We finally know how to get online for virtual meetings, but do we actually know how to connect during those meetings?


The originally planned multi-year roadmaps built by many companies to ramp up virtual engagement, ended up turning into short sprints. We now realize getting online is only the start of the journey. Even with rapid adjustments to the guidance and engagement plans, physicians’ availability and willingness to engage virtually varies globally. ZS believes virtual field medical engagement will continue to increase and will perhaps grow even more in the coming months and years, which introduces another layer of uncertainty around how to effectively connect virtually. 


With virtual engagements on the rise, we now appreciate the differences between them and in person interactions. For instance, according to “GLOBAL Results MSL Activities During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by the Medical Science Liaison Society, they tend to be shorter than face-to-face meetings with less information shared, making it more difficult to build and maintain a relationship. The current situation leaves us needing to connect on a human level more than ever before in a multi-channel environment, requiring a different skill set to transform these connections into high-quality engagements.


One of the key elements needed to achieve meaningful engagement is emotional intelligence (EQ), often overlooked in schools or training courses. It allows a person to tune into the needs and concerns of others at a deeper level, but why is this so hard virtually?


So much of our communication stems from more than just what we say. According to “Thin slices of expressive behavior as predictors of interpersonal consequences: A meta-analysis” from the Psychological Bulletin, during face-to-face meetings, non-verbal cues account for 65 percent of the information shared. Even the tone of voice used on the phone can predict 13 percent of post call behavior. Knowing this, we need to work harder in the virtual environment to provide meaningful value. Ultimately, we need to listen better.


So, will EQ training help?


Seen as a vital part of medical education, EQ training equips clinicians with the capabilities needed for meaningful, trusting and professional engagements with patients. According to a study from the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, levels of EQ not only differentiate outstanding from typical performers, but are associated with better well-being says a study titled Personality and Individual Differences. Additionally, a study titled “Emotion” says it can also predict success. If EQ serves as such a vital component of our customers’ education, medical affairs teams should not be any different.


Those with a more scientific background possess an unspoken understanding that we can often be less empathetic or socially intuitive than our colleagues on the commercial side of business. Data from the Psychological Bulletin’s “Intelligence, personality and interests: Evidence for overlapping traits”, show those in STEM occupations hold a lower orientation towards extraversion and social potency, as well as key parts in facilitating social connections. This does not mean EQ cannot improve and an organization cannot learn how to conduct effective virtual engagements. Attaining higher levels of EQ means an organization can succeed in showing empathy through remote and virtual environments, adapting communication structures and creating deeper and more meaningful connections with others.


The changes presented to us, combined with the increasing demands on the medical and clinical teams in the pharma space, bring a pivotal moment. It is important for customers, and organizations to find a way to develop, refine or build the skills and resiliency to allow for meaningful engagements.


After all, it’s not just how to get online, it’s about connecting online.