The COVID pandemic has continued longer than many had expected and has impacted almost every facet of everyday life. Facing evolving governmental guidance and individual comfort levels, we have been forced to adapt to what appears to be a new norm. This is particularly true for community association operations, from meetings to enforcement of restrictions and everything in between. While it is often natural to resist change, the challenges confronted during the COVID pandemic, and the resulting operational changes that many have made, may ultimately stay with us and help better communities in the long run.
Virtual Meetings are Here to Stay
The concepts of remote participation, or entirely virtual meetings, have been available options for associations for years; nonetheless, it was not common to transact business in this fashion. Perhaps this stemmed from concern that some may not be able to adequately participate, or that the actual operation of any given platform would be too difficult.
Luckily for Michigan associations, and as attorney James Tocco addressed in his March 2020 article on Conducting Board and Member Meetings During the COVID-19 Crisis, the Michigan Nonprofit Corporation Act permits meetings to be held using remote technology such as Zoom, Go to Meeting, or Microsoft Teams, unless the governing documents explicitly prohibit this ability. Specifically, Section 105 of the Nonprofit Corporation Act provides that “unless restricted by the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws, a member may participate in the meeting by conference call or other means of remote communication…” It is a rarity for either the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws to expressly prohibit remote participation, likely because it was not a consideration when the documents were originally drafted given these Nonprofit Corporation Act provisions were enacted relatively recently.
Throughout the pandemic, what was once a rarely used option, has become the norm, and in many instances, even a preferred means of operation. The technical challenges and uncertainties of properly administering a remote association meeting, especially with voting, have been overcome by many associations and various service providers have adjusted, updated or released entirely new platforms to better accommodate these issues. We have learned that remote meetings are not only an effective option, but have increased participation.
Those who are not physically present in Michigan or who were otherwise unable to attend in-person meetings previously had to make decisions regarding assigning their vote to a trusted friend or neighbor, submitting a specific proxy or written vote in appropriate instances, or foregoing their right to participate in the meeting entirely. With the prevalence of remote and virtual meeting platforms, those residents no longer must make that decision and can instead be active participants in their associations.
Communication is Key
One of the most significant responsibilities of administering any community association is communication. A lack of communication is a common complaint from residents, be it a lack of response to email requests or a lack of information related to forthcoming projects. Residents want to be informed about their association, projects that may impact their ability to work from home without distraction, how their money is being spent, and what the association will do to address their requests, complaints and concerns.
Throughout the pandemic residents have been spending more time at home. This seems to have led to residents noticing things which may have previously gone unnoticed, or at least unreported. With an uptick in these reports, residents are expecting more of their association board or management company. Associations can help to address this expectation by sending periodic email blasts, which should focus on any recently completed or upcoming projects, and other items that will be relevant to a specific community.
When an association hires a contractor for a non-emergency project, that contractor will often be completing noisy work during the day. Before the pandemic, many working residents would not be at home to hear these noisy projects, instead returning home to happily see that the project had been completed. With the significant increase of residents working from home, it has become critical to keep residents informed of construction schedules, as those noisy projects may be a hinderance to the resident’s ability to work from home.
Seeing the Good
The ongoing pandemic has brought about undeniable, and often, immeasurable negatives, but there are also some bright spots coming from what we’ve learned. We have been reminded of the importance of member communication and we have learned how to further accommodate and foster increased participation. As we become accustomed to our new norm, we must continue to look for the positives which enhance our communities. Of course, if your Michigan community association has any questions regarding conducting meetings remotely or any other topic addressed in this article, one of the experienced attorneys at Makower Abbate Guerra Wegner Vollmer will be more than happy to assist.