Virtual meetings are expected to become more popular as we become more comfortable with technology. Now is a good time to explore some platforms that will enable you to host productive meetings from your own home.
An introduction to virtual meetings
Date Published: March 27, 2020
Virtual meetings connect people who, for whatever reason, cannot be in the same physical location. Attendees can use audio or video to communicate in real time. Many conferencing platforms have even developed a phone app so that people can stay connected without having to be in front of a computer.
Virtual meetings are becoming more popular amongst HOA and condo associations, and some communities have even found that they garner greater participation when public meetings can be attended virtually.
Can every meeting be hosted virtually?
Currently, COVID-19 is forcing people to limit all non-essential physical contact which is creating new challenges for residential communities. Non-essential meetings can be postponed until social gatherings are once again permitted. However, boards may be eager to move forward with more important meetings, such as an upcoming AGM, and a virtual meeting could be the solution they need.
If you’ve never hosted a virtual meeting before, make sure you check with provincial/state rules, as well as your governing documents to ensure there are no rules preventing you from conducting this type of meeting.
AGM – An Annual General Meeting may take place virtually provided that there is a sufficient number of members at the meeting and quorum is reached.
Board meetings – AGM or board meetings can be held through a telephone or video conference if all directors consent to the holding of the meeting.
Electronic Voting – Owners can vote to pass bylaws by dialing into a meeting or using conference software. Associations may also want to consider using property management software to gather e-votes before a meeting takes place. This provides some additional reassurance for boards as they will know if they’ve reached quorum before the meeting starts.
Proxy Only Meetings – Another option is to move forward with a meeting where owners are represented by proxy. Owners name a single person as the proxy holder for all proxies. That person alone could hold a meeting provided they have enough proxies to reach quorum. This can be used to pass bylaws or conduct other business so long as there are enough proxies with votes in favour of the matter to be voted upon. Similar to e-voting, online proxy voting enables owners to have their say without having to physically interact with anyone. They can simply designate a proxy holder using technology. Door-to-door collection should not be practiced right now, making the proxy software a smart alternative.
Though there may be some small technical difficulties to deal with, virtual meetings should follow a normal board meeting agenda. That means giving attendees adequate notice of the meeting, putting together an agenda, and taking the meeting minutes.
There are several platforms to choose from, and each option has its own unique features. Boards may want to consider conducting a practice meeting on the platform of their choice before hosting the real meeting to ensure it meets their needs.
FreeConference is an ideal platform if you’re intending to conduct a call-in meeting. While the platform does support video conferencing, the free version only allows up to 5 web participants. It does allow up to 1,000 participants to join a call though. Paid plans range from $10 to $35 per month.
To use this platform, create an account and start or schedule a new conference call. You can create a title for the meeting, schedule the time, include the duration of the meeting, and add notes. FreeConference will give you a dial-in number, and an access code.
If you know the email addresses of the participants who will be attending the meeting, you can send this information directly to them while scheduling the call. However, you can also create the call, only include your email address, and send out the dial-in information to owners in a separate announcement or share on the residents’ portal if your association has one.
Zoom specializes in video communications. The remote conferencing services company allows people to connect through video conferencing, chat, and mobile collaboration. Zoom can be used on a desktop, laptop or mobile app. It uses Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption to keep virtual meetings safe and secure, and is by far one of the most popular video conferencing platforms.
Zoom is free and accommodates up to 100 participants. However, the free version puts a 40 minute limit on group meetings. Paid plans range from $20 to $27 per month, per host.
To use Zoom, create an account and click “Schedule A Meeting.” You can create a title, schedule time and duration, decide if attendees need a password to join, decide if attendees can use video, and you can even create a virtual waiting room. You can also record the meeting and share it with residents at a later time if appropriate. Screen sharing is possible.
You will be given a meeting ID number and a url link which will take you to the meeting. Copy the invitation and send the details to attendees using email or the digital communication tool that your association prefers to use.
You can also host a meeting an invite people into the live meeting via email, but this should only be attempted if the meeting is small.
Skype is another popular platform that supports both video and audio. You can use it on a desktop, laptop, phone, Xbox and even Alexa. Skype is free, and you can host meetings with up to 50 participants. You can also share documents and record meetings. Recordings will available on Skype for 30 days. Unfortunately, you cannot preschedule meetings on Skype, so this platform is not ideal for hosting large meetings.
To ensure the best experience possible, create a Skype account. To create a meeting, look for “Meet Now” under products. If attendees are also on Skype, you can invite them directly into the meeting. You can also send a customized link to attendees through email or another digital communication tool.
GoToMeeting is a more comprehensive conferencing software system. This platform offers a free 14-day trial, but does not have any permanent free plans. Plans range from $19 to $26 per month. The basic plan allows for 150 participants, audio and video, provides Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption, and has a personal meeting room so that board members can use the same link to attend reoccurring meetings. Screen sharing is possible, and meetings can be recorded.
To use GoToMeeting, create an account and set up a meeting. You can designate co-organizers to run a meeting on your behalf, but you must add them to your account first. The organizer will have the option to schedule the date, time and duration. Once complete, they will have a url link and access code that they can share with attendees through email or another digital communication tool.
Points to keep in mind
Preparation is key when trying a virtual meeting for the first time. Be prepared for hiccups and know that it might not be perfect the first time. If you are hosting the virtual meeting, make sure you know how to use the platform well, and be prepared to talk others through the setup process.
Make sure that someone, possibly the board secretary, has given participants the login address and any passwords or codes. For meetings that require notice beforehand, such as an AGM, conference login information should be provided along with that notice.
Just like any other meeting, reminders should be sent out to all participants. In this case, you can include an additional point asking attendees to test their computer or phone, and make sure they can get into the software program at least one day prior to the meeting. Be patient with your community as they make this adjustment. The time you invest now will likely save you time in the future.
Virtual meetings are expected to become more popular as we all become more comfortable with technology. Now is a good time to explore some platforms that will enable you to host productive meetings from your own home. If you make a mistake, that’s okay. Learn from it and move forward. Virtual meetings will become easier to prepare as you gain more experience with them, and you may be surprised by how many more members show up when they have the option to attend from home.