How To Make Virtual Meetings Work For Your Condominium

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With no further extensions to the deadlines for holding AGMs, it looks like many condominiums will need to hold their 2020-2021 AGMs using electronic means as in-person meetings continue to be prohibited in most parts of Ontario. There were temporary amendments made to the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”) that permit condominiums to hold their meetings using telephonic or electronic means without a by-law. These temporary amendments might become permanent, but the Ontario government has not yet confirmed its intentions. As of right now, the temporary amendments are set to end on May 31, 2021 and condominiums will need to pass new by-laws to continue hosting their meetings using telephonic or electronic means.

Given that hosting owners’ meetings using telephonic or electronic means (“virtual meetings”) is relatively new to most condo managers, it is not surprising that I have been asked to do a few presentations on virtual meetings over the last year. This post will share a few tips and tricks from those presentations to make your virtual meeting a success.

CALLING A MEETING

Like with in-person meetings, preparation is key to a successful virtual meeting. The first decision to make is how you will hold the meeting. Will you use teleconference or videoconference? I have had only a few clients go with a teleconference, but I have heard that it worked well for smaller condominiums with fewer attendees.

If you plan to hold it with video, will you use a meeting services provider or do it on your own? The Act permits the use of Zoom or Teams (or other similar programs), but it can be more challenging to host larger meetings without the assistance of a meeting services provider to assist with voting or moderating the meeting. The main reason people choose not to use a meeting services provider is the cost. The cost actually varies significantly between the providers and based on the features selected, so I would encourage you to do some research and find the one that is the best for your condominium. Most of the meeting services providers have different options ranging from the collection of e-proxies only to a full services package that includes some or all of the following: e-proxies, e-voting, advance voting, and a moderator for the meeting to help people struggling with the technology.

The process for calling a virtual meeting is the same as for in-person meetings with a few minor tweaks to the preliminary notice of meeting and notice of meeting packages. A cover letter to the preliminary package explaining the technology to be used at the meeting helps owners research the technology in advance of the meeting, which can reduce anxiety about the technology. It also gives you an opportunity to highlight any special deadlines that the condominium may not normally have with in-person meetings, such as a deadline for the delivery of paper proxies (more on this below).

Lastly, one of the biggest changes to the process for calling a meeting is that the temporary amendments to the Act permit condominiums to use electronic means to deliver notices to owners and mortgagees, even if they have not consented to such means. “Electronic means” includes a variety of options, but is most often via email. If you do not have an email address for an owner you should find an alternate means of delivery, such as via regular mail to their address for service.

HOLDING A MEETING

There are a few similarities between in-person meetings and virtual meetings. For instance, the order of business in the agenda is normally the same with minutes of the last AGM being one of the first items, followed by the auditor’s presentation, and then elections near the end. In some situations it might be appropriate to move an item up in the agenda to give attendees more time to cast their votes.

Another similarity is quorum. Quorum for most meetings is still 25% of the owners who are eligible to vote. In addition to those in person or represented by proxy, owners who use telephones or electronic means or advance voting also count towards quorum for a virtual meeting.

One of the challenges with virtual meetings is confirming the identities of those in attendance at the meeting. The name shown may not be the person’s proper name. For example, often the name will be the brand and model of the phone used to connect to the meeting. This could be anyone. If you use a meeting service provider they will normally take care of confirming identities for you. If you go it alone, you’ll need to find a way to do it yourself. There are different ways to ensure that only those entitled to attend are able to log into the meeting, for example, you can use the registration option in Zoom. If you have a small number of units you could do a roll call and rename the attendees with their unit number or name.

One of the benefits of virtual meetings is the ease of control over attendees, especially when attendees do not have the ability to unmute themselves. Using the Q&A or chat features of the virtual meeting can make it easier to stick to the agenda. If you choose to permit owners to speak at the meeting, I recommend that you set clear ground rules like you would with in-person meetings.

VOTING OPTIONS

It is important to explain the voting options early so owners understand their options. Ideally, the preliminary notice of meeting would explain the technology that will be used to capture votes (i.e. proxies, e-voting during the meeting, advance voting, show of hands). Explaining the options allows owners to explore the options and choose the one that they are most comfortable with. It also ensures that people are not surprised to find out at the meeting that they cannot vote in the manner they planned to use.

Voting by paper proxy can be challenging with a virtual meeting for a variety of reasons. For one, it is harder to ensure that proxy holders are counted toward the proper number of votes if using the raise hand or polling features within Zoom as they would only be counted as one vote. This can be avoided by using e-votes for all motions, but this takes extra time as people have to go to their email and vote each time. Another challenge with paper proxies is that it is harder to review paper proxies during a virtual meeting with the scrutineers. A breakout room can be used, but it takes a lot longer to review paper proxies using a screen sharing feature than it would in person (especially if each proxy is a separate file). Setting a deadline for paper proxies to be received allows the manager to review the proxies, organize them, and create a summary of the results. This could be reviewed with scrutineers in advance of the meeting to speed up the process during the meeting, but it will need to be reviewed to ensure those attending in person to vote or using e-voting are not counted twice with any paper proxies they submitted.

While it can seem daunting to host your first virtual meeting, I have heard mostly positive remarks about the experience from clients after the meeting. Some still prefer in-person and will use virtual meetings only as long as it is necessary, but some have indicated that they may continue to use virtual meetings for some of their meetings in the future. Some have even stated that they plan to investigate hybrid options with in-person meetings with some attending via electronic means or casting e-votes.

Virtual or In-Person Meetings During a Pandemic: Which is Best?

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Unlike in past years where I would have attended several owners’ meetings in a week during the busier times of the year, this year I have only attended a handful of in-person owners’ meetings since March. Most clients initially deferred their AGMs in the Spring. Since the deadline for holding AGMs will not be extended by the Government of Ontario, most condominiums have decided to hold their AGMs using electronic means or by teleconference (“virtual meetings”).

While the Government of Ontario has indicated that it will not extend the time to hold AGMs, it has extended the temporary amendments that allow condominiums to hold their meetings using virtual means without passing a by-law. The deadline was initially November 21, 2020, but it has been extended to May 31, 2021. As such, all condominiums have the legal authority to hold their meetings using virtual means until at least May 31, 2021.

The question is: Will you hold your meeting in-person or move to a virtual meeting?

Virtual Meetings vs. In-Person Meetings

I have already posted about some of the advantages and disadvantages of virtual requisition meetings: https://ontcondolaw.com/2020/07/13/virtual-requisition-meetings/ Similarly, I did a blog post for CCI’s Grand River Chapter on virtual meetings and recommendations for effectively communicating with owners: https://www.cci-grc.ca/blogs/view/communicating-in-the-digital-age-condo-edition. In short, the pros and cons of virtual meetings tend to be:

ProsCons
Easier for chairperson to control the meeting.Technology can be challenging for some owners.
Less costly if paying professionals (i.e. lawyer, engineer, auditor) to travel to the meeting.Accessibility issues with some of the options.
More flexibility about the time of the meeting (i.e. hold over lunch break instead of in the evening).Costs of hosted virtual meeting can be prohibitive for some condominiums.
Common pros and cons of virtual condo meetings.

In addition to the above, virtual meetings also have the added benefit of minimizing exposure to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Even if you aren’t concerned about catching it yourself, you should be concerned about the potential liabilities of your condominium if you host a meeting in-person and someone falls ill because of it.

The most common concern with virtual meetings is a perception that the technology is too complex for some owners to use. Some have concerns about the accessibility features of the virtual meeting platforms. In my experience, in-person meetings tend to be less inclusive than virtual meetings right now. This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. For one, some people cannot attend meetings in person because they are in a high-risk group and do not want to put themselves at risk. Others may have returned from a trip and need to quarantine. Other owners may have jobs that expose them to COVID and they do not want to infect their neighbours by attending the meeting. While the intention with in-person meetings is often to be more inclusive by avoiding the technology required for a virtual meeting, in-person meetings can actually be less inclusive for the reasons above.

There are a number of other considerations with in-person meetings that you should be aware of right now. You need to monitor the restrictions on gatherings to ensure your condominium is complying with any at the time of the meeting. These restrictions change frequently right now, so be prepared to check at least once a day. You will also need to find a large space that will permit everyone to be at least 2 metres apart. You might want to consider renting microphones for the meeting as the extra distance can make it difficult for people to hear each other, especially with masks on. You will also need to enforce distancing and mask compliance throughout the meeting. You should have a plan prepared in the event someone refuses to wear a mask or keep a safe distance. Who are you going to call? What are you going to do? Lastly, while you might have been able to get away with meetings held outdoors during the warmer month, this is not a viable option with winter quickly approaching. You cannot expect owners to sit outside for an hour or two when it is -10 degrees Celsius, raining or snowing, or dark.

In my opinion, the most inclusive type of meeting right now is a virtual meeting through a hosting system that allows owners to call into the meeting using an ordinary landline telephone. This option eliminates concerns about spreading COVID-19 while minimizing potential technology issues with owners who may not be familiar with virtual meetings. If they have called a 1-800 number they can manage to call in for the virtual meeting. Voting can be done using proxies (in paper or electronic format) to minimize technology issues with voting during the meeting, which can be more common if you hold the meeting without a virtual meeting host. Spend the time that you would spend searching for a venue and ensuring all necessary precautions are taken to prepare the owners for the meeting. Send the initial notices earlier than required so owners have an opportunity to download any programs that they may need, purchase a microphone or headset, and speak with their techy family member to get some pre-meeting training. Provide detailed instructions for logging into the meeting. Once the meeting starts, go over the unique features of the virtual meeting system, such as how to ask questions, how to vote, etc.

I appreciate that some of you prefer in-person meetings (I do too), but the best option right now is a virtual meeting. You can return to in-person meetings when it is safe for all of your owners to do so.