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The demand for smart lockers has jumped significantly during the pandemic. Snaile, a leading provider in Canada, has seen an increase of 628 per cent, according to Patrick Armstrong, chief executive officer.

MichaelZahra/handout

In a postpandemic world, the desire among commercial properties to maintain security protocols is unlikely to wane. Though COVID-19 may have accelerated the demand for contactless deliveries, some businesses are finding they make good sense.

Before the novel coronavirus even struck, a surge of deliveries, due in part to greater reliance on e-commerce, was problematic for office buildings. It put added stress on building staff and physical space, including delivery docks and mailrooms.

As the pandemic hit, when some businesses closed or operated with reduced work forces, there wasn’t always someone available to accept and sign for deliveries. Now, with workers returning to offices, personnel safety and security have become a critical issue and many commercial spaces are seeking to limit the flow of deliveries to mitigate spread outbreaks and limit person-to-person contact. Crowded hallways and elevators aren’t feasible propositions.

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“The pandemic has caused us to rethink many activities in office buildings, of which parcel delivery is one small example,” says Keith Major, managing partner, head of Canadian real estate management at BentallGreenOak. “We don’t see any one solution or approach as being the best option for contact-free parcel delivery. There is a range of urgency on parcel deliveries, loading-dock space constrictions, dedicated freight elevators and staffing levels warrant a range of solutions.”

He says one of the tools his company uses to provide a secure area for parcels to be dropped off and retrieved is parcel lockers.

These smart lockers use parcel-management technology to enable contactless deliveries. Package recipients are sent a notice of delivery and an access code to retrieve it electronically from the locker without any interaction with couriers. All transactions are tracked through an online cloud system, that first was adopted by condo and apartment buildings. Now commercial office towers are following suit.

Moving forward, the need for more efficient, contactless deliveries will have an impact on how commercial properties are developed.

MICHAEL ZAHRA/handout

The demand for smart lockers has jumped significantly during the pandemic. Snaile, a leading provider in Canada, has seen an increase of 628 per cent, according to Patrick Armstrong, chief executive officer. “It really validates that we are providing a wanted/needed service,” he says.

Having couriers deliver to individual offices floor to floor no longer works; reduced elevator capacity is slowing the process further and creating bottlenecks, while commercial landlords are locking them down for greater security.

This has prompted many properties to implement a staffed delivery desk at lobby level, Mr. Armstrong notes. But as more people return to work on-site, parcel volumes will increase, creating space and staffing issues. “Parcel lockers reduce or eliminate the labour requirement and is a much better solution for a largely menial task,” he says.

Moving forward, the need for more efficient, contactless deliveries will have an impact on how commercial properties are developed. According to a February, 2021, Architectural Digest article, traditional approaches to lobbies, mailrooms and loading zones must be reconsidered and existing buildings retrofitted to accommodate shifting requirements for space and less human interface.

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Commercial buildings may want to consider including areas for deliveries by drones. A report from ResearchAndMarkets.com, suggests that drone package delivery services are expected to grow from US$0.68-billion in 2020 to reach US$4.4-billion in 2025.

There’s significant potential for commercial properties to use drones for drop-offs and pick-ups, according to Michael Zahra, CEO, Drone Delivery Canada Corp., based in Vaughan, Ont.

The company, which began in 2014, is already working with clients in health care, oil and gas, manufacturing, and remote communities who benefit from a drone’s superior speed and ability to provide contactless, secure deliveries.

With evolving regulations from Transport Canada and advancements in safety technology, he predicts that, as early as next year, it will be a viable option for commercial properties in more densely populated areas.

“The more forward-looking companies who are building residential condos, shopping malls and commercial buildings realize that drones, although a nascent industry, are not a fad.”

As such, he’s suggesting they need to plan on incorporating drone delivery capacities into their business infrastructure as drone delivery continues to gain traction. They could mean the inclusion of a designated rooftop landing pad or a drone hub for retrieving or sending deliveries. Drone Delivery Canada’s software tracks packages in real-time and can text or e-mail updates.

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Even when, and if, COVID-19 disappears, it’s clear that commercial real estate has changed for good as contactless deliveries become part of everyday business practices.

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