Effective Communication During Social Distancing
In our new “social distancing” world, we are all learning how to change our communication habits. People who are self-isolating can’t pop into someone’s office with a question. Board members accustomed to interacting with residents in open meetings will have to explore new ways of keeping information flowing.
To communicate effectively, the community manager and board members should first determine whether the discussion is most effectively handled electronically, or by phone or teleconferencing. For example, owners have the right to observe board meetings; thus, hosting one via e-mail is not appropriate. Almost everyone has a phone, but some people don’t feel comfortable with new technology. While using any of these methods, make sure you practice responsive communication, listening carefully and giving clear cues to show your understanding.
Meetings and Technology
There are a variety of free applications that can help board members conduct a meeting by teleconferencing. To keep these meetings “open” from a condo law perspective, owners must be provided the option to call-in to the virtual meetings. In fact, you might even boost involvement since community residents only need to make a phone call. Some conferencing software even allows you to record the meeting or read a transcript.
A virtual meeting can be different than face-to-face conversations, so here are some helpful tips:
- At the beginning of the session, tell participants when will questions be taken, ask them to mute phones when listening and let them know about any other ground rules.
- Discourage crosstalk during the meeting. It can become a confused mumble, and in some applications, only one person can control the audio at a time.
- Send meeting handouts ahead of time. Refer to page numbers or titles so that people following along by phone are on the same page as everyone else.
Smart Email Tips
Because emails are a record of community managers or co-op business, email communication should be handled carefully. Consider adopting a policy regarding how e-mail will be saved and establish board email accounts for board matters only. If the board’s records are subpoenaed, it avoids the possibility of a director’s personal or business emails are collected as well.
It’s hard to gauge a person’s tone when reading an email, so keep an open mind and check in with the person verbally if the discussion seems heated. By phone or email, people don’t see your body language so give verbal cues, like reflecting back what they say, so they know they’re understood. If a statement would be unwise to say in an open meeting, don’t add it to an email. Remember that there is a “forward” button on all email, so be wary of writing confidential information or anything that would concern you if the whole world saw it!
As unit owners and occupants look for answers, we recommend that the board and community manager remind them that municipal, regional, and federal authorities (such as the Public Health Agency of Canada) are the best source of information. But the community manager and board should continue to share precautions that the board may be taking such as disinfecting procedures, common area closures or onsite office changes. As always, messages from the association should not discriminate against owners, tenants, occupants, or employees based on race, color, national origin, familial status, etc., and should not give the identity of community residents that may test positive for the virus.
We will all need a measure of patience as we navigate changes related to the pandemic. Communications may move at a pace that’s different than we’re used to. As always, the best policy is to assume positive intentions from others, listen carefully and respond professionally.