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Package delivery has more than doubled during the pandemic. For condo operators, that’s presenting obstacles, and opportunities
Author of the article: Lia Grainger, Special to National Post
Author of the article: Lia Grainger, Special to National Post
The responsibilities of a concierge in a residential building are many, from security and administrative tasks to responding to emergencies. Yet ever since the onset of the pandemic, one task eclipses all others: package management.
Sean Paramalingam works as a concierge at several residential buildings in the GTA and has watched parcel volume skyrocket over the past 15 months. At the 450-unit Epic on Triangle Park near Queen and Dufferin streets, Paramalingam went from receiving about 100 packages a day pre-pandemic to as many as 250 now.
“That’s a full-time job right there,” says Paramalingam. “Few people realize just how much things have changed.”
Lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and mandatory store closures have led to a colossal boom in package delivery. Pretty much anything you once bought in a store can now be delivered to your door, from exercise bikes to ice cream sandwiches. According to Statistics Canada, retail e-commerce increased by 69 percent year over year in December 2020. It took Canada Post 67 days to deliver 1 million packages in 2017; in 2020, it delivered 1 million parcels per day for 187 days straight, including 2.4 million on December 21. FedEx added 5,000 new staff in Canada in the second half of 2020 alone.
It all adds up to an avalanche of deliveries and an unexpected logistical nightmare for concierges and building management.
The most pressing issue has been staffing. In most buildings, couriers cannot directly access suites, so the concierge is the intermediary, accepting the package from the courier, logging it into the building’s management software so the resident gets notified, or actually calling or emailing the resident directly. Then, when the resident comes to collect, they must retrieve the package and log it as received. It’s a multi-step process that a single concierge is now often expected to repeat hundreds of times a day.
“We realized it was not sustainable,” says Nadlan-Harris Property Management president Liron Daniels. His company manages 11,000 units across the GTA. Daniels knew more staff was needed, but he also faces pressure from condo boards to keep maintenance fees low.
“A lot of board members asked us to come up with a zero-increase budget,” says Daniels. Some of those boards, he says, are subsidizing additional staffing costs with condo surplus funds that are usually reserved for major renovations.
Storage is also an issue. How do you keep hundreds of daily deliveries safe and organized?
“Older buildings were not designed for this kind of capacity,” Daniels says. In buildings with small mailrooms and minimal storage, his team must find solutions where they can. In one building, the area under a staircase became a makeshift parcel storage zone, complete with fencing. In another, three-tiered shelving was added to the mailroom.
“The concierge would be behind a wall of boxes,” says Shiplake Properties director of apartments Kurt Low. He oversees the management of five purpose-built Toronto rental high-rises ranging in size from 171 to 575 units. Low says that package volume had already been on the rise since around 2016 but doubled once the pandemic hit.
For Shiplake, the solution was a smart-locker system called Snaile. The Canadian company was founded in 2017 and is one of several that produce banks of lockers that are installed in residential buildings. A courier drops the parcel in an appropriately sized locker and Snaile alerts the resident by sending a text or email along with a QR code. The resident brings that code to the lockers and scans it, and the locker pops open, dispensing the delivery.
Snaile CEO Patrick Armstrong says the company’s network of lockers has seen a 57% increase in package volume as a result of the pandemic. When it comes to deciding how many lockers a particular building will need, he says a major factor is resident age.
“A condo full of millennials is going to need more lockers than a condo full of boomers,” says Armstrong.
For Low, the lockers have been a big help, but on some days, they just aren’t enough. He manages the Lillian Park condominium complex near Yonge and Eglinton. Both of its towers have a full bank of lockers, and most days all of them are occupied. He says a big part of the problem is people who leave their packages sitting in a locker for a week.
“For the system to work optimally, we need people to come and retrieve it as soon as possible,” Low says.
Security is also an ongoing concern. With multiple couriers coming in and out of the building every day, locker placement matters. According to Armstrong, the ideal location is just inside the building, before the locked doors, where couriers can easily access them, though in many towers, this space is too small.
The Lillian Park Condominiums, completed in October 2019, don’t have a concierge, but security was worked into the original design. To reduce courier access to the building, designers created a special package room with an external entrance door for deliveries and an internal locked door from the building to the parcel room just for residents with a key.
“We’re designing the lobby so it’s not just a passive waiting space, and lockers can be a part of that,” says Matt Brown. He’s the director of product development for Toronto developer Minto, and says that while package management now takes up a larger proportion of a building’s ground plane, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
“We hear from residents that they want more opportunities to get to know their neighbours, and the one amenity everyone uses is parcel lockers,” says Brown.
He envisions package pick-up becoming a potential social activity, and he’s incorporating that idea into the design of a new project called The Saint. The 419-unit building, slated for completion in 2024, will sit at the corner of Church and Lombard streets. Instead of relegating lockers to a separate mailroom, he’s interspersing banks of them with shared work tables and other furniture and amenities to create a space with a lounge and a co-working vibe. Over at another project, North Oak in Oakville, coming in fall of the same year, the parcel-locker area is adjacent to a similar ‘neighbourhood nest’ zone, where games space, co-working furniture and meeting rooms encourage residents to linger. It’s a solution that maximizes lobby space by giving it multifunctionality.
“We’re setting the scene to create connections and build community,” says Brown. “It just happens to coincide with people receiving parcels.”