Commercial Buildings Adapting to COVID-19 With Smart Parcel Lockers

By Jack Landau, UrbanToronto, November 27, 2020

With a global pandemic drastically altering the way we interact with our workspaces, both older and modern office buildings alike are suffering issues unforeseen during their design stage. The first wave of COVID-19 alone put unprecedented strain on parcel carriers, and by extension, the mailrooms, elevators, and hallways of commercial properties around an already busy Toronto. Now, with the second wave breaking over the region as the busy holiday season ramps up, demand for parcel deliveries is expected to reach an all-time high.  

In office buildings where parcels are typically delivered directly to the suites, crowded elevators have long represented a bottleneck for delivery efficiency. Now with elevator capacity limits severely reduced during the pandemic, some carriers have taken to leaving piles of parcels in lobbies, to be processed by already-burdened building staff. At the same time, the pandemic has made signing for parcels a thing of the past, opening the door for the implementation of parcel locker systems, similar to those becoming prevalent in residential buildings. 

With so many workers now spending at least part of their week at home, the in-person business week is functionally dead in 2020, meaning that someone is often not available to immediately take possession of a parcel, as was previously the norm. For properties without parcel storage solutions, the only current means of connecting remote workers with their parcels is for building staff to redirect deliveries to the worker’s place of residence, adding labour costs and leaving parcels vulnerable to porch theft, a growing problem in the pandemic economy.

All of these factors are bringing a surge in business for parcel locker manufacturers like Snaile Inc., who provide delivery storage systems for residential and commercial properties. These smart locker systems allow for contactless inbound parcel delivery, using the same technology as Snaile’s multi-residential systems, but with several modifications custom-tailored to commercial properties. Changes include all-important outbound parcel integration and a more robust ‘delivery roster’ to manage the sub-addresses found in larger workplaces such as floors, tenants, departments, or staff, something that’s not required for less-complex residential buildings with mostly inbound parcels.

Covid-19, coronavirus, commercial, smart lockers, parcel storage

Commercial smart parcel locker, image courtesy of Snaile

One major property owner to sign on for these lockers is Ontario Power Generation (OPG), incorporating Snaile’s systems in their 700 University Avenue property, known for its curved mirror-finish facade overlooking Queens Park. Neal Kelly, Director of Media, Issues, and Information Management at OPG, spoke to us about the need to implement these systems even before the pandemic, due to a renovation and downsizing of their central office footprint, in what could now be seen as a prescient move.

“OPG has been at 700 University since we built the building in the mid-1970s. Over the years a lot has changed where we’re now down to just the top two floors. Back in 2018, we decided to do extensive renovations on those two floors, and as part of that, we went to a brand new open-concept layout,” Kelly tells us. “As part of that transition, we had to start looking at the logistics. ‘Okay, how do we continue to keep the business going? How do we get couriers into our buildings, and onto our floors?'”

Covid-19, coronavirus, commercial, smart lockers, parcel storage

700 University Avenue, image by Peter Crock via UrbanToronto Flickr Pool

After looking at the available solutions, OPG went with Snaile’s smart locker systems. “We installed them in 2019 at 700 University as part of that office redesign, because we knew that some of the delivery couriers would not have access to enter into our locked floors anymore,” said Kelly. “Then of course the pandemic hit earlier this year, all staff were suddenly working from home and the building was closed.” 

This change in the way employees interact with their workspaces, and the need for reduced person-to-person interaction have underscored the value of these systems, with Neal Kelly telling us that “A couple of weeks ago I was working from home. I received a notice that I had a package and an access code to pick it up. There’s no interaction with the couriers, it’s all done electronically and tracked on our online cloud system. It’s just a nice, clean, convenient way of doing business, we’re really pleased with it.”

Currently, Snaile is working with FedEx, Canpar, and RoadRunners for OPG’s outbound parcels, while the rest of the major parcel carriers already working with Snaile on their multi-residential locker systems are expected to come into play soon.

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