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Of the many new business challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for organizations, commercial and residential security—specifically across condominium complexes—has been near the top of the list. Property managers and their security teams have been forced to work overtime to develop, implement and maintain new COVID-19 health and safety measures, develop new parcel-management protocols, manage strict building access and usage rules, and generally cope with the uncertainties of new government lockdown and social-distancing restrictions.

Condominium property managers have carried much of this new burden as they deal with a plethora of related issues. They’ve not only had to provide updated training to their in-house or outsourced security teams while investing (often hefty) sums for enhanced cleaning across their properties, they’ve faced budgetary challenges due to increased hydro and HVAC usage and mechanical wear-and-tear with more residents working from home and placing greater demand on systems and resources. Condominium boards have struggled to find a balance that allows them to keep condo fee increases under control, while balancing their books and still delivering the level of service that residents expect.

These unforeseen COVID-19 side effects are weighing heavily on condo managers, but are being managed. It’s another, seemingly benign issue, that’s creating headaches that are sure to get worse in the years ahead: online shopping (particularly over the holidays) that’s producing a flood of parcel deliveries.

Statistics Canada predicted in November that online spending was poised to break last year’s record $305 billion in e-commerce sales. As a recent CTV News article notes:

“A separate online survey of 600 adults from Google Canada in late October also suggested that 70 per cent of respondents were looking online, not in-store, for holiday gifts.”

Many of those packages are ending up in condominium lobbies—and many condos are ill- or completely un-equipped to cope with this influx of items. It’s not an overstatement to say that in some buildings, lobbies are turning into de facto mini-warehouses due to the sheer volume of packages being delivered. Some property managers are grappling with whether (or how) to disinfect items that enter their premises due to potential coronavirus transmission risks.

Merely accepting and storing the parcels is challenging enough, but who catalogues them? How are they secured to ensure they aren’t stolen by a resident or thief who manages to access the lobby? How are they released or distributed to residents? Is that the job of your security team? These are just a few of the pressing questions weighing on condo managers right now.

As the COVID-19 crisis carries on and retail restrictions remain in place, Canadians are going to continue that great e-retail migration. In other words, the problem won’t simply disappear as the coronavirus eventually subsides. Property managers will need to adapt further as online shopping gains added momentum in the years ahead.

That could mean making capital investments in dedicated parcel storage rooms or lobby lockers, if those spaces or amenities don’t already exist. When many buildings were constructed, there was no thought put to online shopping—e-commerce was the stuff of science fiction only a few decades ago, after all. That could necessitate collaboration between managers and their condo boards to allocate the necessary funds to build out secure storage spaces that can be locked and monitored. Another alternative that many condos have explored is working with companies such as ParcelPort, which provides outdoor (sometimes temperature-controlled) lockers to receive and store parcels. When a delivery is made, a notification goes out via text or email to the resident reminding them to pick up their item.

There are many options, but property managers need to carefully consider several other factors to ensure that this year’s flood of holiday parcels doesn’t create an unnecessary burden for them or their teams:

What level of service will you provide?—Many condominiums, particularly those that offer luxury amenities, will need to determine whether they’ll embrace full white-glove concierge parcel-management service if they haven’t already, or opt for a self-serve parcel pick-up model. For example, will building concierge or security staff deliver packages to a resident’s door? Or simply manage packages by minding them at the lobby desk? How does that level of service reflect on the condo’s brand and ability to attract/retain buyers or tenants? An enhanced concierge experience could be a resident-friendly value proposition, albeit a pricey one.

Is your security team up to the task?—Wincon guards are trained with customer service—and the finer points of delivering a true concierge experience—in mind, but not all security firms provide that same level of training. In-house security staff, may not have that expertise either. Assess the situation to determine whether your guards are trained to accept, catalogue, manage and distribute parcels—and if not, be prepared to offer that important training.

What about food?—Parcels are one thing, but with restaurants closed in many areas, an increasing number of residents are using meal delivery services. Residents want their dishes hot and ready to eat without delay. Do you have processes in place to maintain building security, while also ensuring residents receive their meals in a timely fashion, all so their foodie-friendly expectations are met?

Who accepts liability?—The issue of lost or stolen parcels creates significant risk for condominium property managers. They can face costly liability if they accept packages that don’t make it to their rightful buyers. If those happen to be items such as fancy jewellery or expensive electronics, for example, the problem of lost or stolen goods could get very expensive very quickly. This means that, in effect, building security teams will now be required to develop and implement what amounts to loss-prevention strategies, or potentially ask residents to sign waivers that shield property management from liability. Carrying extra liability insurance may also be necessary. Work with your lawyer to design and implement a strategy that’s customized to the needs of the property and its residents.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

Walk into most of Toronto’s new mid-tier or luxury condos and you’ll almost certainly be greeted at the security desk by the smile of a friendly concierge, who’s likely to offer a ‘hello,’ and ask who you’re visiting if you’re a non-resident.

There are times, however, when their attention is diverted and not focused on who’s entering and exiting the building. Sometimes a concierge is tied up with other matters, such as managing package deliveries or discussing property-management concerns with residents. Sometimes a focus on service comes at the cost of maintaining adequate and active monitoring of the building’s security.

At a time when hundreds of new condominiums have sprung up across the Greater Toronto Area with no signs of a slowdown in new development, effective security and concierge services are a must-have for any well-managed building. In many cases, 24-hour coverage is one of many tried-and-true sales propositions in a builder’s marketing toolkit—a veritable purchase prerequisite, if you will. Concierges are the face of the building, tend to emergencies relating to matters such as building maintenance issues, and provide security coverage. They’re now considered a standard building amenity.

Indeed, home buyers have come to expect round-the-clock protection for their condo, not to mention hotel-style concierge services to assist time-pressed residents with everything from package deliveries to greeting guests.

Complex security needs

As one of the GTA’s leading providers of condominium security services, we deliver protection to some of the largest complexes in the area. During our client onboarding process, we assess a condo property’s security vulnerabilities and needs, then make recommendations for security coverage based on our evaluation. It’s a detailed, multi-step process that’s designed to provide condo property management firms and residents with the protection they need.

The way condos are being built today, with larger towers, more suites and several buildings that share one common area, it becomes increasingly difficult for one security guard to look after what are essentially large, vertical communities. Having buildings that have upwards of 300 to 400 suites each, also means that security personnel are required to respond to significant numbers of calls directly to residential suites. This leaves the main access points unprotected for extended periods.

That sometimes leads to the recognition that multiple security guards need to be simultaneously deployed at a property to help maintain the delicate balance between meeting the building’s security needs and catering to residents’ service expectations. Why? Because cutting corners on security inevitably results in gaps and shortcomings, particularly in luxury condos where residents tend to place a greater emphasis on the role of security guard as concierge than property defender.

Understaffed security desks

What we’re finding, however, is that some security providers will offer the lowest price point possible to secure a contract with a minimal staffing commitment—typically, only a single security guard at a time, when two may be necessary. In some cases that lone guard will become overwhelmed with the concierge-related demands on his or her time. Security considerations can easily fall by the wayside.

Of course, property managers and residents don’t need to choose between security and service when hiring a security firm. But they do need to allocate the appropriate budget to ensure ample coverage in both areas. For large buildings with more than 250 residents, it’s reasonable to budget enough to pay for two guards on duty at all times. They might alternate between managing tenant requests and keeping an eye on security cameras or patrolling the property, switching back and forth as necessary. The crucial aspect of balancing service and security is to ensure that your security team isn’t overwhelmed and has the time to adequately address both needs.

Failing to provide adequate security staffing can also result in major safety shortcomings in the event of an emergency such as a fire. Properly-trained guards will be able to operate building fire panels and help in executing emergency evacuation procedures. Having those resources on hand can not only help save lives, but will help mitigate the threat of legal liability in the wake of a catastrophic event.

The key point to remember is that balancing security and service in a condo is difficult at the best of times, and nearly impossible when under-staffed. To satisfy tenants and keep them safe, it makes sense to set aside the right budget and have more than one guard at the front desk to provide the level of service that today’s condo owners expect.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security