Embrace The Hybrid Meeting in Your HOAJul 26, 2021
By Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. CCAL
Before the pandemic changed our world in early 2020, who knew about WebEx, Zoom, or RingCentral, or the many other virtual meeting platforms used since that time to allow HOA members to “attend” board or even membership meetings? Since that time, HOAs large and small have found the virtual meeting to be the way to comply with County or State health orders while still complying with most of the Open Meeting Act.
As the pandemic eases in California and elsewhere in the country, restrictions on in-person meetings are easing, so the temptation may be to quickly abandon the virtual meeting. However, consider moving to a “new normal” and initiating virtual meeting attendance as one of two options for your members.
Given the modest cost of virtual meeting platforms and the small amount of audio equipment needed to make it work the best for the audience, allowing members a choice may greatly enhance the communication within your association. Many members may prefer a return to physically attending board or membership meetings, but adding a virtual option would enable members who are disabled, ill, traveling, or without a babysitter to attend the meeting and be more connected to the HOA.
Some basic planning will enhance HOA hybrid meetings.
First, think about the equipment. A laptop, tablet or smart phone will not adequately capture the sound from the physical meeting location. Acquire a conference speaker/microphone, which are not expensive, to use as the primary sound source so virtual attendees can hear the deliberations. Remind everyone in the room that the microphone may pick up the first sound it hears – even if it is a softly spoken comment not intended for the whole audience. A few well-placed laptops or tablets can adequately provide video for the attendees. HOAs with more resources may consider other equipment to further enhance the virtual attendance, but these minimal measures should be enough for most associations.
Second, plan your virtual meeting setup. Most HOAs have learned that a “town hall” format doesn’t work well in virtual meetings and participants have hopefully also learned that multiple people speaking simultaneously. Set up the virtual meeting so that only the host can unmute a participant. Do you want to allow a chat function during the meeting or not? Some find the chat a helpful way of allowing attendees the ability to ask questions or make comments, but others find the chat distracting from the board deliberations – and aren’t those chat box arguments during the meeting helpful? Disabling the chat box may be worth considering.
Third, consider some virtual meeting procedures to guide future boards and managers. Write down what works and what does not. Insist that attendees identify themselves so that they can be confirmed as members – a bare telephone number is not acceptable. Will you require that attendees have their camera on? That way you can confirm someone is a member.
Fourth, review your meeting room configuration. A board seated in a semi-circle can hear each other better than one in a line facing the audience, but also can be heard better by a microphone placed in the middle of the group.
Finally, continue to improve the level of meeting conduct. Unruly in-person meetings are bad enough for persons physically attending, but they can be worthless for virtual attendees.