How well your board communicates has a tremendous impact on your community association. Great communication can lead to better relationships with residents – both homeowners and renters – and helps build a stronger sense of community. Poor communication, on the other hand, can create tension, distrust and animosity.
But what does great communication look like? And how do you know if your board is doing it right? Although your association’s communication needs are unique to your community, every board can benefit from applying these 5 principles.
These days, homeowners expect greater transparency from their boards. Unfortunately, living in a litigious society has led some boards to become more cautious about sharing information with their residents, especially if tensions already run high in their community. Mike Dee, building manager with FirstService Residential, warns that this approach can backfire because “it can often be interpreted as withholding information or a lack of transparency.”
Even if you need to communicate something that residents won’t like, Dee recommends being honest and sharing the process that led your board to its decision. “Don’t be afraid to let them know how complex it is,” he says.
In addition to the traditional methods for communicating with residents, your board has a range of options provided by technology. Some of the channels your board might consider using:
For the general public, you could feature amenities, projects and homes for sale or rent. For homeowners, you should provide a self-serve platform that enables them to conduct business and access documents 24/7. For example, FirstService Residential Connect™, which is available exclusively to communities managed by FirstService Residential, can be configured for a community’s specific needs and allows residents to communicate directly with their property manager, board members, staff and neighbors. It also lets them obtain community information and access important documents; manage their accounts; request services; and make reservations at their convenience.
A high-tech variation that he says is becoming more popular with associations is digital message boards, which display scrolling messages across a large flat screen in your lobby, elevator or other common area. “Associations know they have seconds to grab a resident’s attention,” Lugo explains. Although digital message boards can be pricy, Dee points out that they can be valuable in creating a professional look. “These days, it’s accepted and modern.” Of course, if your community is having financial struggles, the expense may not be easy to justify.
An owners’ forum should precede your board meetings to give residents the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions. Dee also recommends making the board packet available to all homeowners. Having this information prior to a board meeting is likely to reduce the number of questions residents will have.
Some boards assume that if there isn’t very much to share, there’s no need to communicate with residents, but Lugo disagrees. “Silence breeds uncertainty, and that can foster rumors, so it’s important to keep it flowing and keep it constant.” If the task is too much for your board members to do themselves, create a communication committee and engage the help of your property manager.
In an effort to communicate more, some boards may share too much information too quickly. “Move towards greater communication, but make sure that what you’re sharing is well thought through,” cautions Dee. “Otherwise, you can leave your board at greater risk of exposure and liability. My grandma always said, ‘Measure twice, and cut once.’” In other words, verify with your property manager and your attorney that what you are about to share is accurate and appropriate.
Owners’ forums shouldn’t be the only time that board members make themselves available to residents. In Dee’s building, the board creates regular opportunities for residents to meet with board members through “Coffee with a Board Member” and “Libations with a Board Member” gatherings. Dee makes himself available to residents at “Minute with the Manager” events, too.
As a board member, you can’t underestimate the importance of communication. Implement the strategies you see here and you’ll be on your way to improving the way you connect with your residents.