By Robert A. Felix, CMCA, LSM, PCAM, RS
Board members, managers and business partners all have to find some time to get together to discuss association operations and governance plans. In most instances today, those board meetings are happening at night, after regular business hours.
On the face of the matter, it makes perfect sense to hold nighttime board meetings. Community associations are simply following the municipal government model, and doing so gives homeowners a good opportunity to attend, provide oversight and share input when appropriate. But after more than 35 years in community management, and after attending hundreds of evening board and committee meetings, it’s clearer to me now than ever before: Night meetings are killing our industry.
It's stressful at best for managers to work all day and night, generally for no additional pay. The problem is multiplied and exacerbated for portfolio managers. As young managers attending night meeting after night meeting for community association clients, they may really be trying to like the industry, fulfill their responsibilities, earn a living and mature in the profession. I stuck with it and ended up loving the job, but many young managers don’t.
Moving away from night meetings wouldn’t just help managers. Board members, homeowners and business partners could benefit too.
Both managers and community association volunteers regularly report difficulty finding community members who want to serve on the board. Meanwhile, unless there’s a vote to increase assessments, homeowner attendance is almost nonexistent. Among other reasons, many homeowners are hesitant to volunteer or attend night meetings because it takes away from their personal and family time.
In addition, at night, some board meetings turn into social get-togethers and town hall discussions where members talk about all sorts of topics unrelated to the business of running a community. Associations deserve to be operated like corporations; many have multimillion-dollar budgets. A board serving in a fiduciary capacity is making decisions that affect the value of the corporation—in this case, a community and all of the homes within it.
Can an individual make thoughtful, prudent and business-minded decisions at 8 or 9 p.m., likely after they’ve worked all day and are tired? What about after they’ve eaten dinner and consumed alcohol? Is that the best way to run a business?
“Corporations have their meetings during the day or at least start before 5 p.m. because people are much more alert during normal work hours. After dinner and cocktails, people function at a much lower level,” says Mike Packard, PCAM, a senior vice president of Associa in Carlsbad Calif., and a CAI past president. “Night meetings are one of the biggest challenges our industry faces.”
Some managers don’t mind night meetings, and some might even enjoy them, but the overwhelming majority don’t. Simply put, night meetings result in unavoidable burnout. Consider that a portfolio manager in charge of 10 communities may have that many night meetings in a given month. They work all day, then work that night and then are expected to be back in the office the next morning because that’s when business needs to be conducted.
Night meetings can take away from managers’ valuable family time too. Many miss important events with their children or, if they’re single parents, struggle to find child care. Too many good managers have walked away from the industry because they can no longer deal with the stress or the long hours.
Management company executives, supervisors, assistants, association board members and business partners all have to adjust when a good manager gives up on the job. If we want to recruit and keep the brightest, most talented managers and be taken seriously as a profession, shouldn’t we be working to keep them happy?
I understand the concerns about moving away from night meetings, but I think there are workable solutions.
Board members can’t take time off during working hours. People take time off for all sorts of things. They run errands, pick up or drop off their children at school, go to their children’s games and concerts, and more. Isn’t a community association board meeting that impacts an owner’s most valuable investment a good reason to take time off from work? Board members are performing a public service. Some employers might even support staff members who are fulfilling civic duties.
Effectively dealing with corporate responsibility takes careful thought. Why should decisions that impact such a big investment be put off until a time when board members and managers probably aren’t functioning at their best?
If a community starts its monthly or quarterly board meeting at 7 a.m. or 11:30 a.m., it could include breakfast or lunch. Even starting meetings at 4 p.m. would help. At these starting times, I believe boards would be more driven to conduct business and limit time-consuming social issues, leading to shorter and more productive meetings. I’d even be willing to bet that if board meetings were moved to business hours, our communities might find more volunteers because the role no longer conflicts with family or personal time.
Packard says associations might not need to meet as frequently as they do. Unless bylaws call for monthly meetings, associations can hold them bimonthly or quarterly. If an important discussion item pops up that can’t wait, they can call a special meeting.
“Many boards have monthly meetings because ‘they always have,’ ” he says.
Residents can’t take time off to attend board meetings during working hours. Once a month or quarter for an hour isn’t asking too much when matters can impact the value of an investment. And if owners care enough about any specific issue, they’ll go to a board meeting regardless of when it’s held.
Associations that switch to daytime meetings need to provide proper notice so members can plan in advance. And as dictated in most state statutes, associations always should share what the board will be discussing at upcoming meetings.
If owners can’t make daytime meetings, communities could consider allowing them to attend electronically or give them the right to send written input on agenda items.
The association is paying for management to be available for night meetings. Yes, by contract, the association is paying for certain services provided by management. However, when board meetings are held often is based on the practice of the community, not on a term defined in a contract.
Management companies should be setting up contracts to provide different services for different prices. For instance, a daytime meeting may be one rate, and a nighttime meeting may be a higher rate.
Some ahead-of-the-curve associations and their management companies, including Chaparral Management Company, AAMC, in Houston, and Warren Management Group, AAMC, in Colorado Springs, Colo., already have successfully moved some board meetings to business hours. Chaparral, for example, ties annual management fee increases to board meeting times.
“Incentives and savings are the reasons we’ve been so successful (moving board meeting times),” says Pamela D. Bailey, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, president of the company.
Yet some of Chaparral’s competitors have no problem agreeing to board meetings on Friday or Saturday nights or on Sunday. “Until we get everyone on the same train, we’ll be fighting this for the next 20 years,” Bailey says.
Linda M. Warren, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, president of Warren Management, adds that some management companies fail to stand up to clients about meeting times and then ask their employees to commit their lives to the job.
“Too many good managers are leaving the industry because of this,” she says. “Professionals do business during business hours. Associations will be able to see, hear and feel the difference with daytime meetings.”
No two communities are alike, and association leaders need to consider what works best for their community. I recognize getting more communities to move board meetings to business hours would be a big shift, but this matter is too important to the continued growth and success of community associations and their managers to ignore.
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