Meeting Resources During COVID-19
CHF Canada has heard from members the need for meeting advice as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has resulted in strict requirements for physical distancing for the safety of everyone. CHF Canada members are asking how to conduct ‘business as usual’ in unusual times.
Below you will find advice and guidelines on various considerations and options for holding:
- Electronic board meetings – the five Ws
- Electronic board meetings – tips
- Information meetings and town halls
- Coming soon: a guide to alternatives for holding member meetings
Please also refer to the latest regional news and rule changes for co-ops regarding meetings in Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, P.E.I., and Saskatchewan and links for info in Quebec and BC.
Electronic board meetings (the Five Ws)
Board of director meetings are still needed to make decisions and plans for the ongoing operations of housing co-ops. Here are a few things to think about – information and other resources for you to decide if and how you may go about holding electronic board of director meetings at your housing co-op.
1. What should I consider in deciding whether to conduct an electronic board of directors meeting?
You need to consider the following:
- the legislation (act, regulation) under which your housing co-op is governed, and whether electronic meetings are permitted. Note that there are exceptions to the usual rules in some jurisdictions.
- use of technology including whether all directors have what’s needed to fully participate in the meeting; and any additional costs.
- the type of business for the meeting.
- the time and timing of the meeting.
- whether help is needed for chairing, moderating or with technology.
The legislation (co-operative acts) that governs housing co-operatives vary across Canada. For information on the legislation in your province, click here. In most provinces, electronic board of director meetings are permitted if authorized by the organization’s (housing co-ops) bylaws/rules, and/or all members agree. Please visit CHF Canada’s COVID 19 information pages for further provincial information.
Electronic board of director meetings can be done by teleconference (phone) or videoconference (computer/tablet/smartphone). If not all directors have access to the internet or computer, laptop or mobile phone, you may want to have your meetings only be by teleconference call. For teleconference calls, co-ops can contact their service provider and expand their plans to include a conferencing option. This option does not require internet. The service providers can provide a conference call line but they come at an additional cost. To have a separate conference call line, co-ops will have to pay monthly and pay-per-use fees.
It is worth noting that while many large telecommunication companies offer conference call lines, such as those available through Bell, Rogers, Telus; many of the web-based (internet) meeting solutions also have a phone-in option (not requiring a computer).
If all directors have access to the internet and a computer, laptop or smartphone and want to try a web-based meeting, there are a number of solutions available. Here are a few of the most popular. Note that all of these have telephone dial-in option (where no internet is needed).
(Note: free option available w/ limited time and functionality)
CHF Canada staff have used and are more experienced with Zoom and GoToMeeting.
For the type of business and timing of electronic board of director meetings, it is advisable to deal with high priority agenda items and limit meetings to no more than two hours in length.
If you are trying something new, either conference call or a web-based (online) meeting, you will want a little help to plan and conduct it differently (see question 3 and 4).
2.Why would I conduct an electronic board of directors meeting?
Even though board of director meetings will be smaller than members meetings, during the pandemic you should consider holding electronic meetings. An electronic board of directors meeting allows the board to meet to deal with urgent and high priority matters, stay connected and if needed discuss and establish emergency and contingency plans as a result of the pandemic.
3. How can we conduct an electronic board of directors meeting?
CHF Canada has developed a set of tips you can use to help you conduct your electronic board of director meeting, whether by conference call or as a web-based (online) meeting.
A few things we touch on for your meeting is:
- agenda and meeting preparation
- in-camera topics and material
- technology tools and tests
4. Where do I go for help in conducting electronic board of director meetings?
This guide is your first step in seeking help. Depending on the type of help needed, if you have a manager or staff person, talk to them. If you are connected to other housing co-ops, reach out and ask what they have done. If you need help with technology such as web-based (online) meeting solutions, maybe there is a young member in your co-op that could help and learn more about co-op housing governance at the same time! And remember, we are also here to help, call or email CHF Canada.
5. When can I conduct an electronic board of director meeting?
Housing co-op boards are contemplating, and some are using, electronic meetings mostly during this time of physical distancing and other safety measures during the pandemic. However, some housing co-ops introduced electronic board of director meetings for some or all board meetings way before the pandemic restrictions.
Electronic board meetings (tips)
1. Chairing and Other Roles
You will want to decide on the following:
- who will be the chairperson
- who will be the recording secretary
- Any guest (e.g. auditor, lawyer)
- a moderator for the chat if you are conducting a web-based (online) meeting
- tech support
Consider whether you want to use an external chairperson particularly one with experience chairing electronic meetings. If you are not using an external chairperson, you may want to consider rotating the role of chairperson for your meetings.
If you have a guest for an agenda item, ideally you place the item at the end of the meeting. Have time allocated to each agenda item so you can give them a precise time to join, either via conference call or the web-based (online) meeting. Having them at the end rather than the beginning will avoid any delays that may occur at the beginning of the meeting due to technology issues or late members. It often also helps keep the meeting on track.
2. Agenda and meeting preparation
Here are a few tips for agenda and meeting preparation:
- Set the agenda, staying focused on priority and urgent matters. Set time limits for each agenda item. At the meeting, stick to the agenda and the time limits, you can always come back to it at another meeting.
- In advance of the meeting:
- if using a web-based (online) meeting solution, one person creates an account (if you don’t have one) and creates the meeting in the account, copies the meeting details to send to all directors and any guests.
- send out the meeting invitation with the conference call details or web-based (online) meeting details to the board of directors and guests, noting for the guest the time they should join the meeting.
- prepare meeting material/package and send to all directors, noting whether they have access to email or whether the material needs to be provided to them hard copy
- Designate one person to launch the web(online) meeting or open the conference call line early
- Start with a few meeting protocol reminders that you may already have, if you don’t, a few good ones are to:
- have only one person speaking at a time
- chairperson will create a speaking list if needed (for web meetings there is a ‘raise hand’ function)
- when not speaking, mute yourself
- be respectful of each other, and the time allocated for each agenda item
- Keep meetings focused, short and on topic. Meetings should not go beyond two hours. Electronic meetings are different than in-person meetings: focus and energy fades and you want to keep alert and attentive for the important decisions and discussions.
- Don’t forget to take minutes and circulate them after the meeting.
- After the first electronic meeting, take a few minutes for feedback on the meeting to address any concerns or make changes for the next meeting.
- Consider where the directors are calling or signing in to the meeting from. It is important that board business which could be private or sensitive, not be overheard by others.
3. In camera topics and material
For any urgent in camera agenda items, rather than circulate this sensitive material via email or other less-than-secure means, have the person speaking to it simply share their screen if you are conducting a web-based (online) meeting that everyone can access and see. Or share verbally and allocate more time to these items.
4. Technology tools and tests
For any new technology, allow for extra time before the meeting and have directors join early to iron out any possible issues. This could also give you time to test out the sound, any screen sharing you plan to use if using a web-based (online) meeting, and review meeting protocols. If using a web-based (online) meeting tool, you can also have participants test their internet speed with tools like www.fast.com or www.speedcheck.org. Most web based meeting tools need no more than 4.0 Mbps for standard video conferencing.
Information meetings and town halls
A housing co-op’s governing documents, which include provincial legislation as well as its own internal by-laws or rules, dictate certain requirements for a member meeting. These include when and how notice of the meeting must be given, quorum that must be reached for the meeting to take place, and voting majorities for different types of motions to pass.
With restrictions on physical gatherings in place, housing co-ops are looking at whether, and if so how, they might move their member meetings online. Though this is possible in many jurisdictions, there are various important considerations to ensure that the meeting is legally constituted, and this is a challenging task when you consider that all members must be given the opportunity to attend, that elections might need to be held, that secret ballots may be required and that formal minutes must be taken.
Housing co-ops can hold other types of meetings that are not a formal ‘member meeting’. These meetings, often called ‘information meetings’ or ‘town halls’ are not subject to the same legal requirements, and no binding motions are passed.
These meetings can be very useful to provide information to members (the Information Meeting), or to seek input from members and give them an opportunity for informal exchange (the Town Hall Meeting). Without the requirements of a formal member meeting, these meetings can be more easily accommodated online.
- an information meeting for the co-op manager to inform members of changes to operations, and to take questions.
- a town hall to gauge members’ views about holding the AGM online.
- an information meeting with a guest speaker presenting renovation or redevelopment opportunities.
- a town hall that presents options for the community gardens and playground, followed by a discussion and ‘straw poll’ on the options presented.
- an information meeting to present a new proposed smoking policy, following by concerns or questions.
Information meetings and town halls support the formal member meeting, because through this informal exchange the board of directors can save time in members’ meetings because they create a better targeted, more informed agenda for the formal member meeting (for example knowing what smoking policy the members might be willing to adopt, before formally putting it before them).
The polling function that is available on various online meeting platforms can be very effectively used to quickly gauge members’ views on an issue or a proposal. Information meetings and town halls still need to be carefully planned including inviting guest speakers where appropriate. They need to be open to all members (and perhaps other non-member residents too), and careful attention needs to be paid to facilitation ensuring that, whether it is in-person or online, it is a comfortable space for members to express their opinions and be heard.