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    Hosting Effective Online Meetings

    Video conferencing has quickly become the primary mode of communication used in our day to day lives.

    With the uptick in usage being directly linked to current world events, it is even more so important that we make business meetings using video as engaging and lively as what we are used to when we meet in-person. The best method of keeping people interested in what you are talking about is making sure that they not only hear what you are saying, but also feel connected to it. In fact, one of the main advantages to holding your meetings virtually, is the potential to prevent your audience from tuning out. Hosting an engaging and effective virtual meeting, however, all starts with what is done before the meeting is called.

    In order for employees to use popular teleconferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, they need proper training on how to actually operate the software. Although more people are using these online tools than ever before, many are not technologically advanced causing some problems.

    In our experience, these problems can usually be summarized under employees not fully understanding how to efficiently and effectively utilize the platform. Luckily, most video conferencing platforms provide online tutorials on their website and social media that can be easily shared with your team. Alternatively, you can host hands-on mock meetings to give inexperienced members of your team time to learn how to use at least the basic features correctly.

    The basic features each team member should be comfortable with include: the mute button, directing which participants can speak, turning on and off video, the screen layout options, screen sharing, and private and public chat.

    By investing in your team’s technical skills and thus making them feel comfortable with virtual meeting technology, you allow them to focus less on whether or not everyone can hear them and more on their presentation skills and the actual meeting taking place.

    One of the challenges of working from home is ensuring that you maintain the same level of professionalism as you did while working in office and this is an area of hosting online meetings that many people are still concerned about.   We are all trying to adjust to the new normal and with everyone working from home we have to make concessions to the fact that each of us has a different situation at home. As such, don’t be too unyielding about how and from where the video conference will take place and also put out some guidance for them to consider.

    One way you can instantly boost your home environment’s appeal is by carefully selecting what will be in your background, also known as the backdrop, during the video. Backdrops make a big difference – even a blank wall is better than seeing someone’s entire living room or worse behind them. Many of the video conferencing platforms offer virtual backgrounds, which present a viable solution over another in home alternative.

    Many people are also concerned about how they look on camera. To create a picture perfect setting try putting a lamp or other light source in front of you (instead of behind) to illuminate your face while sitting with a wall close behind you. Don’t focus too much on being photogenic, however, as it would be better to just show your humanity -, let’s face it, this is not the time to be absolutely perfect.

    We also encourage everyone to practice video meeting presentation skills by recording yourself presenting on video, most of the platforms offer a recording feature. Use the recording to see what you may want to remedy before the actual meeting takes place.

    We recommend that you follow usual meeting protocols to best undertake virtual meetings. just because your meeting is online doesn’t mean that you should overlook traditional meeting best practices like scheduling and reminder messaging, supplying relevant documents and an agenda beforehand, handling administrative issues such as questions and time limitations early on. The less traditional online meeting issues include things like who is muted, highlighted, and can share their screens.

    Work toward keeping your video meetings lively and think of opportunities to engage attendees. This will lead to success and positive feedback. The more active participation you can include, the more you can keep others from tuning out.

    The video conferencing platforms offer many extra features to make video meetings more dynamic and interactive, including polling (for when you want to quickly gauge views on an issue), breakout rooms (for when you want a video meeting to break into subgroups) and emoji reactions.  Workto familiarize yourself with these and incorporate them when it makes sense.

    Here are a few video presentation skills to train your team on:

    • Looking into the camera when talking.
    • Smiling when talking—and listening—to portray a friendly, engaging image.
    • Using gestures when appropriate, making sure the people on video can actually see them.
    • Moving through presentations quickly, aiming to spend no more than two minutes on each slide.

    As video conferencing takes on a larger role in the business world, you will want to make sure you and your team become pros at it.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of COVID-10 that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    How to Manage Your Building’s Restricted Cash During COVID-19

    So you have a reserve fund, but with the various challenges presented by COVID-19, do you really know if it is reasonable? In these times you have to ask yourself if that amount will be enough when unit owners are not able to pay or worse yet, the commercial space your budget relies upon does the same or becomes vacant.

    To have a well-dressed annual financial statement during the COVID-19 era you need to have more than just the minimum. In the past roughly $2,000 per unit held in the reserve fund was an acceptable minimum, but now we believe that you need to double that to $4,000.

    We suggest doubling the amount because your reserve funds must be available to cover more than just the minimum. Think about it, if you have the minimum by spending any of those minimal amounts you would be forced to lose the designation of meeting the minimum.  We all must be prepared to spend reserve funds, thus the concept that you may need to double the minimum amount to have a reasonable reserve fund in uncertain times should not be surprising.

    In this era your board needs to think beyond what is available in the existing fund. Let’s face it, properties have unexpected events happen all the time and also need long term repairs. So it’s not just about ’what we have now‘, but ‘what we need in the future‘.   Further, the amount of future costs cannot be predicted so it is best to err on the side of caution. Prospective purchasers will want to see an adequate cash reserve fund and although from time to time unexpected bills may show up or reserves may be dwindled down by operating losses without notice, it is imperative that you periodically monitor the activity in the cash reserve fund. This is more important now than ever.

    There are three aspects of your restricted cash to consider: what you need to offset the loss of revenue and increased expenses from the COVID-19 pandemic; what’s left in the account(s) after that, and how much needs to be spent on improvements over the next few years. Your board can window dress your finances by focusing on where those funds come from which means that the receipts from owners of any specific assessments will all make it there.

    There are a number of actions other than assessment that can enhance the reserve fund. If you don’t take adequate steps to protect your property you may find that after surviving COVID-19 issues,  coupled with increased spending,  it is quite easy to get to the point where any previously reasonable reserve fund becomes inadequate.

    It is important for your board to work together on the level of reserves and the plans to replace them as needed during the COVID-19 era. By working together to window dress the reserves on your annual financial statement, you can enhance the financial success of your property.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of COVID-10 that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    Planning Next Year’s Budget with COVID-19

    Many unit owners would consider the annual financial statement, which is audited by an external accountant, to reign supreme but to many the annual operating budget seems to be the most important financial document. This is because the operating budget determines the amount of monthly charges to unit owners for the next year and the need for any assessments to supplement revenue. In the COVID-19 era there are several significant risks to your annual budget:

    1. Will unit owners be able to pay on time and in full each month?
    2. Will the commercial or parking space no longer be able to pay rent or worse yet become vacant?
    3. Where will the funds for the inevitable added costs of dealing with COVID issues come from?

    At Czarnowski & Beer we have been advising our clients that this year is time to start looking at the operating budget a little earlier. We suggest that you start by getting together with your financial analyst to commence the usual Fall budget process much earlier this year, this summer if possible. This will allow you to investigate what obstacles your property is encountering due to COVID-19 and you can then move to determine which of those past costs will impact the property in the new year. After these evaluations are complete you can transition into a thorough review of where the property is so far this year – this evaluation of the present situation also allows you to establish a benchmark for year-end results. By planning for the rest of the year you cement your future. You will learn now, as opposed to in December, whether you need an increase and also have adequate time to plan for it. While no one wants to pay more, as a board member with fiduciary responsibilities you really need to understand the property’s COVID age finances now.

    Research is key here. Do you really know for sure what your property’s costs of the initial shut down were? We suggest that you make it your business to find out. If there is the expected second wave planning for at the least those amounts a second time in 2020 is prudent. Let’s face it, we don’t know if a second wave is coming, or if the costs will be more or less than this Spring, but there is no better time than now to evaluate what  increased costs are caused by the crisis. Do you really want to sit still and be reactive to the news that there is not enough money coming in? Short of drawing on loan facilities, the only place the funds will come from is cash reserves so do your due diligence.

    One aspect of added costs may be the property’s payroll. We suggest you compare the costs that occurred during the shutdown with a period before the crisis. Certain added costs for coverage can be hidden in payments to security or concierge services as well reimbursement for the managing agent. Small amounts may be hidden as payments to individuals along with repairs or administration. Looking into overtime is a great way to find where money might not have needed to go. When looking at these costs it is best to have dealt them dealt with by year end to avoid financial statement deficits as best you can.

    If your property has commercial space, you will need to appropriately evaluate what is now vacant as well as the ability of your remaining tenants to pay. Allowing reopened businesses to not pay rent, even if only a diminished amount, is something that should not occur. We suggest continuing to monitor any rent arrears on these units and dealing with them as soon as there is a shortfall. Remember, every dollar lost will either need to be borrowed or paid by the unit owners. Knowledge is power in accomplishing an accurate operating budget going forward.

    Certain, hopefully limited in number, unit owners who cannot pay because of employment issues also need to be considered. While we all feel for those suffering in these times, the board took on the fiduciary responsibility to make sure the bills get paid. While a lender is much more likely to step in for a cooperative unit should arrears occur, the risks are pronounced for condominiums. You need to be prepared to only collect token amounts from lenders and then only some monthly common charges. Careful negotiation through this situation is vital and the best way to accomplish that is using future budgets and constant monitoring by the board.

    Take the time to talk to your property manager and/or building’s Superintendent about what is going on. Realistically understanding your financial situation and moving to resolve the issues impacting your property from COVID-19 is essential to your financial success. Let’s make sure that we move swiftly to determine our position and structure a plan to assure we understand where we are going.  Only by getting started on this exercise now can you hope to use the budget to plan for the latter half of 2020 and have comfort knowing that you understand 2021 as it approaches.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of COVID-19 that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    Why You Should Take a Closer Look at Your Financials During COVID-19

    Prospective purchasers and lenders to cooperatives and condominiums utilize both the annual budget and financial statements as the basis for their perception of your property’s financial health.

    In the era of COVID-19 the seasonal publication of those documents creates a situation where the ability to rely on them is quite different now. You see, these documents will now need to chronicle how things have changed, which is why you should take a closer look at your financials during COVID-19.

    With the stay at home order and the reboot of the usual time frame to publish an annual financial statement many properties have just now, or will soon, published their 2019 financial statements. This means that the shortest interval for annually updated documents will be nine months if we return to the usual timing of publication. We suggest that boards prepare certain information about their property’s COVID-19 effects to be at the ready for those who will inquire. However, the annual operating budget is a document that can be more easily updated to demonstrate the effects of COVID-19 to those needing financial information.

    Effects on Your Operating Budget

    On the financial statement side of the COVID effect on finances is the amount of property reserves. In the past, reserve funds were generally viewed from a distance with a range of ideas on the topics from accepting what is there to structured plans for future capital costs that are planned to be needed. While there have always been questions as to what the reserve fund balance is, now during the period between financial statements these will be more common and will have urgency added. The concerns include how much was required to be utilized to get through the crisis to pay bills; were the added costs of COVID-19 dealt with in the budget; how the shutdown impacted commercial tenants’ ability to pay rent; and what was the mix of the population of unit owners who suffered severe enough personal financial issues that they can’t pay their monthly charges.

    Any updated operating budget information will demonstrate plans to solve the latter two questions, but only potentially painful financial actions by the board can offset the funds used for the crisis and the added COVID costs. Your board needs to consider the aspects of the reserve fund that are not only important in the near term, but also for the future.  Only by having complete knowledge of what has occurred can you expect to keep your reserve funds appropriately replenished and be ready to present a viable financial recuperation plan from this event. The need to take a closer look at the finances of your property during the COVID-19 pandemic and work with your auditor on how the finances will look when the next financial statements are published is paramount.

    Extra Working Capital Versus Restricted Cash

    Cash on a cooperative or condominium financial statement has always been king, but now this is more important than ever. While cash always had a positive association of being available for emergencies there now needs to be an enhanced level of amounts, not just for that but also for the usual reserve fund for future capital projects that everyone looks for.  The better option is to have two funds, one for major repairs and replacements and a “working capital” excess fund for emergencies. The amounts sought will tend need to be roughly twice the amounts in the past, we are now suggesting $4,000 per unit and a bare minimum amount of $200,000. If your accounts have been depleted planning now to attempt to recover lost ground can be vital to creating the best possible post COVID financial statement.

    Using Restricted Cash to Fund Operations

    We mentioned having cash for emergencies earlier and another aspect of this is determining how much was been needed during the Spring and potentially how much will be needed in the second wave of shutdowns. This leads us to ask how much the deficit (maybe deficits if there are multiple waves) was, how much cash was utilized, and might it have been cash restricted for capital projects. You will need to know if the cash was designated in order to avoid income tax consequences to unit owners, and if so that use needs to be accounted for as a ’loan’ from reserves and a plan needs to be adopted to return those funds to the restricted fund. Appropriate planning for the inevitable questions and tracing the funds that might have previously been designated for capital projects is of utmost importance.

    How to Make Your Financial Statement Presentation Picture Perfect!

    Working together with property management and the auditor can help you create the best possible financial documents. We urge you to get started with the 2021 operating budget process NOW. Many of the operating budget models utilized by property managers include a current year projection as well as the future operating budget. Having that information available can be quite helpful to quell concerns in the off-season of financial documents your property produces.

    By starting this summer as opposed to the usual timing in late Fall you can have the financial information ready for those who need it. You also can communicate any future substantial increases to unit owners well in advance or if working capital is needed, implement a COVID increase or assessment in a proactive as opposed to reactive manner.

    Obviously no one wants to pay more, and many simply are not able to, but in this situation, knowledge is power, and people need to know. Only by fully understanding how funds were needed can you ever hope to best window dress the reserves that your next financial statement will present. Covering both financial aspects before their usual timing allows you to enhance the financial situation of your property.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of COVID-10 that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    How to Effectively Conduct a Virtual Annual Meeting

    With the stay-at-home orders issued in the tri-state area, we are all adapting to a new reality. As social distancing works to slow the spread of the virus, we are all trying to get back to something that feels normal. For cooperative and condominium boards who are looking at the rapidly approaching annual spring meeting season the decision so far has been to postpone, postpone, postpone. However, we all know this is not a sustainable strategy.

    With an eye on finding a resolution we gave some thought to how a cooperative or condominium can run an effective meeting without owners being physically present to participate. Doing so benefits almost everyone as those most susceptible to the virus should not be in the presence of anyone other than their household members and most everyone else would appreciate the chance to practice social distancing. Board members should not have to risk exposure to fulfill their volunteer duties, building staff have put their lives on the line enough already and the potential risks to outside professionals should be considered as well.

    The Light at the End of the Tunnel

    As we heard Governor Andrew Cuomo mention in one of his briefings, we should try to see this situation in some small positive ways – like how it has nudged us into more fully embracing available technology, which is something we honestly should have already been doing. In fact, the pandemic has made it clear that we should have all had the complete ability to work from home, just as we are finding our children are also able to learn virtually too.

    We suspect that beyond when stay-at-home orders are lifted in New York, Governor Cuomo will extend the portions of New York on PAUSE that suspend specific requirements for annual ownership meetings. The suspended requirements include that prior notice must be given and that the meeting must be held at a physical location. These changes mean your board has the option to conduct a virtual annual ownership meeting. The idea of conducting the meeting virtually should not be something foreign to board members as more people have been using technology to tele-work and home school than ever before. After your first try, we think you will find that the annual meeting is enhanced and more effective in numerous aspects by going virtual.

    Preparing for Your Meeting

    The notice of the meeting, which is usually sent by hard copy, can be sent by e-mail to all necessary owners who have designated an e-mail address to receive notices. The notice should mention that the annual meeting will be held online in accordance with the governor’s executive order and good social distancing practices. Afterwards send virtual invitations containing the required links and related login information by electronic means to ensure everyone has access. These days it is almost expected that all owners and professionals can effectively use technology to join the meeting but be ready to provide assistance to anyone who requires it. You, or your property manager, probably already know who those persons are so do not hesitate to reach out them with offers to help if you think that may be appropriate.

    As for the official and legal requirements of notifying owners of the meeting, boards can use any form of communication (post, e-mail, BuildingLink, or even your building’s Facebook group) to keep owners up to date.

    We have also seen success with clients who have setup a way for owners to submit questions in advance of the meeting thus reducing the amount of back and forth that can sometimes derail it. Virtual meetings should not be run any differently. We recommend providing owners with the topics of board interest and asking them to submit comments and questions up to seven days before the meeting. That way, the comments and answers can be reviewed during the meeting instead of completed during the meeting, ultimately saving time.

    To err on the side of caution, legal counsel should be consulted to ensure the meeting is held in accordance with by-laws and statutory requirements.

    Technology Requirements

    Using software like Zoom, ScreenLeap or Google Hangouts allows you to host your virtual annual meeting with ease. These programs have browser enabled use ensuring you won’t have to download a new program or application, allow for audio only participation via phone call so owners can participate even if they don’t have a smartphone, PC or laptop; and have a highlight feature that shows whoever is speaking. However, an experienced meeting host is the real key to running an effective and efficient meeting.

    The host has control over attendees – they can mute everyone while reports are given, conduct elections, recognize (and un-mute) individual owners during a designated Q&A, exclude a participant who was not invited or is not supposed to be attending, and otherwise ensure the meeting runs as smoothly as possible. The effective use of the mute function is one of the most useful tools at the host’s disposal as it reduces annoying background noise and other interruptions that more unfamiliar users of teleconferencing may run into.

    When choosing the software you want to use for your meeting carefully consider your objectives and whether or not the features offered will best help you meet them. We generally recommend Zoom because it has a lot of great features like the gallery view which allows you to view up to 25 faces on a PC or laptop, the ability to vote and more. If you choose Zoom, be careful to setup the meeting with a password as there have been reports of “Zoombombers” who, when they find a meeting ID posted publicly, join meetings and become disruptive. However, Zoom (and most other meeting platforms) provides additional safeguards, including requiring users to be authenticated so that should not be too much of a problem.

    To allow owners access to the meeting, do not forget to post reminders with the meeting’s web address, including the meeting ID as well as the passwords.

    Host Dress Rehearsal

    Just like a regular annual meeting, board members will want a virtual meeting to run as smoothly as possible. No one wants to have long breaks spent trying to figure out technology issues. Therefore, we recommend that boards have a dry run in advance of the official meeting to test any security settings (passwords, authentication, etc.) and have the designated host practice muting, unmuting, giving another presenter control, and screen sharing; along with properly executing voting through the chat feature.

    Zoom has best practices on their website, so take a look and see what else they recommend.

    Conducting the Virtual Meeting

    On the day of the meeting we suggest initiating the video conference 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. This should be included in the meeting notice and will provide time to iron out any access issues participants may have. Then start the meeting on time – everyone appreciates a well-run meeting and starting on time is important.

    Boards should consider recording the meeting, something easily done with the programs we mentioned above and many others. If the meeting is going to be recorded, this should be mentioned prominently in the meeting notice, again in any reminders and other notices, as well as at the beginning of the meeting and when the recording actually starts. Note that recordings may become part of the legal record of the organization, with all the attendant record keeping and archival requirements.

    Other thoughts to consider while preparing for your virtual annual meeting include

    • Consider using a registration form or other means of taking attendance, such as a roll call or acknowledgement of each participant.
    • Turn off the chat feature except during Q&A and voting. This eliminates cross talk and allows presenters and the host to stay focused on the agenda.
    • The agenda and any other material to be shared during the meeting should be included in a PowerPoint or similar presentation and screen shared by the host and any other presenters.

    Special Considerations for Elections

    While for many annual meetings board elections are a quick formality, this is not true for all. To ensure compliance with board election policies and procedures, attendees must be given an opportunity to put forth nominations “from the floor”. Decide in advance how this is to be done – we recommend allowing chat and audio and including the chosen procedure in the meeting notice. The usual process includes all those on the ballot offering a brief statement of their background, qualifications, and vision for the building. Allowing nominees to take questions, while not an unreasonable approach, can significantly slow the process. The host should remain firmly in control during this part of the meeting and not allow it to get out of hand. When it comes time to vote, attendees should be directed to the chat room which allows them to privately cast their votes.  A great benefit of Zoom is that chat room voting is automatically recorded. Setting the privacy parameters before starting the vote limits the disclosure of individual votes. The votes should also be directed to the designated inspectors of election. Again, ensuring these procedures run smoothly is a primary objective of the practice session(s).

    It’s best to allow each participant to cast their vote privately. For those who will either not be participating via videoconferencing or are uncomfortable voting that way, we suggest enabling voting privately by e-mail to a designated e-mail address during the voting period. This will, of course, be necessary for telephone participants. Texting to a designated cellphone is also an option. Account for any ballots or proxies obtained before the meeting as the inspectors of election tally the results. Normal completion of the certification, and the announcement of results can follow.

    Conducting virtual meetings can be beneficial on multiple levels. Costs of room rentals are eliminated and professionals (attorneys, accountants, engineers, architects, etc.) can easily participate in your meeting without wasting time traveling or waiting around for the relevant portion of the meeting to begin.

    Most importantly, during these difficult times not subjecting staff and at-risk unit owners to a physical meeting helps us all.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of COVID-10 that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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