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