Capital Chapter Blog

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Where’s My Mail?

Mayra Portalatin, SFP – Immediate Past President Capital Chapter of IFMA 2020-2021
Vice President of Facilities Services at NVE, Inc.

Over the years, the amount of mail coming in and out of our facilities has drastically decreased. There are multiple reasons for that - email communications, including paperless invoicing and delivery of documents, have made it almost an unnecessary service. The sustainability movement also played a big part in this over the years by encouraging organizations to reduce paper usage and going paperless. It can sometimes seem like all we receive in the mail anymore is junk mail and packages, and this reality has created a major debate on the future of the US Postal Service; if you’re keeping up with current events, you will have seen many protests and discussions for or against its closure. But setting politics aside for a minute, let’s focus on the issue at hand, “How are we getting our mail when most occupants are now remote? How are we handling our mail in a time of a pandemic were there’s been so much controversy on the “stay time” of the virus?”

The short answer is, it varies. Those who had been the last hold-outs still using paper had to adapt to the circumstances and begin the process of moving towards electronic delivery of invoicing and accounts payable, as well as HR paperwork and all other methods of documentation and communication. But while this new process is slowly replacing the old, the challenge is to devise methods of getting the mail to the right people in a timely fashion. This involves having a designated individual go through mail a few times a week and scanning important documents (like invoices) to send over to the respective individuals. When packages arrived, employees were notified that a package had been left at their desks for pick-up with instructions on how to schedule a site visit to follow COVID protocols.  

For one small non-profit, this challenge was heightened when the Post Office decided to stop holding mail for businesses. Luckily, in this case there was an interior monitored lobby where the mailman could leave letters and packages in a designated spot with a sign containing the direct contact number for the facility manager so they could be notified that a package had arrived. The property management firm was then tasked to check this area three times a day and to move the mail/packages into the non-profit’s office (just inside the main door). Once they went through their “decontamination” process, important documents were scanned, mail and packages were distributed to the recipient offices, and email notifications went out to alert them to the existence of mail/packages for them to pick up. While this process has been working for small organizations, it is not sustainable for bigger organizations. What are they doing?

I spoke with a larger organization in the public sector that has left it to the individuals to decide when they want to check in on their mail. This particular organization has hundreds of occupants currently working from home. Therefore, scanning mail to send to individuals would be a full-time job in itself and there would be concerns about privacy and confidentiality given the nature of that organization’s work. The only people on site are Security, the O&M Contractor, the Kitchen Contractor, and the Janitorial Contractor, with a few individuals stopping by sporadically to complete tasks that can’t be done remotely. In their case, individuals are only contacted by the mail room when there are packages. All other mail is sorted, and the individual comes on site to gather it at a frequency of their own discretion.

Another large organization, this one in the private sector, has had to make many adjustments to how they distribute mail to their occupants. The biggest challenges have been getting the buy-in from stakeholders throughout the organization to change existing processes. In many cases, not only was the facility handling business mail, but occupants would have personal mail and packages sent to the site for delivery. That practice had to be discontinued given the decrease in on-site mailroom personnel due to COVID. They also had to invest in training the mailroom staff to ensure that mail was delivered to the correct personnel based on urgency and priority; getting the right mail to Accounts Payable and Payroll, for example, has been particularly crucial given the time sensitivity of paychecks and other urgent financial correspondence. The question still remained - once sorted, how do people get their mail? That also still varies by department. In the past, mail was sorted by department (Accounting, HR, Legal, etc.) where departments then distributed to the correct individuals. Now, while it is still sorted by department, the mailroom staff is responsible for scanning mail (especially that of an urgent nature), forwarding it to the correct person, or alerting the Department’s Point of Contact that mail is ready for pick-up. Overall, their goal is to ensure all mail has been distributed by the end of each week.

What about the “disinfection” of mail? All of them have variations of the same general process:

  • Mail/packages moved to a staging area where it can sit undisturbed at least 24 hours, at which time COVID is likely “neutralized” and there’s less risk.
  • A sorter wearing gloves and a mask sorts the mail to identify important documentation or packages that require immediate attention.
  • Packages may sit longer in the staging area and are usually wiped down and moved to an area that is already sanitized.
  • The staging area is sanitized at the end of each sorting cycle (or multiple times throughout the day depending on the volume of mail).

As you can see, how people handle the issue of mail during this pandemic differs not only by size of organization, but also by business sector. Given the nature of facilities, this is not surprising. In FM, there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem. All we can do is learn from each other and adopt what will work for our own individual facilities to ensure we continue to support the mission of our organizations through the physical space.

What are you doing in your organization? We’d like to here from you! Just log in and comment below.

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