Meeting in the New World
Although the end of our isolation seems to be in sight (fingers crossed), many of these digital skills are going to remain in place for a long time, so now we all have to learn how to navigate this hybrid world of living half face-to-face and half on-line.
In the condo world, this can most prevalently be seen in board meetings, owner meetings, and AGMs. Our company recently took on the marathon task of running three AGMs in one day, servicing a community where in-person meetings are usually combined with a social celebration such as a potluck dinner, birthday bonanza, or even just a good old-fashioned chin wag over a cup of tea (or something stronger). Obviously, circumstances being as they currently are, these activities have had to be curtailed, but the opportunity to meet together as a group in one space after so many moons was just too delicious to ignore. The trick was to do so safely, abiding by all public health requirements while also accommodating those who might be reticent about being in an enclosed space with relative strangers, even if everyone has been double dosed.
For one corporation, having all units attend in person (both a dream and a nightmare), even restricting attendance to only one person per unit, meant that we would still be over the venue’s mandated safe occupancy limit of 25, and that was before adding any members of the management team. However, being new to this community, we wanted to allow as many residents to attend as were interested – many of these owners had never met any of us, and they were itching to put a face to the email. With a little wangling, we were able to provide a combination of in-person attendance along with a virtual option for owners to join via Zoom.
While many of us have become Zoom afficionados whether we wanted to or not, many more have not had the need or desire to learn this skill. A practice session is always a good idea to ensure all participants know the finer points of Zoom etiquette, such as how to mute/unmute yourself, how to raise your hand using the reactions, and how to use the chat feature to communicate with the Chairperson. While not necessary, it is a good idea to offer this practice in advance of your meeting, if only to demonstrate that it is possible to hear your dog barking from the back yard while you’re upstairs.
A few things I learned during our three AGMs:
- No matter how prepared you think you are, you will have forgotten something. Just accept this and move on.
- No matter how many times you practice with the technology, something is going to go wrong – just smile and blame the robots.
- You will struggle to get the audio balance just right for those folks online, without deafening the live participants. There’s a sweet spot that to achieve is akin to hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time. I have yet to experience this.
- A microphone will be your best friend – along with Lysol wipes – although masks do tend to muffle the sound somewhat, so projection is key. Also, if you have the option, get a wireless mic. Otherwise, some poor mook is going to end up tangled in cables running back and forth from speakers causing hilarity among the attendees. I may have been that mook …
- If possible, two computers are useful – one for the Chair to monitor the Zoomers, and one to broadcast the call to the live participants. While you’re at it, why not add a third for your minute taker who can also act as moderator of the Chat and relay any information your Zoomers may have missed due to dodgy acoustics.
- A big screen TV that can be connected to your computer is a great way for everyone to see everyone else, but be careful of super HD. We don’t all need to see the insides of your fine china cabinet.
Despite a few technical glitches (we forgot to check how to turn the sound system on before starting), our hybrid AGMs were quite successful. It allowed us to maximize attendance – we averaged 88% attendance over the three meetings – with some units sending one owner in person while the other Zoomed in; it ensured owners who were out of town (or even out of the country in some cases) to participate from their location without missing out; and most importantly, it allowed all owners the opportunity to have their say in the running of their condominium, while also putting a face – albeit only from the eyes up – to their new managers with whom most had previously only communicated by email or phone. In a weird way, I think the mix of in-person and on-line brought this community closer together, which, at the end of the day, is the best part of today’s technology – connecting people in real time from anywhere in the world. I don’t know when my next hybrid meeting will be, but I certainly know better how to prepare and make everyone comfortable. Who knows – next time we might be able to hold meetings via hologram …?
Emilie Stroud, OLCM-L
MCRS Property Management