10 Tips for Holding Successful Virtual Owners Meetings

Keep your virtual meetings on track by following these ten tips

By Anthony Ing
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While the amendments to the Condo Act, 1998 in 2017 had included many provisions that were designed to digitize condo processes, such as electronic notice delivery and electronic meetings, the majority of condos in Ontario had not, until this year, adopted many of these measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as an accelerant for economies and communities around the world to further move into the digital age, and the condominium industry has similarly followed suit.

Condos in Ontario have en masse transitioned their owners meetings to virtual-only formats in light of provincial gathering limits and to protect the safety of unit owners and staff. Through many virtual meeting formats, owners have been able to follow AGM proceedings, ask questions and vote in real-time, all electronically.

Transitioning from in-person meetings to virtual meetings does require a learning curve. For that reason, many property managers are enlisting specialized vendors to host their virtual meetings. Whether property managers choose to go it alone or entrust a virtual meeting vendor, property managers must carefully adapt to ensure their virtual meetings go off without a hitch. We provide below ten tips to ensure you (along with your vendor, if applicable) hold successful virtual meetings for your condominium:

1. Provide clear instructions in your notice of meeting package

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Simply reusing your previous year’s notice of meeting package and changing some fields may not be enough to satisfy your virtual AGM needs. Property managers must remember to include the access instructions for the virtual meeting (e.g. URL, phone number).

Property managers would also benefit by providing some instructions in the notice of meeting package. These instructions could include how to download any virtual meeting software, how to register for the meeting, and eligibility requirements for voting at the meeting. Including instructions in the notice of meeting package could provide further clarity to owners and act as a resource that property managers can point owners to when they have questions.

2. Eliminate noise disruptions during the meeting

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Virtual meetings are often attended by many owners. Therefore, being able to control the room goes a long way to minimizing noise disruptions that could derail the meeting. Meeting moderators must remember to mute participant audio, disable participant video and turn off participant screensharing. All of this will help to ensure any background noise and unnecessary or unorderly chatter is minimized or eliminated.

3. Provide clear house rules and instructions during the meeting

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Most owners will be curious about how to ask questions and share audio during the meeting with the new virtual meeting format. Other items such as how to vote or how to get support when technical issues arise will need to be shared. Presenting this information at the beginning of the meeting will help answer questions that will be on the minds of many owners in attendance.

4. Ensure the attendance count does not include double-counting

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Some of the owners who attend your meeting may have already provided proxy forms before the meeting. Condominiums must be careful to ensure that these units are not double counted in the attendance. Condominiums must also be careful to ensure that units are not counted twice if they submit proxies before the meeting through both the digital and paper channels.

5. Align on how to handle motions

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Virtual meeting platforms may provide multiple options for how motions can be moved, seconded, and voted upon. A raise of hands feature is fairly common in many virtual meeting platforms. A condo may decide that the first two raise of hands constitute the first and second motion, and a subsequent raise of hands can be conducted to count all those in favour or against. Alternatively, some virtual meeting platforms also provide the ability for attendees to vote using a poll, which could be useful for voting on a motion. In the absence of a virtual hand raise or polling feature, a show of hands over video conference or via text in a chat window may serve as alternative approaches to handling motions.

6. Ensure that voting is conducted in a compliant manner!

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The voting system you choose must have the ability to record, retain and easily allow for the access of all required voting information. There are several electronic voting applications and services that are commercially available. When using these services, results can be provided immediately during the meeting, which can save time otherwise required to count votes during the meeting.

Like with attendance, any voting system you use must properly reconcile votes that come through the various channels (digital proxy, paper proxy and electronic ballot) to ensure that submissions from units are not double counted. We advise that you use an electronic voting service that can reconcile and tally votes automatically, since any manual reconciliation on the day of voting can lead to human error and potential double counting. We also advise that you encourage your meeting attendees to deliver any proxy forms by a specific date ahead of the meeting. This will provide scrutineers with more time to properly account and tally voting instructions from submitted proxies.

Property managers should also confirm that any electronic voting service used will properly account for the various types of voting that may take place at your meeting. The owner-occupant director election should only be voted on by owner-occupants, and there should be an option to invalidate and prevent voting by units in arrears by greater than 30 days.

7. Double check your condo records for accuracy!

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Property managers play a key role in ensuring that voting runs smoothly on the day of the meeting. Many virtual meeting solutions deliver electronic ballots to email addresses. Therefore, confirming the accuracy of email addresses on file can be critical for ensuring that electronic ballots are properly authenticated and sent to the correct email addresses. Moreover, if you are holding an owner-occupant director election, you should verify the accuracy of the owner-occupant statuses of your unit owners. Trying to make adjustments to unit records on the day of the meeting while voting takes place can be very challenging and time consuming.

8. Have clear rules during Q & A

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The property manager and board will need to align on how they will be accepting questions. Most commonly, condominiums choose to take questions via raise of hands during Q&A segments during the meeting. This best replicates how questions are handled during in-person meetings.

Some condos also opt to take questions via text either in a chat dialogue box or via a Q&A window. While this may work for some condos, this can also present challenges as the simplicity of typing a question can result in an overwhelming stream of questions that arrive. This can sometimes produce the effect of having another meeting within a meeting, which can be challenging to control.

To provide a fair chance to all attendees, many condos proceed with a one question per hand raise policy. This provides everyone in attendance with the opportunity to speak.

9. Hold a practice session

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Holding a virtual meeting practice session will go a long way to calm the nerves of any property manager or board member participating in a virtual meeting for the first time. The session can provide an opportunity to practice using basic virtual meeting controls, understand roles and responsibilities during the meeting, learn virtual meeting procedures, and handle any potential troubleshooting.

10. Start your webcast early

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Give your attendees a chance to log into your virtual meeting early, before the meeting starts. This will provide time for attendees to verify that their application is working as expected and resolve any technical issues that may arise.

Virtual meetings have seen surprising benefits

Property managers and owners have been pleasantly surprised with the unexpected time and cost savings associated with the virtual meeting format. Features such as virtual hand raising and muting, have facilitated more orderly question & answer sessions, resulting in time saved. Meanwhile, the elimination of both renting an event space and travel time for professionals attending the meeting (e.g. lawyers, engineers, etc.) have resulted in some unexpected cost savings.

Moreover, fears that the adoption of new virtual meeting technologies would create attendance barriers to large swaths of owners have largely failed to materialize. Paradoxically, hosted virtual meetings have so far tended to be more inclusive than their in-person equivalents. This is because they allow high-risk groups and owners seeking to minimize physical contact to attend.

What does the future hold?

The mass migration of condos adopting virtual meetings has been one of many surprising outcomes of the pandemic. The virtual meeting format has permitted condos to hold required owners meetings, and to do so safely. While there is a learning curve for operating virtual meetings, many property managers have learned through experience that activities required to host a virtual meeting are in fact very learnable or can be outsourced to virtual meeting vendors.

Property managers and owners have been largely delighted by the convenience and time saved with the virtual meeting format. Some condos will certainly revert back to in-person meetings after the pandemic, preferring the social and face-to-face nature of in-person meetings. Meanwhile, we hear that many property managers and boards will continue with the virtual meeting format, leveraging the conveniences, time savings and orderliness of conducting their owners meetings online.