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Keep it fresh, keep it flowing:  Co-op communication during Covid-19

Published March 10, 2021

Communication with members is more important than ever. Covid-19 has presented co-ops with challenges, and it’s vital to know if communication is working.

Feedback is critical

A white man in a black shirt sits at a desk, with a landscape painting behind him

Philip Eram

Philip Eram, president of Precision Property Management, which manages over 30 co-ops, believes feedback is critical to successful communication. “The best feedback is results,” he said. Are you getting the results you expected? If not, then the communication hasn’t worked.”

“Don’t just tell people what to do, walk them into what to do. If you ask people to wear masks in common areas, and they’re not doing that, you have to look at why not. What is meant by a common area? Does everyone share the same understanding of that? Does everyone have a mask?”

Putting up signs in a consistent colour that designate common spaces, installing a mask dispenser at entrances to those spaces, and distributing information in common languages at the co-op all help to increase awareness and compliance.

Look for the reasons behind the behaviour

When trying to change behaviour, Eram advises that dealing with the reasons for the behaviour is the most effective strategy.

“If people aren’t paying their housing charges, it’s important to look at the reasons why,” he explained. “Perhaps office access is limited during Covid-19, or people don’t feel comfortable leaving their units. Maybe they don’t have the whole amount, and are afraid to make contact in case the entire payment is requested.”

Precision found a partner to bring an app called Tenant Pay to smart phones so that people could pay any day, any time, including partial amounts towards any arrears. Nearly 45% of those who hadn’t paid their housing charges started paying some amount, and within 30 days, 80% had started paying.

“We acknowledge the payment, however small, and explain how it is helping the co-op to do things that matter to them as members,” said Eram. “We give them information about CERB, with an example of a completed application form, along with other resources. We also welcome questions and feedback.”

Community spirit

Door signs reading "I am doing my part, are you? Stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19"Strong community spirit helps to reduce the psychological impact of the pandemic. At co-ops managed by Precision, door knob hangers were distributed. Each has a Canadian flag motif with messages promoting unity and safety. People are encouraged to display them to let others know they are okay.

“It makes people feel like part of a team,” said Eram. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m doing my part. Thank you for doing your part.’ It’s uplifting to see those as you walk down the hallway.” The hangers came with a toolkit, including sanitizer, masks, and an information sheet.

As for messaging, Eram suggests keeping it fresh.  “Don’t be repetitive,” he said. “Remove old messaging that people are not reacting to anymore. Replace it with new messages.”

Keep it short, sweet, and colourful

Colourful signs in the shape of clothing tell members in multiple languages not to overload the laundry machines.Kerry Palframan, president of Co-op Voisins, also sees the value in messaging and signage that is short, sweet, and to the point.

“If you have a sign on the door, and it’s there for a long time, people stop seeing it,” she said.

Palframan suggests bright colours and inventive ways of getting messages across. To improve communication around expectations in the laundry area, Voisins hung colourful clothing cut-outs by pegs from a clothesline with messages in three languages dominant in the co-op.

When Palframan noticed that people kept dumping unwanted items on a bench in a common area, she set up a corkboard in the mail-room dedicated to notices about giveaways.

“Some people don’t use email,” she explained. “So we revived a set of cubbyholes in the mail room, and we do little cubbyhole blasts when there’s something everyone needs to know.” They also reinstated their suggestion box for members.

Following up is vital

A woman with glasses and a pink jacket places papers into a mailbox

Kerry Palframan

At their virtual town hall meeting held via Zoom, Palframan said they had a 40% turnout, which was really good. “People really liked it. We had a slideshow presentation, and a Q&A at the end. People need any information they can get. It gives them peace of mind. Even a simple call to someone who has raised an issue to say you’re looking into it is better than nothing,” she said.

Keith Moyer, Regional Manager, Ontario at CHF Canada, echoes the importance of following up on requests. “When I worked as a co-op manager and I got a work request, even if there’s no solid date for the work to be done, I would still call the person and say, ‘This is what I’m doing so far.’ It reassures people that you’re on it, reduces stress levels and anxiety.” He adds that when people know where to get the information they need, that’s a sign that communication is working in your co-op.

Sophie Cooper, CHF Canada’s Program Manager, Education Services, agrees. Reaching members effectively with timely information not only reduces anxiety, but ensures that the right information is circulating.  “If there’s a void, people will fill it,” she said. “In the absence of good information, speculation, rumour and gossip can arise. The co-op model is based on trust. Members depend on leaders to keep them informed. Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep communication channels flowing.”

Here’s a CHF Canada tipsheet on information meetings and town halls.

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