A.J. Rexhepi, Vice President, Century Management Services
A chronic problem. Keeping good people in this industry is certainly the biggest challenge – and not only because of the amount of work. The biggest factor before the pandemic, in my opinion, was late-night board meetings. It comes down to burnout.
Zoom to the rescue. During the pandemic – and I can speak for pretty much all property managers – everybody worked a lot harder, if that was even possible. But virtual board meetings may have been the only blessing in disguise during the pandemic, and hopefully they’ll continue after the pandemic has passed. I think that virtual board meetings absolutely keep people fresher. The meetings are more efficient, but the biggest factor is that they’ve helped avoid burnout. Managers can turn off a board meeting at 9 p.m. at the very latest and then still see their family, have a drink with their spouse or partner, and not have to drive home for an hour. That’s a big chunk of it.
An increase in efficiency. Board members who have embraced virtual meetings have come to appreciate the fact that a manager can screen-share information, can have the information at his fingertips in his computer, and boards don’t have to hear, “I’ll get back to you. I don’t have that in front of me.” I think board members are also, frankly, more efficient when they’re not in a group setting in either a conference room or somebody’s apartment, where very often they’re drinking wine, eating cheese and/or dinner, and things go off on tangents.
I’m not going to say across the board, but for the most part, board members have not even broached the topic of returning to in-person meetings. I think they’ve come to appreciate how efficiently and how much more frequently they can meet without having to worry about people’s schedules, quorums, etc.
Annual meetings are a different matter. I think in-person annual meetings will definitely come back. I don’t think virtual annual meetings are sustainable. People tolerated them last year and even this year because, frankly, there was no choice, but I do think that there’s drawbacks and the reality is in a virtual meeting, you have to silence the audience because otherwise you’ll have people talking over each other. People want the in-person annual meeting, they want to have discussions, they want to bring up topics. And while it’s certainly possible in a virtual setting, it’s not as free-flowing. I don’t like the idea that residents think that they’re sort of being sequestered or kept quiet by that mute button. I do think that there are some byproducts that have come out of virtual meetings that can be used in in-person meetings going forward. There are applications now where you can handle the ballot and the proxy process electronically, and I think those things should stay. I think that they can make for more efficient in-person meetings.
Burnout, interrupted. As protocols were formulated and virtual board meetings became smoother, I saw emails going out earlier. I saw follow-ups to board meetings the very next morning, 8:00, 8:30, whereas in most cases in the past managers would get home at 11:30 and not get to the office till 10:00, 10:30, maybe even 11:00 the next day. Without a doubt, I saw that managing agents were fresher.