Blog PostOctober 5, 2020 - Updates for Members
Communicating in the Digital Age: Condo Edition
The amendments to the Condominium Act, 1998 in 2017 included many provisions designed to move condominiums into the Digital Age. More electronic communications. Less printing and snail mail. More meetings held using telephones or other electronic means. Even electronic voting and online proxies.
Since 2017 the Act permitted condominiums to hold their owners’ meetings using teleconferences or electronic means so long as they passed by-laws to authorize these methods of holding meetings. Even so, most condominiums continued to hold their meetings in person until the pandemic made in-person gatherings unworkable in the Spring of 2020. A temporary amendment to the Act removed the by-law requirement, and has recently been extended to expire on May 31, 2021.
There are many benefits to virtual meetings over in-person meetings. For one, virtual meetings eliminate the travel time and preparation involved in arranging the space. This may seem insignificant, but if you are paying professionals to attend the meeting you could see significant cost savings with a virtual meeting. For contentious meetings, a virtual meeting can make it much easier for the chairperson to keep control as it only takes a few clicks of a mouse to mute a troublemaker. The meeting can include pre-recorded videos as well, which is great when auditors need to be in three places at once to present on their audited financial statements! Some condominiums might find their meeting is better attended if they hold it during the day, especially over the lunch hour, instead of during the evening.
Virtual meetings are not without their challenges. The most common concern in advance is a perception that the owners are not “techy” enough to figure it out. In my experience, the technology is much more user-friendly than most imagine. For one, most of the platforms allow owners to call in using an ordinary landline without a computer or smartphone. This would be very similar to a teleconference. Those who are more comfortable with the idea of virtual meetings can participate on their computers, tablets, or other devices and watch the presentations by the board and others. To minimize technology struggles, condominiums should send out a letter explaining the key features in advance of the meeting and explain them again at the beginning of the meeting. It can also help to consider using two moderators: one to oversee the business portion (as the chairperson) and another to manage the technology (and help people struggling to log in or use their microphones).
Another common concern with virtual meetings is the cost. There are several condo meeting hosting companies that will moderate the meeting and assist with electronic voting. While these services can greatly improve participation in the meeting, the cost can be prohibitive for some condominiums. For these condominiums, they should consider hosting their own meeting using their preferred online meeting platform, such as Zoom or GoToMeeting, at least while the pandemic limits in-person gatherings. The basic features, like raising hands and polling, can be used for voting purposes and the systems produce a record of votes after the meeting so long as registration in advance of the meeting is required.
The 2017 amendments also made it easier to hold board meetings using teleconference. Condominiums can now hold board meetings by teleconference without a by-law so long as all of the directors consent to it. A temporary amendment was made during the declared emergency to remove the consent requirement, but this is also set to expire in May 2021 unless further extended by the Ontario government.
It is important that condominiums do not focus too much on virtual meetings and forget about their communications with the owners. Newsletters, bulletin boards, websites, resident portals, etc. are great ways to communicate with owners on a more frequent basis. And don’t forget, sometimes the easiest way to communicate with someone is to pick up the phone and call them since so much can get lost in the translation with email.
For more information about effective communication in the Digital Age, be sure to attend our Chapter’s upcoming Virtual Condo Conference where one of the sessions, entitled “How to Win at Email and Avoid Communication Fails”, is sure to provide some practical tips for improving your communications.
Lawyer, Robson Carpenter LLP