Can We Talk? The Importance of Communication

Can We Talk?

The difference between a residential building that is successful and one that is troubled can be the level of communication between the building’s shareholders and its board members. Although not commonly discussed, this is perhaps one of the most fundamental relationships in managing a building that boasts happy residents and successful management practices. However, like most things in life, external factors often create a static in the communication lines between both parties, which may create problems and leave issues unresolved. However, with several simple tools and a keen awareness of the necessity of routinized communication, nagging problems and resident angst can easily be eliminated.

Management companies, in particular, place an unprecedented amount of importance on relationships, particularly between those of the board members and the shareholders. By facilitating different forms of communication between both groups, extending beyond the annual meetings typically held, we’ve seen happier residents and board members as well as a stronger sense of community.

Key to Communicating

There are several key factors as to why poor communication arises between these two parties. Board members are normally volunteers, thus they are balancing their building responsibilities with full-time jobs, families and social engagements. Because they are not necessarily directly impacted by the happenings at a building whose board on which they reside, the importance of certain details can be lessened or lost in a myriad of other tasks and responsibilities.

Shareholders, though, have a personal stake in their building and so they prefer to be involved and “in the know” with what is happening, potential fee changes, and any upcoming events, renovations and other related topics. Each of these things has a personal effect on these people and so, to them, they are of great importance and significance.

Finally, each party underestimates the need, and benefit, of regular, routinized communication. As most events and topics for discussion are inevitably pushed to the annual meeting, points get lost in the shuffle as there is never enough time to discuss a year’s worth of questions, grievances and or issues.

In my new role as vice president of client services at Argo Real Estate the root of my position lies in cultivating relationships with each of our clients, which requires frequent communication. However, it also extends to the preservation of communication between the two parties described above. As noted, rarely enough time and energy are devoted to this relationship because people do not see its necessity or the positive results it will yield. However, in buildings where we’ve actively changed the flow and frequency of communication, we’ve seen incredible results with happier shareholders and board members alike.

To go about changing the dynamic of communication, though, is daunting. To go from one to two meetings per year to regular check-ins, letters or newsletters can seem incredibly time consuming and requiring of far too much effort, yet, ironically, the more frequent the communication, the less time it generally requires. Once board members realize this, along with the fact that their residents welcome these updates, providing additional forms of communication becomes necessary. It is simply determining in what way to do so.

A Variety of Methods

The buildings managed by Argo utilize a variety of techniques including quarterly meetings, online forums, seasonal newsletters, website postings, and email blasts. Depending upon the building, general demographic and tools at hand, we determine how to best engage the shareholders. Never extremely extensive, and always to the point with the latest building and community updates as well as future plans, these different tactics provide an avenue for residents to gain the information they desire in an easy, digest-able manner.

Additionally when something is continuously updated, each update becomes simpler and more to the point. No longer is there a laundry list of things to detail because constant awareness is being generated and cultivated. This type of communication also allows for the immediate address and assuage of any sudden issues.

To illustrate this idea, I’d like to refer to one of the buildings Argo currently manages: Fordham Hill, located in the Bronx. Up until 2008 Fordham Hill operated like every other residential building in New York: it held an annual meeting for shareholders and board members that often took too long and addressed too little. We were able to glean this insight through the surveys we conduct and emphasis we place on maintaining constant communication with the buildings in our management portfolio. Shareholders were irritated because they were aware of the building’s future plans, renovations and other news relevant to their residency.

Realizing this we began to look for the best way to remedy the situation. There had to be an option that provided residents with the communication they craved without overwhelming or overburdening the board members. At this point, after careful deliberation, we opted to create a quarterly newsletter. Nothing too extensive, and that simply included information regarding upcoming meetings and events, repairs and or renovations, policy updates, introductions to new management personnel, and any other news deemed necessary.

The response generated was overwhelmingly positive. Not only did shareholders cease feeling disenfranchised, but the newsletter also helped foster a sense of community among the residents. Suddenly each party was on equal footing, and through the continual updates about events and seasonal happenings, residents formed better bonds with each other.

In regards to the board members, because the quarterly newsletter appeased the shareholders, it eliminated many frustrations from their minds and minutes from their annual meetings. With a regular flow of communication in place the letters were easy to draft and of an appropriate length. Both parties gained from the change.

Many times routinized communication is seen as difficult, daunting, or simply unappealing for the time it takes. However, experience has proven to us that in terms of a successful building with both happy shareholders and board members, it is absolutely necessary and results in a more content building.

Lynn Whiting is vice president of client services at Manhattan-based Argo Real Estate.

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