When Covid-19 arrived in the United States, many businesses had to quickly figure out how to continue operating in the age of social distancing. In the months that have followed, conducting business remotely has become the "new norm" as organizations of all sizes have begun to utilize technology like Zoom to continue working and having face-to-face interactions with colleagues and clients alike.
The use of technology and virtual meeting platforms has extended to just about every area of daily life, and this of course rings true for community associations. Across the country, board members have had to figure out how to continue conducting the business of the association while keeping themselves and members safe and following state-mandated regulations. Though this change was decidedly disruptive at the onset, virtual meetings have become an avenue through which association meetings have increased participation and are overall run more efficiently.
Virtual Meetings - What are the Rules?
As virtual meetings became a necessity, community associations across the country had to determine what their governing documents said on the matter, or, if their governing documents said anything about it at all. Not only does it depend on governing documents, but there are laws in many states that dictate how virtual board and membership meetings may be held and how votes may be taken. In North Carolina, for example, the governor has continued to put forth executive orders allowing non-profit organizations (this includes HOAs) to conduct meetings and allow votes electronically. What if an association's governing documents don't touch on virtual meetings at all? In that case, boards may come up with their own set of rules in regard to virtual meetings as long as those rules don't conflict with state laws.
Virtual Meetings Yield Positive Results
Annual Membership Meetings
By and large, the trend of holding virtual meetings has created improvement for membership meetings. Using the virtual meeting format has allowed for greater member participation in many communities, especially those who have a high percentage of part-time residents, which has aided in reaching a quorum for many associations. This added participation allows for meetings to feel more inclusive and for a larger part of the association's members to have their voices heard.
Not only can board meetings be held virtually, but board members can also vote in virtual meetings if permitted by state laws. To meet the requirement of allowing homeowners “regular access”, a requirement in North Carolina, boards can hold open sessions via Zoom at the beginning of their meetings to allow homeowners to voice concerns prior to going into a closed session.
Virtual meetings have also led to efficiencies that have historically been difficult to establish during in-person community association meetings. In the virtual forum, participants are able to get to the meeting on time and put a greater focus on the business at hand. While traditional meeting rules such as time limits and following an agenda still apply in a virtual forum, things like Zoom allow for the meetings to be more concentrated on the business of the association without running the risk of getting off-task. Further, the virtual setup allows participants to more easily listen to discussion and have time to formulate thoughts and opinions vs. having the knee-jerk reactions that may occur when meeting in person. Virtual meeting platforms also feature things like document sharing which allows for increased transparency and saves time as there are no paper documents to prepare and pass out.
Just as when dealing with any large group, some controls must be in place for the sake of efficiency, and platforms such as Zoom aid in that. Depending on how an association chooses to setup their meeting, there are options like muting participants which allows everyone to speak in turn or turning off chat functions to reduce distractions during the meetings.
Overall, virtual meetings have in many ways given boards and members the gift of time. No longer do people have to drive somewhere to attend a meeting or even walk down the street - everything can be handled from the comfort of one's home.
Things to Watch Out For
As with anything, there are some concerns that go alongside virtually conducting meetings and association business. Some of these include the recording of meetings themselves and the potential for these recordings to be accessible to anyone. Also, with platforms like Zoom, there is the risk of having people listening into the meetings when they perhaps don't need to be. One solution to this is utilizing the waiting room function of Zoom - if part of a meeting is closed session, the moderator can have member participants in a virtual waiting room until the meeting becomes open to everyone.
There are, of course, questions surrounding electronic voting as well. First, you should determine if this is an option for your association and, if so, explore what types of electronic voting options you may have. With electronic voting, there is always the risk of fraudulent votes or perhaps people voting more than once. One way to ensure that this isn't happening is to require that votes be emailed in and the email address be verified against the information on file. In any case, boards should always be sure to consult their governing documents as well as state laws to ensure proper procedure is being followed.
The Future of Virtual Association Meetings
Though it isn't possible to ascertain just yet, the trends of the past year would indicate that virtual board and membership meetings are likely here to stay. The added efficiency and ability for increased participation has allowed association members to be confident that their voices are being heard and that they're up to date on the association's business matters. Just as many businesses have been able to transition to fully remote operations, these meetings may follow suit as it has become obvious that most people can work and conduct much of their lives online. However, it is important to realize that governing documents may need to be amended to authorize virtual meetings on a permanent basis when governmental executive orders expire at the end of the current pandemic.
For those associations that don't want to go fully virtual, the idea of hybrid meetings has been floated around. Hybrid meetings would allow those who would like to attend in-person to do so, but the voting and tallying of ballots to be conducted electronically. The staying power of the virtual meeting will undoubtedly be determined by many factors - the size of the association and the level of comfort members have with using technology to name a few.
Regardless of which path community associations opt to take, the advent of the virtual meeting has been a game-changer. The opening up of more meeting participation options has indicated increased efficiency and homeowner satisfaction, something that will allow board members and residents alike to remain optimistic about their associations' futures.
Update September 2021: North Carolina has adopted a bill allowing for virtual membership meetings and electronic voting. Learn more here.
At CAMS, community managers can assist in scheduling virtual meetings for the community associations they serve. In response to the need for virtual meetings, CAMS created a Zoom Certification course to ensure staff was proficient in facilitating the many aspects involved with a virtual meeting.
If your association needs assistance with scheduling or has questions about how to use these virtual platforms, please reach out via your owner portal or at 877.672.2267. If you’re interested in learning more about how CAMS’ services could benefit your association, please reach out here to find out more about how your community can receive Trusted Guidance – The CAMS Way.