Monthly Archives

April 2021

The Future of Virtual Meetings

A Q&A with Rod Escayola, Gowling WLG

An experienced condominium lawyer and an elected director on the board of his condo corporation in Ottawa, Rod Escayola is well-versed in the Condominium Act, condo law, meetings and AGMs. In fact, he was an early adopter of virtual meetings not only for his corporation but also for the law firm where he is a partner, Gowling WLG. We asked Rod to give us his thoughts on the value of virtual meetings one year on, and to discuss the benefits of continuing on the virtual meeting path once the pandemic is over.

Overview

Q: Rod, you are both legal counsel and a meeting chair. Have virtual meetings offered any advantages to you?
A: There are many advantages to holding virtual meetings. I have found virtual meetings to be as good a forum as in-person meetings. Better, if done properly – in a transparent and inclusive manner. Owners need to feel included in the ‘process’. Meetings must be a ‘two-way street’ with no one feeling left out.

A virtual meeting is more conducive to a business meeting, which is what an AGM or an owners’ meeting really is about. There are far fewer interruptions during virtual meetings or less attempts to derail the meeting’s agenda. The comments I have heard are that virtual meetings are more efficient and easier to follow for owners.

Q: Do you think AGMs have benefited from the ability to share materials on screen?
A: This is a distinct benefit. The chair can show documents onscreen while owners follow along. It is also much easier to catch up in the event you lose track. Having documents on screen makes answering questions a lot easier. Everyone can “be on the same page” so to speak.

The Virtual AGM and Owners’ Meetings

Q: The province has supported virtual meetings and electronic voting for condominium corporations while in-person meetings are on hold, and has extended the deadline to December 31 for this transitional period. What should a condo corporation look for when choosing a virtual meeting and eVoting platform
A: This is an excellent question. The virtual meeting platform needs to afford reliability along with all of the other “checks and balances”. A virtual meeting platform must allow for real time meaningful participation. It must provide transparency. Owners must be able to see how many hands are being raised and they must feel reassured that those wishing to speak or ask questions are able to do so. There are tons of ways to be transparent and, most importantly, to show that you are transparent.

A virtual meeting cannot just be a broadcast that people watch. It’s a participative exercise.

eVoting is both reliable and useful. You can cast your vote anytime in advance of the meeting, and over a longer period, for example, two weeks. With the ability to vote ahead comes another advantage – you can make changes, if necessary, to the vote you cast.

eVoting is here to stay.  Get comfortable with it and get the right service provider. It is insufficient, in my view, to have people vote by show of hand or by email.

I feel the following are the most valuable features to look for with respect to eVoting: i) Reliability. The corporation should feel confident that votes will be received from those owners entitled to vote; ii) Ability to verify documentation. It is important to have the ability to trace back to the source and to respond to a records request if required; and iii) Confidentiality. Owners should not know how another owner has voted.

Q: What about clients continuing with in-person meetings but using electronic voting and telephone voting?
A: You’re talking about hybrid meetings. This is a great option and I suspect this is how most meetings will be held in the future, with some owners attending in person but with all owners voting electronically. Voting electronically (even when in-person meetings return) is a great solution for those owners or directors with limited mobility, those looking after a parent or a child or those who are travelling.

Q: What do you think about telephone voting?
A: Telephone voting is a ‘roll back’ to a comfortable technology that everyone is familiar with. It has a certain comfort level, and is easy to use. It also addresses the most common concern we hear about those owners without email or without internet.  Telephone voting was the missing piece! No one is left behind.

Are Proxies a Thing of the Paper Past?

Q: What is your opinion on proxies? Are proxies required for a virtual meeting
A: My opinion on paper proxies is that they are a disaster! The government’s mandatory forms are not flexible nor user-friendly, simply because they are hard to complete. An eProxy fixes some of these challenges in the sense that they are easier to complete.

Some people seem to be fixated on paper proxies because it gives them some comfort, of holding onto something that’s tangible. Unfortunately, a paper proxy often allows others to control the vote, the outcomes and even the agenda of corporation meetings. Also, paper proxies don’t work well in the virtual world. They complicate things.

My feeling is that the paper proxy is on its way out.

I also wish proxies were limited to obtaining quorum or to locking in a vote – with the owner actually voting. I don’t agree with the concept of giving your vote to someone else. It makes no sense. One person, one vote.

Q: What is the difference between advance voting and eProxy voting?
A: Both of these voting options can be done by owners using their laptop or desktop computer – or by phone with some providers. As I mentioned, advance voting allows an owner to cast their own vote before the AGM or meeting and change their vote if required. While eProxies are easy to complete, I don’t see them as adding anything to electronic voting. They are kind of the old way of doing things. EVoting is easier.

The Future of Virtual Meetings

Q: A common concern in virtual environments is ensuring all demographics, specifically, individuals who may not be tech-savvy can participate. In your experience, have those groups been isolated or experienced challenges participating in virtual meetings and electronic ballots?
A: As with most new things, and virtual meetings is still a new technology, there are “old school” owners who, sadly, do not have email or internet. These owners often require help from someone to make it easy for them to participate in their condo’s virtual AGM. Telephone voting is an appropriate solution for many of these owners. Additionally, I feel that sometimes ‘old school’ owners might also benefit from a little ‘tough love’. Let’s help those who truly don’t have the means to embrace the technology but let’s nudge those who have it, but are just resisting change out of habit or comfort. The future is pretty amazing. Hop along!

Q: Do you think your clients will continue with virtual meetings after the pandemic?
A: It is my hope that most will continue with virtual meetings or, at the very least, hybrid meetings going forward. There are tons of benefits to virtual meetings, including that they are less costly in most cases. They allow the professionals including lawyers and accountants, who often have 3–4 meetings scheduled in an evening, to show up. I expect some professionals to eventually charge more for in-person meetings simply due to the additional time they require. With all the virtual meeting and voting options available, no one should feel left behind.

 

Virtual Meetings Mean Real Business for Condo Corporations

“When the pandemic started, many owners were all nervous about conducting meetings virtually. Now they feel confident and happy, and that’s in huge part thanks to CondoVoter,” stated Fred Mucci, Regional Director, FirstService Residential after the conclusion of a recent virtual meeting.

Fred reckons he has chaired 20+ virtual meetings with CondoVoter providing hosting duties. “I have not had a bad experience. Anything we’ve asked of CondoVoter has been provided. The host is always friendly. The orientation sessions are helpful. CondoVoter staff walk participants through the steps including how to conduct a show of hands. Then the manager takes over control of the business meeting itself. Knowing the support is there takes the pressure off the chairperson.”

Condominium corporations conduct meetings with owners and residents as a regular part of the condominium’s operations. “In-person annual general meetings and special meetings have always been such an important aspect of condominium affairs,” adds Fred. “People gear up towards them and that’s great. But a virtual meeting allows the real business of a corporation to take place with fewer interruptions.”

Fred likes to emphasize the efficiency of virtual meetings.

“We can actually run a business meeting in one hour or less and achieve all the goals we set out. Advance voting also contributes to the meeting’s efficiency. We are reaching quorum almost every meeting. I think just one meeting did not reach quorum.”

With telephone voting included in CondoVoter’s services, there’s an added benefit that helps to reach quorum. “Telephone voting is ‘invisible’ because it’s conducted behind the scenes. We rely on CondoVoter for this function. I’m loving it.”

Most of the properties that Fred supervises are townhomes. A small number of owners have been reluctant to attend saying it doesn’t feel like a meeting. “There’s no opportunity for chit chat,” he laughs. “But there’s less anxiety for others. Plus, due to the technology aspect of virtual meetings, the actual meeting becomes the centre of attention and less emphasis on the social function.”

He concedes the elderly demographic still miss the social aspect of meetings and always will. “After this is over and we are back to normal, we have one property that will go back to in-person meetings and that’s OK.”

Fred and his team have had some discussion about meetings going forward and definitely want to continue with virtual meetings “with one annual ‘Town Hall-style’ in-person meeting when it’s allowed, just so people can still meet together. It’s a bee in my bonnet.”

Product Update: Workflow & Tasks Lists to Make Your AGM Run Smoother

CondoVoter is excited to announce our most recent product update, which focuses on assisting property managers in scheduling and organizing your virtual meetings. We appreciate how much work goes into ensuring your virtual meeting runs smoothly. In this new virtual world, it can be easy to forget all the steps leading up to your next AGM.

As part of our April update, our CondoVoter Manager Portal now has workflow and tasks lists that assist you in the requirements leading up to your next AGM.

  • Confirm registration in advance – See who is planning on attending and whether they have placed an advance vote
  • Schedule auditors, lawyers and other presenters – Easily send an invitation and access link to your virtual meeting and confirm if they’ve accepted the invitation in advance
  • Insight into real-time updates on which units have voted and whether you have achieved quorum before your meeting begins
  • Tracking Owner Occupant Status and Units in Arrears

But that’s not all… Our product update also includes several improvements geared towards unit owners and candidates running in the election. Most notably, we are excited to announce the launch of our Candidate Portal.

Be informed: Speeches and videos let you know who, why a candidate is running

A common question we get asked is, “How am I expected to vote in advance if I don’t know who I am voting for?”

The Candidate Portal enables potential candidates to create a personalized bio about themselves, why they are running, and how they can assist the community. Included in these bios is the option to upload candidate speeches and videos! When unit owners view their ballots and place their vote, these dynamic profiles ensure that they are making an informed decision.

Want to find out more? Contact us to discuss how we can assist your community during your next AGM, Townhall or SGM.

Congratulations to 60 newly certified Virtual Chairs

Virtual meetings are now part of a condominium corporation’s new normal. But did you know there are some fine distinctions between chairing a virtual meeting compared to an in-person meeting? Capitalizing on a need to get managers and directors up to speed quickly, CAI Canada and other experts in the condominium industry, organized an eLearning Virtual Chair Certification program. Over two sessions in March, CAI Canada registered more than 60 participants for the virtual education sessions who learned the nuances of chairing online meetings and more.

Virtual coaches were Rod Escayola and Graeme MacPherson, Gowling WLG; and Natalia Polis and Denise Lash, Lash Condo Law. Adam Arcuri, CondoVoter was the moderator and a co-sponsor of the event.

We asked one of the newly certified participants, Bishnu Aryal, RCM a property manager with TAG–The Active Group, to tell us about his experience.

Q: Bishnu, why was it important for you to take this two-day Virtual Chair Certification session?

A: Knowledge is power, and skills help solve problems. As condominium boards and managers cannot organize the meetings in person due to the pandemic, the only way to comply with the mandate of conducting meetings in a timely fashion is to do it virtually.

I decided to take this two-day Virtual Certification session because I want to know the skills and strategies from the professionals in the field and gather the knowledge in the shortest possible time.

Q: How many virtual meetings have you chaired in the last year?

A: Over the past several years I have chaired and attended several AGMs and board meetings in person. In 2020 and 2021, so far I have attended and/or chaired about 10–12 board/general meetings.

Q: What new skills did you learn?

A: The best part for me was refreshing the legal and procedural part of meetings. Also, learning various technical aspects of video conferencing was valuable, e.g., how to effectively use chat, polling options and Q&A options.

Q: How will you use your new Virtual Chair Certification?

A: New skills will help me effectively conduct meetings. It helps to gain trust and respect of boards of directors, clients and owners. I will also use this knowledge to share it with my colleagues and team to improve their virtual meeting experience.

Q: What would you say to other managers that are thinking about signing up for the course?

A: For me training is not an expense, it is an investment. I recommend managers and boards of directors to take the advantages of the certification conducted by respected legal minds in the industry. Meeting checklists and sample scripts are good additions to the manager’s toolbox.

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