During this time of lockdown, online meetings have become the new norm for many businesses and employees. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to say that video conferencing will soon be the new conference call. As we continue to utilize virtual communication in our everyday lives, we can only imagine the endless possibilities that will soon come our way. Considering the benefits, virtual communication has shown to help cut costs, increase productivity, and most importantly, increase employee retention. In fact, almost “94% of businesses who use video conferencing state that the company benefits from greater productivity.”
So what does this mean for HOAs? Will virtual communication become the new platform for HOAs going forward? Although many HOA meetings were still being held in person at the start of this year, a large shift has occurred — more and more HOAs are now conducting their board meetings and overall HOA organization through virtual platforms. Following this, HOAs will also need to consider the process and organization needed to transition from in-person meetings to virtual successfully.
Establish an online structure
Before establishing a virtual structure, it will be important to review your current HOA meeting structure. Here is where identifying the types of meetings, along with your current agenda, will come into play. While listing your structure, we recommend taking strong consideration of who, how, and where each meeting is currently held.
- Board meetings
- Annual meetings
- Executive session
- Committee meeting
- Emergency meeting
- Board meeting: here is when the HOA board of directors will host an open monthly or quarterly meeting with all community members.
- Board meetings are usually held in a large common area within the community. This type of meeting will often consist of a larger number of attendees.
- Annual meetings: an annual meeting is held annually by the current board of directors for all HOA members to learn more about the organization.
- Like board meetings, annual meetings are often held in large common areas with a larger number of members involved.
- Executive session: the board of directors conducts this type of meeting. Discussed topics include private matters such as ongoing litigations, disciplinary actions, or personal issues.
- Executive meetings are often held in small private rooms or common areas to discuss topics in more detail. Due to the lower number of attendees with this type of meeting, a virtual meeting could be most beneficial.
- Committee meetings: a primary focus of committee meetings is to discuss lower-level projects within the community conducted by a subset of directors.
- Committee meetings are often held in small private common areas where members can present and discuss small projects related to their committee.
- Emergency meetings: better known as a special meeting, an emergency meeting is held when an HOA board requires an emergency gathering.
- Due to the nature of this type of meeting, an emergency meeting can be held anywhere that is easily accessible.
The benefits of online platforms
Many HOAs have found virtual platforms to be beneficial because they provide many free features that any HOA can utilize. They have also been known to help communities engage and increase direct communication.
- Less costly
- Less small talk
- Reduced time
- Tighter agenda
- Enhanced collaboration
When deciding which platform to use, we suggest running a free trial to understand better the benefits and requirements needed to run each platform. Listed below are 6 popular virtual platforms to consider:
Three major criteria to consider when choosing an online platform:
- Usability: Is the platform user-friendly and easy to configure camera and audio use?
- Security: What security features does the platform include to maintain the privacy and security of each member?
- Accessibility: What features does the platform offer so that each member is able to easily log in or access documents when needed?
As you continue to build your virtual structure, we recommend considering some best practices before establishing a virtual plan.
- Establish a technical support team – This team will be responsible for assisting members that may experience technical issues during or before a meeting. They may also be responsible for contacting your virtual platforms’ technical support for any major issues or additional questions.
- The monitor – This person will serve primarily to keep meetings on-time and on protocol so that all members remain respectful and courteous. This person may also have the ability to mute members that may cause disruptions or exhibit distracting noises during a meeting.
- Accessibility – It will be essential to ensure that all members have the proper setup and materials needed to conduct an online meeting. If a member cannot access the technology needed to conduct a meeting, here is where the board will need to exercise leadership. In this situation, a board will need to provide alternative methods such as a taped recording, conference call access, or an emailed draft of the meeting minutes.
- Attire restrictions – Due to a virtual meeting’s nature, attire can tend to be more relaxed. As a suggestion, consider providing your committee with a list of rules regarding proper attire when conducting a meeting.
- Prepare a voting plan – Here is where HOAs have experienced the most challenges. Depending on your HOAs guidelines, the committee must decide on a mutual voting system. If an HOA opts to have members use paper ballots, they must provide a way to securely and safely collect the votes. In this scenario, referencing your state’s social distance guidelines will be imperative.
Establish a virtual plan
The first step to establishing a virtual plan will be to determine which meetings should be held virtually. Before evaluating, we recommend referencing your HOA governing documents for any laws that may prohibit a committee from conducting a meeting online. In most cases, as long as a committee is given proper notice and accessibility, an HOA should be able to conduct an online meeting. On the contrary, if an in-person meeting is required, the HOA must follow all social distance laws to maintain their community’s safety.
5 steps to creating an efficient online meeting
Once each committee is assigned its virtual platform, here is where your HOA will need to create a method for running each board and committee meeting online.
Step 1. Meeting materials
Whoever runs the meeting, the same in-person HOA meeting protocol will apply to an HOA virtual meeting. Each member should be given proper notice, along with instructions on materials needed to conduct the meeting. A few examples include access to login information, a copy of the meeting’s agenda, and a Q&A point of contact.
Step 2. Testing
Before conducting the meeting, we suggest running a test meeting to avoid any technical issues. A few examples of test functions include:
- Camera settings
- Muting functionality
- Sharing screens
- Chat functionality
Step 3. Keep it confidential
In this step, we highly suggest closing all outside tabs and any personal information that could appear on your shared screen — this includes having an appropriate background. Many virtual platforms, such as Zoom, offer free background features where the background can be completely removed so that all that appears is your appearance or the agenda of the meeting.
Step 4. Get a head start
Being over-prepared is never an issue when it comes to preparing for your virtual meeting. We recommend being ready to open your meeting as early as 15-20 minutes before that actual start time. This will allow members time to login, say hello, troubleshoot, or take care of any important business matters before the meeting starts.
Additional tip: consider incorporating an in-meeting chat option that allows users to ask questions or chat messages to other users within a meeting. This will help reduce lengthy conversations and interruptions. For example, Zoom offers an in-meeting chat option that provides a number of control options for users to select from.
Step 5. Reshare your agenda
At the start of your meeting, reshare your meeting agenda on a shared screen. This will provide a quick reminder to all members of the meeting’s agenda and protocol.