We’re seven months into the pandemic life, and it’s difficult not to speculate about how our lives may be permanently altered. Even if COVID-19 were to disappear or become fully manageable via vaccine or other methods, what practices, products and philosophies are we likely to carry forward? It’s certainly a loaded question, so perhaps it’s easier to start with what we’ll quickly jettison. Isolation, I imagine, is at the top of most people’s lists. Humans are wired to be social creatures, including we Gen-X introverts who have been training for this moment by telecommuting for most of the last 15 years. It’s impractical to envision life without basic in-person contact and interaction.
If that’s a given, then how do we manage in-person situations going forward? What are our responsibilities to each other as friends, family, neighbors and co-workers? How do businesses, including self-storage operators, manage workplaces for staff and customers? In my career, workload has only increased. The pressure to produce brings people into the office, even when they’re ill and should stay at home. The grind of work wears on people physically and mentally, and then we ramp it up further with our children’s schedules and family obligations.
As part of our new normal—whatever that winds up looking like—I believe more workers will use sick time or choose to work from home when they’re ill (with their company’s blessing). I also think we’ll see more people opt to wear face coverings in public when they aren’t feeling well or simply as a protective measure when they’re out and about. Businesses, though, will shoulder some burden to provide as sanitary an environment as possible.
Self-storage operators have already proven that contact-free services work just fine. Sure, there are times when customers will need to see a facility manager face to face, but a balanced approach to business function makes sense going forward. When in-person interaction is warranted, customers will want to feel reasonably assured that the places they do business with are taking necessary steps to ensure their safety.
I don’t believe Plexiglas partitions will be as prevalent as they are now, though you’re likely to see them continue in some retail and service environments. To me, the big barriers moving forward are maintaining sanitized high-touch surfaces and managing air circulation. Just as storage operators and other businesses have adapted to dealing with this health crisis, there are likely to be some long-term adjustments that will have to be made.
Necessity breeds innovation, and vendors are already at work on these fronts. Ventilation-system improvements that prevent the spread of contagions will have cross-industry appeal, from restaurants to movie theaters to arenas to multi-story self-storage facilities. System replacements are likely to be cost prohibitive, so products that can be used effectively with current configurations will garner attention. For example, TechMed Corp. in India has launched SplitUV, an ultraviolet product designed to work with existing split air-conditioning units that the company claims disinfects air from viruses (including COVID-19), bacteria, fungus and molds.
Another India-based company, Invento Robotics, is manufacturing a disinfecting, semi-autonomous robot called C-Astra that uses six ultraviolet lamps to supposedly kill 99 percent of viruses, including COVID-19, on surfaces. The company says C-Astra is being used in some hospitals but is also marketing it for office, retail and public-space applications. I can’t vouch for the validity of either product, but these are the types of solutions we’re bound to see more of in the coming weeks and months.
Even before the pandemic, self-storage was quickening its embrace of new technologies and services that emphasized enhancements to the customer experience. Last week, we highlighted four of these topics as part of the ISS Virtual Event 2020. If you missed the program or would like to revisit portions of the education sessions, they’re now available for purchase in the ISS Store in DVD and on-demand formats. A special package of the CX and Innovation seminars includes:
- Optimizing the Elements of the Online Storage-Rental Experience
- Clinch the Deal: 7 Steps to Superior Self-Storage Sales
- Join the Jetset: Smart Technologies for Innovative Self-Storage Operation
- Tech Evolution: Exploring the Self-Storage Virtual-Management Model
As we brace ourselves for whatever the new normal might be, innovation and maintaining a superior customer experience will remain at the forefront of self-storage operation. Businesses that actively work to preserve the health and safety of staff and tenants may have an advantage over competitors and, thus, should stay strongly motivated moving forward.