One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is, “In the middle of difficult, lies opportunity.”
Last year’s focus for our industry and region was “Resolve to Evolve”. At the time, the primary intent was to be more inclusive, diverse, and open to foster purposeful and productive engagements with the members of our communities and service providers. What we did not anticipate was that during 2020 we would face an entirely new challenge that would test our ability to reset and evolve in ways we never thought possible.
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to stop or pause and quickly determine how best to safely address the immediate needs of our communities and businesses. I think what many of us did over the past year was reset. The verb “reset,” according to Merriam-Webster means to “set again or anew”. Therefore, when we reset, you had the benefit of a do over, an opportunity to rethink and completely realign both tactical and strategic approaches to conducting business.
How many of you reading this article can say that you reset your former mindset and evolve to answer the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by embracing the opportunity to run your business or community virtually? I know that mine did.
Thanks to the phenomenal and heroic efforts of the WMCCAI’s Legislative Action Committees, who worked with elected officials to get emergency legislation passed for meetings to be conducted virtually, as the volunteer leader of my HOA, I reset and quickly turned to virtual platforms to conduct board meetings and manage the 52-unit community. In fact, our annual meeting will be held virtually and, for the first time ever in the history of our cluster, over fifty (50) percent of our members have registered to attend and participate in the meeting!
Identifying Reset Priorities
While many across the country are anticipating an end to the pandemic and getting back to normal, new modes of governing and conducting community business have and will continue to evolve. When moving into the new year, take the opportunity to be prepared to be flexible and proactive in resetting community and organizational priorities.
Specifically, as the leader of your organization or community, make time to ask your board members the question “What is important to you?” Their answers will supply you with invaluable information as to what your organization’s reset priorities should be in the coming year. You can make this part of their next meeting agenda or you can schedule time to connect with them individually and learn about the direction and activities they would like to see the organization navigate towards.
Start by asking your board to review the organization’s strategic plan and be ready to share, at the next virtual meeting, the top three strategic goals they believe should be the focus of the organization in 2021. Those goals that receive the most mention are those that should be your reset focus.
Reset Opportunities for 2021:
Coming out of the difficulties we all faced in 2020, opportunities lie all around us. While engaging with your board, I am sure you have already identified some of your own reset opportunities for 2021. In addition to budgeting for the new legal and insurance requirements you may be dealing with because of covenants enforcement matters during the pandemic, consider adding some of the following items to add to your Reset list:
- Virtual participation in community management is becoming the preferred option. A Wall Street Journal analysis found Internet usage soared 25% within a few days in mid-March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic started forcing Americans to stay home and is bound to remain substantially higher than before the pandemic. Some members of your Board will not want to meet in person but stay with virtual meetings. Work with your local Legislative Action Committee to advocate for and support legislation that will permanently allow property owners associations to conduct board and committee meetings virtually.
- Employees are proving that they can perform their tasks remotely, successfully “getting the job done” from home. According to a survey recently conducted by OWL Labs, 80% of full-time workers expect to work from home at least three times per week after COVID-19 guidelines are lifted and companies and workspaces are able to re-open. Be prepared to permanently offer remote work options to employees.
- Masks will become a permanent and essential dressing accessory. In September 2020, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during testimony before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that a “face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” Put money in your budgets to supply disposable masks and hand sanitizer for residents when they visit your offices.
- More restaurants will desire outdoor seating options and related accessories. A Philadelphia Inquirer survey of 1,115 people found that nearly 80% of respondents were not comfortable with indoor dining, while more than 90% were comfortable with outdoor dining. Respondents said that, among other niceties, heaters and fire pits would encourage them to keep up outdoor dining, even in colder months. Architectural Boards of Review in mixed use communities must prepare for design applications for new and or expanded outdoor seating venues.
- Paved pathways, Tennis and Pickleball Courts are full, and the demand for and programming of these recreation facilities will continue to increase. According to the NDP market research group, overall bike sales surged by 31% in the first three months of 2020 compared to the first quarter last year, as people sought safe recreation embraced bicycling amid stay-at-home orders nationwide. Put money in your budget to increase the number of facilities or planned programming and events at existing facilities.
- Many pet shelters are empty because families are home and now able to take care of four-legged family members. According to an April 29, 2020 USA Today report – “America’s animal shelters have been transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic by surging adoptions and fosters.” Plan to install more pet waste pick-up dispensers in common areas and/or contract with firms that scoop poop. Also consider places in your community where dog parks can be installed.
- Communications from members in Condominium and HOA communities are on the rise as they inform management of parking violations, interior common area wear and tear maintenance requests, overflowing trash cans that need attention, pathways that require repair, and additional weeding in landscaped beds. More people are out in your community, put funds in your budget to increase interior and exterior maintenance of common elements and areas.
- The housing market is booming as people look for larger space to live, work, study and play in. Existing-home sales grew for the fourth consecutive month in September 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. Each of the four major regions witnessed month-over-month and year-over-year growth, with the Northeast seeing the highest climb in both categories. If this has not already happened in your community, expect the number of resale disclosure packets to increase and requests for short turnaround items for property inspections and the delivery of documents.
- There are an increased number of shipping/delivery trucks coming to and through communities as residents have niceties and essentials brought to their door. In a Wall Street Journal article, the United Parcel Service Inc. said revenue rose nearly 16% in the third quarter and profit rose 11.8% amid an influx of packages moving domestically and internationally during the pandemic. These heavy trucks can cause asphalt to degrade sooner than anticipated. Monitor these assets and consider the impact to your community’s paving reserve.
As a result of the Pandemic, home has become the “hub spot” for all things. It is our haven, workspace, school, art center, playground, pet training station, restaurant, gym, entertainment center, beauty salon, etc. Leaving home for work, school, shopping, or other activities is not as prevalent as it was a year ago. Because many of those homes are in a condominium or HOAs, now more than ever greater focus has been put on “community,” how it looks, and how it is managed.
As you reset and identify priorities for 2021, no matter what size your community is, turn to CAI for guidance in navigating in the right direction. Over the past twelve months, I have been impressed with the way CAI reset itself to meet the demands of community management. Take the opportunity to tap into their online services and management and consulting resources, forums, and educational sessions. Encourage your boards to become members of CAI so that they can stay abreast of the latest trends in community management. Better yet, make it a top Reset priority for them to join the local CAI Chapter in 2021– the investment will be invaluable.
By Cate Fulkerson, CMCA
Cate has 30 years of community management experience and is the former CEO of the Reston Association, one of the largest community associations in the country. Her firm, Points North Strategies, offers comprehensive strategic planning, board training, meeting facilitation, organizational and leadership development services.