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Using communication tools to limit in-person interactions in your community during COVID-19

By Brian Bosscher posted 04-02-2020 11:17

Social distancing has become the new normal - at least for now. We’ve all had to drastically alter the way that we work and live to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean we can’t remain connected during a time when we’re being asked to stay physically apart. In fact, it’s more important than ever for HOAs to maintain strong, consistent communication as they try to work through this global pandemic.

COVID-19 is having a unique impact on HOAs
It’s abundantly clear how contagious COVID-19 is. It is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, and it spreads through saliva and droplets from the nose. The virus can live on surfaces for more than a day which is why additional cleaning measures are being undertaken by most HOAs.
Associations are having to make quick and challenging decisions about how to keep residents safe. Some measures have included closing down gyms, playgrounds and other shared spaces to discourage large gatherings of people. Management offices have also been shut down, board meetings have been canceled, and maintenance staffs are only performing essential repairs.
However, fees still must be paid, and updates have to get to homeowners somehow. What can managers do to keep residents safe while continuing day-to-day operations? They should start by seeking help from communication tools.

Using communication technology while limiting in-person interactions
Property management software has evolved over the last few years, and it is proving to be invaluable to some HOAs right now. Companies like Condo Control Central, Buildium and others have designed features to specifically improve communication between board members, homeowners and property managers, and all features can be used from a desktop, laptop or mobile phone. That means managers can continue with most day-to-day operations and help their residents without having to engage in face-to-face interactions.

Below is a list of key communication tools that board members or property managers should consider trying if they don’t already have a communication system in place.

Similar to email, announcements let homeowners know about meeting cancellations, amenity closures, or safety precautions being carried out by the association. They can be sent through a computer or phone. However, unlike email, announcements can be received by residents through email, texts or automated voice messages, depending on their preference. So even if a homeowner does not have an email, they can still receive important messages without having to speak to the manager in person.

Announcements can be scheduled for a future time or date if new policies are going to come into effect later in the week, and management can attach letters, PDFs and infographics about COVID-19 to an announcement.

File Library
Associations will always know where to find important documents if they’re stored in one centralized place. A digital file library makes that possible. Management can store any information relating to COVID-19 in one organized file. Documents can include temporary HOA policies or procedures, instructions on how to make online payments, instructions on how to participate in online voting, contact lists, and even external documents from city/state/provincial officials.

Management can even control who has access to folders, meaning they can create one folder for all homeowners, and a separate one just for board members. Email alerts can be sent to residents every time a new file is uploaded, and any files that are attached to announcements can be saved in the file library. Most importantly, management can stop the spread of disinformation by providing accurate, up-to-date information directly to residents.

Homeowners don’t have to worry about going to the mail area, touching letters or coming into the office to collect or return important documents if they’ve consented to receive them electronically.

Using an e-consent feature, consent forms can be sent to residents digitally, and they can give approval electronically. Condo Control Central’s electronic consent feature is compliant with any HOA laws that permit the use of e-consent.

Furthermore, if residents consent to receive documents electronically, they can also patriciate in online proxy voting and e-voting.

Proxy & E-Voting
Most boards have agreed to postpone meetings, including AGM meetings, because of COVID-19 concerns. That being said, boards can continue gathering votes for bylaw changes that may be in progress, provided that homeowners have access to e-voting or online proxy voting. Residents are able to participate in decisions and have their say without having to leave their homes. Management can monitor vote submissions in real-time.

Service Requests
Many HOAs have decided to limit service requests to emergency repairs only. Using a service request feature, homeowners can submit service requests online, and they can even make a request through the software’s phone app. Managers can track the progress of requests and close them when they’ve been resolved.
Priority options can be turned on so that homeowners can let their property manager know that they’ve got a high priority issue that requires immediate attention.

Discussion Forums
Some property managers have used discussion forums to organize help for some residents during this challenging time. Residents can reach out or offer their assistance to others who may be unable to go out and pick up their own groceries or medication. This is an excellent platform to use when face-to-face interactions are being minimized.

Management has the option to customize discussion groups and create specific topics as well if they have identified a subject that homeowners want to talk about.

Online Payments
When homeowners can’t come into the management office to drop off a cheque, online payment options can be incredibly useful.
Residents can use their credit cards to pay fees safely and securely. They have the option of making a recurring payment or doing a one-time payment. Furthermore, property managers and administrators have complete control over refunds and cancellations.

Resources to share with your residents
Your homeowners are looking for trustworthy information that they can use to keep themselves safe as they continue to participate in social distancing measures. Do your best to set them up for success by equipping them with the resources that they need.
Make sure residents have a way of reaching you and their board members if they have questions or issues. Provide email addresses and phone numbers that they can use to get in touch with you.
You can also share links to the World Health Organization website. This site provides credible, up-to-date information about COVID-19. Include new and relevant instructions released by city/state officials, mental health/wellness resources, and links to websites where people can apply for financial assistance, if applicable.

Distancing, but not disconnecting
We’re all going through something that none of us have had to deal with before. Continue to do your part to keep your community, and yourself safe. Take advantage of any communication tools that help you get your message across while minimizing face-to-face interactions. More than ever, we need to stay connected.

Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control Central, a leading software company that provides web-based communication, management and security solutions for Condo's/HOA's of all sizes.

He is also a former board member, having served more than 12 years as both treasurer and president.