Bill Morris in COVID-19 on November 12, 2020
When reports of a mysterious and deadly virus began to circulate early this year, Josh Gross, a software designer and treasurer of his condo board in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, saw a possible opportunity. Once San Francisco and then New York City were aggressively shut down, it became apparent to Gross that annual meetings at co-ops and condos would have to be postponed or radically overhauled.
“The annual meeting has always been a manual process,” Gross says. “When the pandemic hit, it seemed like a natural time to go virtual. It was just that nobody had done it yet.”
Gross, 31, is no stranger to doing things virtually. Since 2013 he has worked remotely running a company called Planetary, which designs and builds websites and mobile apps. His coworkers are scattered across the globe. Considering the improvements to technology during the company’s seven-year existence – and considering his deep familiarity with virtual business meetings – he thought it might be possible to make annual meetings go virtual.
“So I spoke to our property manager, Andi Necaj of Century Management, about his experience with annual meetings at his other buildings,” Gross says. “I learned that the election rules are pretty well defined – things like quorums and proxies and whether voting is straight or cumulative – and it’s easy to build software around that. I was able to codify the similarities in co-ops, condos and condops and turn that into software.”
With Century’s help, Gross was able to run simulated virtual meetings to refine the software and identify bugs. “We walked through the process from start to finish,” he says. “Like with any software, there were issues, but we got to the point where we could run through an entire annual meeting smoothly. All the critical elements worked well.”
The software, dubbed BuildingBoard.com, debuted about a month ago – too late for the annual meeting at Gross’s 48-unit building. “Our condo did a virtual meeting this year via a patchwork of a conference call with some polling software. There was a lot of manual work involved.” When the work was finished, Gross had been re-elected to a second term as treasurer.
As the annual meeting season progresses, Gross reports that a growing number of boards are signing up for BuildingBoard.com. Boards that use the software will collect proxies before the meeting, then the rest will be done digitally, including check-in, display of candidate profiles, voting and vote tabulation. The property manager can introduce candidates on-screen and run a Q&A session, if desired. The cost is $1,000 a year for buildings with 75 or fewer units, $1,500 for all others.
Gross is encouraged by the early response, and he’s optimistic that as boards, property managers, attorneys, shareholders and unit-owners become more comfortable with technology, the advantages of meeting remotely instead of in-person will become apparent.
“If you can attend a meeting from anywhere, you won’t need a proxy to vote,” Gross says. “You won’t need to rent a meeting room. It saves time and money, and it’s easier for everybody. I think it’s going to endure after the pandemic.”
One early adopter, A.J. Rexhepi, vice president at Century Management, agrees. “This software easily tabulates and verifies attendance, proxy, and vote counts, but can be adjusted by your team during the meeting (think nominations from the floor),” Rexhepi says. “We have been able to continue to send notices as we normally do and host the meeting. The app does the verification and tabulation so you don’t have to add more bodies for the meetings, and you can focus on the meeting, the election and the Q&A. I actually see it as a tool we can continue to use if/when meetings go back to being live again.”
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