Virtual CRA Meetings: Promoting Discussion rather than Radio Silence

Be a fly on the wall during a very productive meeting

Have you ever attended a CRA call where the Lead CRA or Project Manager talks and the CRAs just listen? Following each meeting topic, there may be a general “any questions?” inserted but the question is often followed by silence.

Ineffective meetings are frustrating for all parties. The Lead CRA cannot control distractions that may be happening in the CRA’s home office which results in important information going unheard. To overcome this issue, important information may be repeated week after week which results in lost interest. CRAs may not feel comfortable to speak up with questions or concerns. In many cases, there are even CRAs that simply stopped attending these meetings.


Not everyone is in the office but you still need to have effective meetings

These meetings are set up in order to communicate study information and decisions. CRAs should discuss issues that are seen across sites that need to be escalated. It is a forum in which ideas should be shared and resolutions are brainstormed. These virtual meetings, as currently conducted, are not effective.

As a Lead CRA (and I am sure the CRAs feel the same way), I would like these meetings to be effective and productive. I want the CRAs to get the information they need to do their job well and I want them to have the outlet to communicate and share issues. Recently I completed some online trainings regarding running effective meetings and while I found the information interesting it was not very useful since all the trainings available to me were about conducting face-to-face meetings, not virtual meetings. I cannot control lighting and temperature. I cannot limit distractions in the CRAs home office. I have “standing meetings” (as in literal standing meetings with no chairs) to keep meetings short, concise and to the point. The question still remains of how to create a more effective meeting.

I did some brainstorming and came up with the following ideas:

  1. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting. The team needs to understand the purpose of this meeting as well as the importance of attendance as well as paying attention to the meeting.
  2. Decrease distractions. There is no way to control distractions in every CRA’s home office but as a Lead we should communicate our participation and attention expectations beyond “please place your phone on mute”. This is not the time to be respond to an email or clean the litter box. The CRAs should have their coffees ready, listen, taking notes, ask questions, and offer suggestions.
  3. Start and end meetings on time. Every team member’s time is valuable and during some periods of the study time is scarce! Meetings should start on time. Those that are late will learn they need to call in on time. Do not devalue the time of those that are timely by having them wait for those that are tardy.
  4. Record the meetings and emphasize attendance. CRAs have a lot of responsibility and a lot on their plates. Attending the CRA meeting is not suggested but should be mandatory. If they are unable to attend because they are onsite, in flight, or out of the office, then CRAs should not only review the recorded meeting but the Lead CRA should follow-up with the CRA to ensure understanding. This takes extra time and may seem like micro-managing; but perhaps this will reduce the frustration when CRAs fail to take specified action because they were never informed of important information. This will also reduce the need to repeat information week after week.
  5. Involve the CRAs in the meeting agenda/purpose. To date, in the studies I have worked on, the Lead CRAs create an agenda and detail and present at the meeting. This process does not work because the only source of what study issues or what is deemed important is the Lead CRAs and not the ones out in the trenches doing the work and dealing with the issues. The CRAs should be encouraged to contribute toward agenda items and topics. This will make not only make the meetings relevant and meaningful but will improve the CRAs involvement in the conduct meetings and the study by creating a collaborative environment.
  6. Follow-up on action items. If in a previous meeting an issue was escalated and resolution ideas were suggested, follow-up with the CRAs in the next meeting on the progress of the issue resolution. What did they try? What worked? Didn’t work? How was the issue resolved? This not only improves the CRA accountability of the action items but demonstrates the Lead CRAs interest in the CRAs success at their jobs and in the field as well as emphasize the importance of the accountability and timely resolution to the team.
  7. Ask specific questions. If there is a particular important topic discussed (i.e., a new IP destruction process), call on people and ask specific questions to ensure understanding. “After drug accountability, what should you do with the destruction forms?” “if a discrepancy is noted, who should you contact?” “Can you tell me where we can find the contact information for ___?” This is much more effective than the general “any questions?” that elicit silence. The CRAs will learn to pay attention, take notes, and ask questions. I would suggest limiting this to topics that are important and/or different than previous instruction in order curb any feelings of “being picked on” or feelings of being tested. The purpose is not to isolate the CRAs but to engage them.
  8. Limit discussion on topics not on the agenda. While we want to encourage participation of the team, we need to ensure that the agenda items are fully addressed and the meeting ends on time. If a topic is brought up that was not on the agenda during the meeting, regardless of importance, the ad hoc item should be tabled to the end of the meeting if time is available, off-line, or added to the next meeting agenda.
  9. Detailed meeting minutes. I don’t know if it is a general practice to have general minutes that lack detail. For example: “Discussed new IP destruction process” without detail of the actual process and discussions. The lack of detail does not allow for easy reference at later dates. Meeting recordings are only available for on average 30 days so discussions and decisions are lost once that recording is gone. Meeting minutes are often generated and finalized by the Lead CRAs, this could be an opportunity to involve CRAs by taking responsibility for a specific section or providing feedback and approval of the final minutes.

These ideas do not seem far-fetched and many of you may already practice these. With change there may be other unforeseen challenges to work through.  What are some things that you are doing to engage your virtual study team and have effective and productive meetings?

About The Author

Luizinha Monteiro

Luizinha Monteiro is a Sr. Clinical Research Associate with nearly 10 years experience monitoring clinical drug trials. Prior to her transition to a CRA, Luizinha worked as a clinical research study coordinator for more than 5 years. Her valuable perspective as a coordinator and broad therapeutic experience make her uniquely qualified to work in and lead teams, consider the site perspective, and be flexible to any assignment. Luizinha Monteiro is SoCRA certified and received her Bachelor of Science (BA/BS) in Psychology, Communication Disorders, and Statistics. You can contact Luizinha via email at [email protected] anytime.

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