Prior to the pandemic, few of us knew much about how to use video conferencing programs, such as Zoom or Teams, effectively. However, we quickly learned that these tools were going to be a necessary component in assuring that our community associations maintained stability and functionality during a time when members could not meet or come together in person. In an effort to assure that community associations could continue to conduct business throughout the pandemic, the Washington State governor adopted a temporary mandate that provided community associations with the right to communicate, conduct meetings, and vote electronically. Collectively, associations experienced a new way of “gathering” and, as crazy as it may have seemed pre-pandemic, many members liked it; so much so that in July 2021, the Washington State Legislature, permanently adopted language amending the Horizontal Property Regime Act (Chapter 64.32 RCW), the Condominium Association Act (Chapter 64.34 RCW), and the Homeowners Association Act (Chapter 64.38 RCW) to incorporate the right to conduct meetings by telephonic, video, or other conferencing processes.
We are all now embarking on a post-pandemic “new normal,” having acquired new skills learned during the pandemic, but still hanging on to the “old normal”, as well. So, how do the two “normals” converge? How should associations incorporate both old and new practices for the betterment of their communities?
CONSIDER THE DIFFERENCES
Virtual meetings are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean all meetings must be virtual. Association Boards have a choice and should look inward when deciding if the continuation of virtual meetings is the right fit for their community. Logistically, virtual meetings provide for ease of access to meetings without having to leave one’s home or office, the ability to attend meetings when out of town, when sick, or when life is otherwise too busy to attend in person. On the other hand, some individuals prefer in-person meetings for the dialogue and relationships that they build, or simply because the technology we use for virtual meetings isn’t always ideal.
Each Association is composed of a different mix of busy professionals, young families, retirees that travel, people with and without strong computer skills, extroverts, and introverts. Considering these differences may assist each Association in making the best decision on how to effectively engage with as many owners and members in that particular association as possible, which is always a smart choice.
ENGAGE WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS
Remember the core value that community associations provide: a harmonious community under a set of covenants that protect each individual owner’s investment and preserve property values in the community. To foster this, community associations would be best served by creating an environment that generates interest, engagement, and volunteerism by the community members. Establishing a desirable way to allow members to attend and engage in meetings is a great place to start, whether virtually or in-person.
In an effort to understand the community’s traits and preferences, reach out to the owners and members, poll your community, hold some meetings virtually and some in person and keep a record of how many people attend each, or simply discuss this topic with members to understand their desire. Some organizations are even starting to meet in person, while also providing a virtual option of participation – in other words, you can have it both ways. But doing so appropriately is vital.
UNDERSTAND AND IMPLEMENT THE PROCESS
Prior to holding virtual meetings, it is imperative that Association Boards and members know their rights and obligations related to: 1) meeting notice requirements; 2) the practicalities of how a virtual meeting must be held (i.e. members attending virtually must be able to comprehend the meeting and be allowed to comment during the meeting); and 3) members’ voting rights during virtual meetings. There are specific laws in place that safeguard both the Association and members’ rights related to virtual meetings.
There is no right or wrong with regard to virtual or in person meetings, but the more the Association knows about its members, its community, and how to run meetings, the more effective the Association will be for its members, which will benefit the community as a whole.