meetings falls to the editorial staff and it is not an easy feat. Editorial board meetings or annual editor workshops are treated as the most important meeting of the year for many staff and as such, lots of agenda development, coordination of logistics, and reporting goes into the meetings.
“We didn’t have to put as much effort and time into logistics like meals, transportation, and lodging, but we spent more time on content,” said Dana Compton, Managing Director and Publisher at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). ASCE hosts an annual editors’ workshop every fall that brings chief editors from their 34 journals together for strategy discussions. This year’s meeting was held virtually.
Emilie Gunn, Associate Director of Journals at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) agreed that while staff time was not spent on logistics like planning meals or transportation for attendees, her recent editorial board meeting was slightly longer than normal. ASCO hosts in-person editorial board meetings for it’s five journals twice a year — one at the annual meeting and once at headquarters in the fall. Without having to accommodate space availability, some of the meetings were slightly longer, requiring some additional time for staff preparation.
Compton had a different challenge. They wanted to make the virtual meeting shorter than the typical 9-3 in-person time.
“We wanted to keep the agenda tight, so we had fewer hours to work with. This meant figuring out what kinds of information sharing could be done with written reports that we delivered (electronically) in advance, versus what warranted time on the agenda,” she said.
Being prepared for the technology challenges seems to be key in hosting a successful meeting.
“We were most nervous about the technology aspect. We haven’t done a lot of meetings virtually, so this was a learning curve for us. We took extra time to practice the virtual aspects ahead of the meeting. This required a certain amount of training in advance,” said Ken Kornfield, Director of Journals at ASCO. For the ASCO meetings, either someone from IT was in the meeting to provide support or they were “on call” for any technical issues staff could not handle.
Compton agreed that doing run-throughs made for a more stress-free meeting. “We also spent time practicing our hand-offs, screen sharing, poll taking, etc. We really wanted to minimize any possible technical issues and feel confident going into the day. I think that really paid off, and when we did have a couple of minor glitches, the staff stayed calm and handled it like pros.”
Karen Stanwood, Director of Electronic Publishing and Production at SLACK Incorporated, and her team developed some best practices for virtual meetings after getting a few under their belts. “Items include using the waiting room, notifying attendees about whether video and/or chat will be used (no one wants to be caught in their pajamas), and testing themselves and/or the editors ahead of time. It does take a little more time to prepare for virtual meetings, but on the other hand, there are no printing costs for packets, no travel SNAFUS, and no hotel issues to deal with,” she said.
“I’m sure our editors don’t miss tracking down a lost box of meeting packets, worrying the Editor-in-Chief’s flight won’t arrive in time for the meeting, finding the obscure meeting room (and hoping others find it too), or figuring out what happened to the gluten-free menu items they ordered,” she added.
Engagement during in-person meetings will depend on who is attending, the tone set by a chief editor, or the topics being discussed. While the social aspects and one-on-one discussions may have been missed, many editorial teams are reporting higher than normal or the same amount of engagement in online meetings.
“There was definitely a much higher level of engagement and broader engagement from the attendees than in the past. The fact that individuals had several ways to participate increased the engagement,” Kornfield said. Gunn agreed, “I noticed quite a bit of activity in the chat from the editors. Some people posted questions there during presentations as well. Staff monitored the chat to make sure all questions were addressed.”
Using chat or a “raise hand” feature to call on participants seemed to have equalized activity. It is easier to control the person who typically monopolizes airtime while ensuring that others had a chance to contribute.
“Some boards always have a robust discussion, either in person or virtually, but we’ve noticed that other boards, which may have been more quiet in person, have seen increased engagement. We always have the chat enabled, and some groups use it, but we’ve had the most success just opening up the floor and having people unmute to speak,” said Stanwood.
Compton’s team employed interactive features to keep people engaged.
“We ran a couple of polls to gauge opinions and interest on the topics we were discussing. What was great about these was that we could save the polls and use the same ones during the second session, so we got consolidated results,” she said.
There may have been other dynamics at play as well.
“My own suspicion is that Zoom tends to feel slightly less formal. There is a difference in style between sitting in a large conference room with lots of people, wearing business dress, etc., from being at home in jeans and a t-shirt. It feels more like a conversation than a presentation, and I think that lack of formality naturally makes people more comfortable participating,” said Gunn.
I was curious about whether holding participants attention during the meeting seemed harder.
“We didn’t have people leaving early to catch a plane. We usually have people starting to drift out of the meeting by early afternoon when it is in person,” said Gunn.
ASCE opted to have two sessions for the editor workshop based on feedback from the editors regarding their availability. Some editors preferred to keep the Saturday option, as is typical for the meeting, while others preferred a weekday with a later start time.
“Three editors decided to attend both sessions because they didn’t want to miss the open discussion periods. Because no travel/expense was involved, we also had a couple of Chief Editors who requested to have one of their associate editors (AEs) attend one session while they attended the other. This way, they had an ear in both sessions and also had a ‘training’ opportunity for an AE,” Compton reported.
“Our busy board members are overwhelmingly positive about having virtual meetings. The meetings are easier to schedule when they’re not tethered to a conference, and it’s easier for geographically diverse members to attend. The editors have noted better attendance, more robust discussions, and increased connection between the journal and the board,” Stanwood said.
Kornfield said that the JCO meeting time was set depending on the make-up of the attendees to maximize attendance by time zone. Gunn, who manages JCO Global Oncology, said she always plans the meetings for early morning, given their broad international board.
There were common themes in the responses to my questions and some helpful tips to share:
- Take the time to practice with the technology. This will get easier the more we have these meetings; but making sure everyone is comfortable and knows how to navigate is important.
- Make sure the meeting host has all the presentations for the day. If a presenter has a technical problem, the host can show and advance slides to keep the meeting moving.
- Choose a time of the day that works for most participants. If that is not possible, consider having two sessions of the meeting.
- Control the conversation using chat and hand raising functionality so everyone is comfortable participating.
- Have staff that are monitoring the chat and the hand raising. It is very difficult to facilitate the discussion and keep an eye on those things. Make sure the chief editor is comfortable with the plan. Discourage them from allowing people to just “jump in” with questions or comments.
- Use the time wisely. Virtual may mean that you can bring in guest speakers easier and really focus the agenda topics.
- Expect that some people may need to log in and out of the meeting and consider recording for attendees or for your out notes later.
Despite greater participation and engagement, it doesn’t sound like virtual editorial board meetings are here to stay for all meetings.
“I think we probably will [return to in-person] at some point. The editors really enjoy the social aspect of the in-person meeting, and it is nice to have the entire group together rather than splitting into two, which is really necessary with such a span of time zones,” Compton said.
Kornfield agreed; but is also pondering a hybrid approach. “I envision a combination of both. The in-person meetings lead to more networking and more one on one conversations during breaks before and after the meeting,” he said.
For journals with a much broader international focus, virtual may be here to stay. JCO Global Oncology is not likely to go back to two in-person meetings “given the cost involved in flying some editors halfway around the world just for a one-day meeting. We will continue to meet in Chicago every June and via Zoom during the other months,” Gunn added.
As with all things these days, the longer we stay virtual, the longer it becomes the normal way of doing business. Smaller meetings seem to benefit greatly from well-timed and focused meetings, while larger strategic meetings may be best served with in-person engagement.
The other piece here is the networking opportunity. Much has been written about society conferences and annual meetings going virtual and what that means for networking opportunities. Societies depending on annual meeting revenue are really concerned about the lack of networking in the virtual space given how important this activity is for our members.
We likely don’t give as much thought to the networking opportunities afforded at editorial board or committee meetings. Part of the value proposition for why one should be a member, and especially to volunteer, are the networking opportunities at these smaller gatherings. There are almost always social components to these in person meetings — a nice dinner together the night before, a reception of some sort after, or even a non-working lunch provides an opportunity for professionals to catch up.
Societies in precarious positions are keen to keep the cost savings from no travel for staff and volunteers. Reducing the carbon footprint of all this travel, now deemed less necessary as we successfully host virtual meetings, is another important factor. Still, we should probably do a little more thinking about how to build networking back into these smaller gatherings.
I would love to hear your experience with what has worked (or hasn’t worked) with virtual editorial meetings as well as any thoughts you have about bringing some networking opportunities to these smaller meetings.
Thank you to Dana, Karen, Ken, and Emilie for contributing your experiences to this post.