Spaces   //   June 27, 2022

You’ve got mail (but it’s already been read because you’re working from home)

It’s hard to put a number on how many pieces of mail pass through the 50 offices that Michael Cassar manages facilities for at Cushman & Wakefield. He estimates it to be “many, many thousands” daily.

That’s a lot of potential paper cuts for the mailroom staff. (Though the larger offices do use mail opening machines.)

Opening employee mail started two years ago. In pre-pandemic days, it was sorted and delivered to a central location on each office floor or to desks. When the pandemic hit, Cassar and many of his operations manager counterparts were forced to change the process to opening, scanning and emailing pictures of the mail to employees. After all, bills still needed to be paid, checks cashed and documents signed. (Yes, snail mail is still frequently used for business transactions, particularly sensitive ones.)

It’s part of the evolution of the corporate mailroom, a result of the massive employee diaspora that no longer goes to the office five days a week. As a result, mailrooms, which were historically cavernous rooms where trollies of envelopes and packages rolled in and out throughout the day and were managed with log books or excel spreadsheets, have been downsized and digitized.

“I would jokingly say we didn’t see any changes because of the pandemic but the truth is, the world got turned upside down in the mail center,” said Mark Loveridge, senior director of workplace experience at CBRE Host, a unit within the real estate and investment firm.

Now that employees are returning on a hybrid basis, there’s a new challenge: How to arrange pickup or delivery of a package.

“There’s a lot more uncertainty about who is in when and where are they sitting,” Alex Haefner, head of product at the workplace technology firm Envoy, told WorkLife.

Some employers have adopted software systems that sync employees’ in-office schedules with package delivery. Others installed smart lockers to leave packages in a safe — and out of the way — storage location so employees can pick them up when they’re on site.

Envoy’s workplace platform allows mailroom staff to scan a package’s label, recognize the employee’s name, then emails or Slacks the person to schedule pickup or delivery.

Hiring for the modern mailroom

All of this has impacted hiring.

“It changes how you hire going forward,” Cassar, national operations manager at commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, told WorkLife. “Now we’re hiring people who can put together well-written emails, scan and quality check scans.”

It’s a similar scenario at CBRE.

“It’s less about only doing the mail and more about how people can be more cross-functional,” Loveridge said. “We’re expanding out from just being mail services to being more of an office service or a support service for other areas within the business.”

That includes checking on copies and printers to make sure they’re working properly and calling a service person when repairs are needed. They’re also ordering supplies and reporting maintenance requests like a light bulb replacement or tears in the carpet. CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield offer upskilling learning opportunities to train mailroom staff in the new ways of doing business. 

“We train our people to be the eyes and ears on the ground,” Loveridge said. “I call it the find-it-first mentality. We’re looking for people that want to grow with the company.”

Personal package pile-up

Employees have long had personal packages delivered to their office so they don’t sit unguarded on a porch. When workers were told to stay home in March 2020, packages that weren’t rerouted piled up at offices.

Loveridge manages a California-based tech company that received so many packages at the start of the pandemic — many of which were likely personal — that they started putting them in semi-truck trailers in the parking lot.

“When we hit our eleventh 52-foot trailer that was stacked from floor to ceiling with packages we knew we couldn’t keep doing this,” Loveridge said. “We ended up with over 70,000 packages being held at one point. We became a logistics and a warehouse area, and had to be able to store and find those items in a timely manner.”

Some workplaces now strictly forbid personal items from being delivered, while others are using it as an employee perk. And there just might be an added benefit for the employer. “We are seeing more and more companies using personal package delivery as a benefit,” Envoy’s Haefner said. “From the employer’s perspective, it means they’re going to come into the office.”

3 Questions with Beth Monaghan, founder and CEO of the Boston-based PR firm

Why do so many companies get layoffs wrong?

Regardless of the size of the company, layoffs are sensitive and difficult and can cause ripples throughout the organization that outlast the initial waves. But by focusing on the three “Cs” — communications, core values and company culture — companies can
soften the impact on both the employees leaving and staying.

How can the process be managed better from the start?

Companies need to implement a humane and responsive communications strategy, and this starts by making sure that HR and comms leaders are aligned on all messaging and timelines associated with the layoffs. This ensures that there are no mixed signals. The
more condensed the layoffs can be (don’t conduct them in multiple batches) and the more fine-tuned the messaging, the gentler the news will be. Companies also can’t forget about their remaining employees, who likely have a lot of questions about their own job security and futures. The hard work of reassuring employees, rebuilding culture and setting a refined vision for what the future looks like starts as soon as the layoff happens.

Your advice for managing any fallout once word hits the streets?

While news of layoffs is often reflected externally, it starts within. Employees should always be the number one audience, especially when planning for a workforce reduction. Although companies don’t have to announce these changes publicly, it’s a smart idea to proactively prepare a public statement and make adjustments to social media calendars. Overall, companies should lean into their core values during layoffs. While layoffs never go “well,” humanity, kindness, empathy and intuition go a long way. – Tony case.

By the numbers

  • Mental Health is the most streamed podcast genre on Spotify among Gen Z, with a 62% increase in streams in 2022 vs 2021.
    [Source of data: Spotify report.]
  • Nearly 1 in 3 of the 1,006 UK-based workers polled in May said they are working more hours or extra shifts because of rising living costs over the last few months, and 1 in 8 have taken on an additional job.
    [Source of data: CIPHR report.]
  • Hawaii is the least affordable U.S. state with the national average wage being a whopping 20% less than the average cost of living. Virginia is the most affordable state with the national average wage 49.6% higher than the average cost of living. 
    [Source of data: Lensa study.]

What else we’ve covered

  • To help younger workers who haven’t had much experience in an office yet, companies are starting Early Career Development ERGs.
  • Side-hustle culture increased over the last two years, and now the rise of the four-day week trend is fuelling that further.
  • The real culture of a company is revealed in the way it lets go of its people. So why do companies continue to bungle how they manage layoffs?
  • Some companies are letting employees work abroad for as long as two months, as part of their hybrid strategies.
  • Worldwide, 44% of workers reported feeling stressed in their jobs on a daily basis, and 1 in 5 said they were miserable. Here are some ways to help combat fatigue.
  • To remain competitive in the job market, companies are working to make fertility benefits available to more of their people, including LGBTQ+ employees.
  • Airbnb, Visa and Bloomberg are offering virtual tutoring to employees’ kids to make up for pandemic school closures.

What we’re reading

  • The Washington Post is having to crack the whip to get staff back into the office for a minimum three days per week [Fox News.]
  • How a recession could weaken the work-from-home revolution [The Atlantic.]
  • Yelp to close three U.S. offices, on grounds that the future is remote [CBS News.]