Communicating to your communities during COVID-19


By Tom Bacon, strata title lawyer

Right now, there are a lot of question marks as to when and if it will ever be possible to get back to “normal” following the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the restrictions ease, and as Melburnians go back to their schools and workplaces, now is the time for all of us to consider the “new normal”.

For an owners’ corporation (OC) responsible for managing a large and diverse community, my advice is to implement a comprehensive communication strategy, and to be seen to lead from the front.

Face to face meetings are not presently possible, so a Zoom or Skype meeting, or a telephone conference facility is going to be crucial. Emails are effective, but so often we see very long email chains between committee members that go off topic, or simply go in circles. A short and sharp meeting by telephone or Zoom (with minutes) is preferable.

For starters, the contractors that you engage and pay good money for, need to act in a coordinated fashion. The OC managers, concierges, facilities managers and cleaners all need to be in constant communication with each other and to work as a team. For some larger buildings, this will need to be every day, for other buildings, a weekly meeting will suffice.

These contractors need to be discussing cleaning practices, cashflow issues, and safety and security issues every day, and they need to be reporting to the committee about these issues every day and every week.

Let me break this down further:

Cleaning practices – the committee and residents need to be kept in constant contact about whether it is safe to do certain things. When will the gym and pool be reopened? How often are the elevators, stairs and common property doors and intercoms being cleaned, and with what products? Have the cleaners been instructed to use a special product? If so, what is it? How many times a day is this being applied? Have the cleaners’ on-site hours been increased? Are log books being kept? Who is checking those?

Cashflow issues – the OC manager needs to be keeping an eye on the bills. For many OCs, holding the annual general meeting (AGM) isnot possible right now. But for many buildings, new budgets need to be struck and levy letters still need to go out. Of course, some owners will not be able to pay those levies. So, if the cash is not coming in quickly for the OC, the committee needs to have a plan to keep the lights on. This might include borrowing money from the maintenance fund, or applying for a loan, or otherwise entering into payment plans with owners for their levies to be paid by instalments. The committee needs to keep on top of this, and try to manage the budget carefully while acting as humanely as possible.

Security issues – the concierge and building managers and security staff need to act vigilantly to ensure that short-term rental accommodation operators are not permitted to operate. The public health order has not yet been lifted at the time of publication, so no unauthorised holiday makers should be permitted in buildings at this time. The concierge, building manager and se- curity staff needs to keep a list of apartments where these laws are being breached, and the committee should be ready to report these owners to the police if it becomes an issue.

A weekly or fortnightly newsletter to residents about these issues needs to be circulated. Whether it’s on the noticeboard or the lifts, or is sent out by email or via a portal or Facebook page, it is going to be of vital importance to get the message out.

Effective and regular communication will reassure your community that they are in good hands. Talk the talk, and walk the walk. It’s not going to be easy, but you’ll all get through it together over the next few months.

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