Many sectional title schemes across the country have been delaying their Annual General Meetings due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and resulting limitations placed on gatherings. However, many schemes are making use of various video platforms (such as Zoom) in order to hold their meetings without having to meet physically.
While some trustees or managing agents might be hesitant to attempt video meetings due to concerns around how well these meetings will run, many other schemes have seen great results after meeting online. In fact, some have even found that the benefits far outweigh any disadvantages, and will likely continue to run them in this way, even once COVID-19 limitations have been lifted.
Recently, on our Paddocks Club online discussion forum, a member requested feedback from those who had successfully run online AGMs, and the response was incredibly positive. This feedback will provide assurance that online AGMs (and other meetings, such as trustee meetings) can be held successfully and will be a useful reading for those who may still be considering whether or not to run their meetings in this way.
Legality of virtual sectional meetings
To begin with, it is important to note that video conference meetings are specifically authorised under PMR 17(10). Graham assured the members that the only authority required to run a meeting virtually would be a trustee resolution that the meeting be held this way, but added that it is important that the trustees and managing agent speak with owners to ensure that they are able to attend virtually. If there are members who are unable to do so, it is important that arrangements are made so that these owners can get together in a venue where the requirements of the Disaster Management Act Lockdown Level can be adhered to (if this is applicable). A video link can then be provided to the venue to ensure that these owners can take part in the meeting as needed. Alternatively, it can be as simple as owners, who have the capability, hosting a few other owners in their unit, if they are comfortable with this. These are referred to as “hybrid meetings”.
General benefits of virtual sectional meetings
The general benefits of holding sectional title meetings online are:
- Lockdown has made people familiar with meeting online.
- It can be easier to form a quorum, due to owners who cannot usually attend meetings being able to attend virtually.
- The meeting host can mute and unmute participants, allowing the chairperson to maintain control over the meeting
- Costs for travel and/or venue hire are avoided.
In his role as an insurance advisor/broker, Addsure’s Mike Addison has quickly become a seasoned veteran of the Zoom AGM. He noted that every meeting that he has attended virtually has been hugely successful. He highlighted some positives that he found added great value to the online meetings:
- Financials and other documents can be better displayed on a screen, compared to poor visibility screens in common area clubhouses. Figures are consequently much easier to see.
- Sound is actually better, even with background noises.
- The meeting can be recorded together with all presentation material.
- Suppliers, such as security companies can attend and present their proposals to the members.
- Managing Agents can attend multiple meetings in one evening.
- The meetings tend to flow better and chit-chat is lessened.
- No traffic, parking or travel risk issues.
- Savings on venue hire, refreshments, etc for larger schemes.
Preparation for virtual meetings
With a virtual or hybrid meeting, all of the standard legislated elements, such as the notice and associated documents, quorum, attendance, voting and minute-taking remain exactly the same as in a standard physical meeting.
However, Graham suggested that trustees follow these steps to ensure that the meeting runs as smoothly as possible:
- Take time to video/record/write out presentations of the motions on the agenda.
- Send those presentations out with the agenda and documents, and ask owners to watch or read the presentations when they get the notice, and submit questions by email, or indicate that they have no questions.
- Respond to the questions in advance of the meeting.
If the above is followed, the meeting only needs to deal with any outstanding questions and voting on the motions.
Another Club member had a great suggestion that trustees circulate a “pre-meeting toolkit” to ensure that all members have an opportunity to be well prepared for the meeting. He suggested that the trustees:
- Circulate a list of requirements for Zoom login, eg Smartphone or PC with headset, reliable Internet connection such as Fibre or LTE router. This could include a “getting started guide” to Zoom.
- Recommend attendees have some prior experience with Zoom, or a skilled assistant on hand.
- Offer to facilitate a test meeting in advance of AGM.
One particular hurdle that trustees may face in a virtual setting, is the matter of voting. A few methods were suggested:
- The “chat function” of the conferencing software is used.
- Voting software be purchased or rented for the meeting.
- A Google form for each matter can be emailed out before or during the meeting, and members can fill this out as the matter is discussed.
These votes can then be transferred to a spreadsheet for tallying by one of the trustees who can be a dedicated “vote counter” for the meeting, and the motions passed or rejected. It would be well worth preparing this spreadsheet in advance, with the unit number and vote value of each member inserted.
Exceptions to be aware of
With the positives that can come from running meetings online, it is also important to be aware of the potential problems that can arise, so that this can be mitigated as much as possible.
The main concern that was raised was how the meeting can be run if not all members have access to an online platform. This has been dealt with above, using “hybrid meetings”.
However, once the meeting starts, the following issues can arise:
- One or more attendees cannot login for whatever reason.
- One or more attendees complain that the connection is not adequate.
- One or more attendees complain that they could not post their question, or did not get an acceptable answer.
- Eskom loadshedding and power outages.
Most of the above can be avoided by using the “pre-meeting toolkit” and ensuring that all owners do have the opportunity to test their connections and have a working knowledge of the platform. If loadshedding does become an issue, the meeting will simply need to be rescheduled.
If the scheme has limitations on gatherings, for instance, in a retirement facility, where stricter health restrictions are in place, or where a majority of residents may not have the ability to meet virtually, Graham suggests that a delay in the AGM for practical reasons can be excusable. However, in those circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect the managing agent or the trustees to communicate effectively with all members in whatever way is practical to keep them informed of the financial and operational issues they need to know of, and to continue to run the scheme in accordance with its governance documents in every other way, to the extent that this is possible.
In conclusion, you can see that many benefits that can be gained from meeting online, and that this method of holding meetings can be a huge time and cost-saving option for body corporates going forward.
If you would like to engage with Graham and our other Club members on this and many other topics, consider becoming a Club member today. You can find more information here: www.paddocks.co.za/advice/paddocks-club
Article reference: Paddocks Press: Volume 15, Issue 9.
Tim Gliddon is the sales and marketing executive at Paddocks, and has also been on the board of trustees of a sectional title scheme in Cape Town for 5 years.
This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.