It’s one of the most common complaints in condos — poor communication from the board or management to owners. Complaints of “We don’t know what’s going on!” or “We are paying the bills and you keep us in the dark!” come up too often at AGMs or special owner meetings. Poor communication can lead to frustrated owners, efforts to oust board members, and other unpleasant condo issues.
One way condo boards and managers can address these complaints is by setting up a communication committee. With the right people, tools and strategy, it’s possible to keep unit owners in the loop as to what’s happening in their community. Read on for best practices for both existing committees and communication newbies.
Establishing a communication committee
Committees often get a bad rap for being a forum that wastes time and gets nothing done, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Those establishing a communication committee for the first time should keep the following guidelines in mind. (Existing committees can use this list to check how theirs stacks up.)
For starters, bring together the right group of people. A committee should ideally have three to five people, with at least one board member and at least one person who has communications or PR experience at a professional level. The other members need to be “doers” — folks who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
After establishing the right group of people, set clear goals for the committee and assign ownership of these goals to committee members. For example, maybe the committee’s goal is to send one newsletter per month, with a target of 60 per cent of owners viewing the newsletter online.
In order to achieve its goals, the committee needs access to the right tools. It’s 2016, and a committee’s communication efforts and tools should reflect that. Posting paper notices is a good start, but what about notifying owners via a text message, website, app, or automated phone call?
A modern communication platform, for example, will have reporting capabilities that show how often owners interact with announcements or other broadcasted messages. These tools allow a committee to measure results so it can adjust course as needed to meet its communication goals.
Procuring a digital platform
Board members may wonder why they can’t simply send out materials through email, or set up a blog or basic website. They can take this approach, but they should consider privacy risks, compliance with Canada’s anti-spam legislation and continuity.
For example, it’s easy enough to mistakenly use “CC” instead of “BCC” when emailing hundreds of people, which floods the inboxes of recipients with replies. If a condo corporation does this, it could be held liable for privacy infractions from exposing owners’ contact information. A well-designed condo communication system (as opposed to regular email) will build in mechanisms that make it difficult to unintentionally expose private information to owners.
Introduced in 2015, Canada’s anti-spam legislation requires all email senders to properly identify the source of their message as well as have a working unsubscribe mechanism. Most condo communication systems (or any email list-management systems) can automate this process.
It’s common for owners to volunteer to build a website for their community, which may be an appealing, low-cost option. However, what happens if the owner moves out, loses interest, or gets into a dispute with the board? The board will at least need to find a webmaster to maintain and update the site. In some cases, the board may have to take steps to regain control of the corporation’s website.
If the board opts to procure a digital communication platform with input from the communication committee, it should discuss the corporation’s requirements with reputable suppliers. Communication platforms are not easily comparable, so it’s advisable to see a demo before making a decision. Also ensure that the supplier is set up to support the corporation for the long term. Board members and volunteers will come and go, but its service provider should be ready to help bridge those transitions.
Making the most of online tools
Many owners lead busy lives, so it follows that they don’t go to the corporation’s website for fun; they go for a specific reason. Here are recommendations for driving website traffic and improving participation levels:
Use it regularly! When there’s feedback that “people aren’t using the website as much as we’d like,” a quick investigation typically reveals that management has not posted any content for weeks or months. Posting notices, announcements and newsletters is a great way to drive traffic. If the committee sets a goal of posting content bi-weekly (at a minimum), owners will get into the habit of checking this communication channel and start to rely on it.
Do as much as possible through the website. If the corporation’s communication platform offers features such as service requests, amenity bookings, or self-service visitor parking registration, enable them. Most services also offer a library of some sort that can be used to make available all condo documents, including the declaration, bylaws, rules, budgets and so on, which has the added benefit of saving the property manager time when owners request certain documents.
Ask owners for their email address at every opportunity. Many buildings have an incomplete or outdated list. The process of getting to 99 per cent takes time, but it’s worth it; the corporation will eventually be able to reach more owners and residents easily and frequently by email.
And don’t forget to keep offline owners in the loop. There are plenty of alternative communication methods outside of email, from digital displays in the lobby or mailroom to automated voice and text messages. A single, integrated platform reduces the need to maintain separate systems, contact lists and so forth.
Communication is a critical part of any happy, stable condo community. By setting up a communication committee, giving it the required tools, and ensuring it makes the most of those tools, a board can ensure unit owners receive the steady supply of information they desire.
Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control Central, a Toronto-based company that provides web-based communication, management and security cloud solutions for condominiums of all sizes. He is also a former board member, having served more than 12 years as both treasurer and president. He can be reached by phone at 647-557-8479, or by email at [email protected]