Do you have a system for communicating with your condo community? If not, you may want to take some time to create one.
Communication standards are important in any workplace, and condo associations are no different. People who have never had to manage a condo don’t understand how challenging the role can be, and they have no idea how many emails or calls you receive every day. Residents want an immediate response, but sometimes, that’s simply not possible. By creating some ground rules, managing expectations and being as transparent as possible, you can create a better relationship with condo owners, and chances are they will be much more understanding if you need a couple of days to get back to them. Use these communication standards to enhance efficiency and community satisfaction.
Regardless of who you’re talking to, make sure to be professional and respectful at all times. Don’t be curt or too informal when sending announcements or emails to management, boards or residents. Talk to the recipient in a manner that you would want to be spoken to.
Remember, written communication can be used as evidence if there is ever a dispute that ends up going to court. So, don’t respond to an aggressive message with an equally aggressive reply.
Unfortunately, there will be instances where a resident acts aggressively. No one has to endure insults, harassment, defamatory or inappropriate communications. If you or someone else is trying to resolve an issue and the person involved is being hostile, take steps to defuse the situation as early as possible. If possible, have a face-to-face conversation with the party involved. If that fails, the corporation should make it clear that it will not tolerate or even respond to inappropriate communications. In rare cases, a corporation may consider taking a serious matter to its legal counsel.
Set up some ground rules
Is it okay to text a resident? How about another board member? While there’s nothing prohibiting you from sending or receiving texts or emails from your personal account (unless your association’s governing documents forbid you to do so), it’s not advised, either.
Even the most passionate PMs and board members need a break, but if you allow others to text you about building issues, you’re inviting round-the-clock messages from your community.
Personal email can be problematic as well. It doesn’t happen often, but people have been asked to produce personal emails for litigation purposes. By using a dedicated work email address, you’re protected from having to hand over personal emails. And, you’re less likely to get into personal conversations when you’re using work email.
Let your community know how to reach you, and if possible, let them know when they can expect a response. If you don’t answer non-urgent messages on Sundays, make sure your community knows that so they can plan to get in touch before the weekend. Similarly, set up ground rules for communication between management and the board.
The best condo associations make transparent communications a priority. Good governance includes communicating effectively, and secrets aren’t part of an effective communication equation. Make it a habit to provide owners with all appropriate condo records. You can even upload all important documents in one centralized location, such as a file library. This helps everyone because management won’t have to spend time searching for and sending financial records or rules and regulations, and residents will have the information they need to make better choices. People are less likely to break rules when they know what the rules are.
Avoid sharing personal information about other owners, or documents that contain privileged information. If in doubt, consult a legal professional before sharing a document that you aren’t sure about.
Make sure your message is clear
Say it well the first time. Avoid unnecessary back and forth with residents by creating clear, concise messages. Often something that makes sense to us isn’t so clear to the recipient because it lacks context or some sort of key information.
Be specific, but don’t make messages any longer than they need to be. We’re all busy, and people aren’t going to spend five minutes combing through a long message. Try to keep emails or announcements focused on one main point or message.
If there’s a complicated issue that needs to be discussed, it may be easier to have an in-person conversation or virtual meeting. You can follow up with a short email to ensure all important information or decisions have been formally documented.
Make sure your residents get the message
It won’t matter how transparent or concise you are if your message isn’t being received. How you communicate is just as important as what you say, so use a medium or platform that aligns with your community’s preferences.
Many managers and boards have had success with property management software, residential portals, and websites. Digital technology is affordable, accessible and can be customized. It also eliminates paper and makes it easier for management to stay organized.
Instead of waiting for a physical notice, owners can receive messages about meetings, events, closures, fire alarm testing and more, instantaneously.
Some owners will always be more comfortable receiving written notices, and that’s okay. But you can try to work with individuals who want to use digital communication. They may require a little extra help getting used to a new platform, but once they get the hang of it, they’ll be able to send and receive information much more easily.
If you’re not sure, ask a lawyer
Even seasoned PMs don’t have all the answers. When a question about a renovation, conflict resolution or rule enforcement comes up, and you’re not sure how to respond, ask a lawyer.
Lawyers, especially those who specialize in condo law, can help guide you through unfamiliar issues and ensure you aren’t taking any unnecessary risks. They will also ensure that you’re providing your residents with the right information they need to protect their safety and security.
Lawyers can even help you deal with practical issues, like how to manage a condo during COVID-19. Some recommendations include:
- Closing all amenities
- Postponing all meetings
- Prohibiting the use of guest suites
- Establishing elevator protocol (i.e. trying to limit the number of users)
- Encouraging residents to discourage visitors
- Establishing owner/management communication protocol
- Establishing delivery protocol (i.e. delivering packages directly to units vs. leaving them with concierge)
- Delaying construction projects, where feasible
- Advising owners/residents to delay renovation projects in their unit
- Maintaining frequent communication with owners
- Advising owners/residents if there is a known case of COVID-19 (without disclosing the identity of that individual)
Yes, lawyers do cost money, but they are an invaluable resource. They can advise you on how to respond to all sorts of issues, and help you avoid risky situations.
If you’ve worked “behind the scenes” of a condo, you know how much work goes into managing it well. Establishing clear condo association communication standards can help you perform more efficiently and confidently. Good communication is a key pillar of any happy condo community. But everyone must participate in order to achieve the desired results.