Mailroom is a good first step

September 21, 2018

Those of you who were on campus early last year may remember the horrors of a mailroom unprepared for the most predictable rush of the year. With the notifications system down, students were forced to visit periodically to check whether packages had arrived. I personally remember my first two trips to that pit, each of which involved waiting at least a half-hour to be told there was nothing waiting for me. I naively believed this, despite Amazon telling me the college supplies I had forgotten to pack had been delivered at least a week earlier, reasoning that the beginning of the year rush must bring delayed processing.

I made my third visit on a Saturday, a decision I came to regret after another 30 minute wait in the never-ending line. I don’t remember exactly how long I waited, but I do remember seeing a Hoot article pointing out that students were facing wait times up to 90 minutes. Once I managed to make it to the counter, I was mercifully handed two large boxes to wrestle back to my room. As I completed the sign-out process, I was told by an employee ignorant of my previous trips that the packages had been sitting in the mailroom for both of those visits. I was admonished and told to come more quickly in the future.

The mail experience did marginally improve after the beginning of the year, once the initial rush died down and the mailroom started sending email notifications of packages received to first-years. Despite this, the experience of receiving shipped items remained painful and depressing.

The mailroom’s old practice of checking people in by manually collecting batches of IDs trapped bunches of students in the room at a time, waiting for other students’ mail to be found but unable to leave without their ID. A lack of any line organization exacerbated this problem, making it difficult to tell who was waiting for packages, who was waiting to hand in their ID and who had just arrived. The atmosphere within the mailroom was uniquely depressing for the Brandeis campus.

Often crammed full of waiting students, all irritated, the mailroom was almost always awkwardly silent. The conversation which did occur was almost uniformly grim, as when a student explained to the staff a missing package contained essential medication. The dim lights, gray walls and poor cell connection contributed to the miserable mood, making a simple trip to pick up supplies often feel like an isolated journey into a crushingly dull, “Office Space”-like dystopia.

Over the course of the year, these problems became routine and I became resigned to spending hours of my life picking up packages delayed far past their arrival date.

Until I came back this year and was greeted by a new mail system. First-year students were incorporated into the notification system immediately. A new, fully automatic software was implemented to make tracking packages and notifying students more efficient.

A kiosk was installed, allowing students to check with a simple ID swipe whether they have packages waiting and to tell the staff whether or not they wished to pick those packages up with the push of a button. Gone was the need to hand over my ID.

Gone were long delays between a package’s arrival as measured by delivery tracking and the arrival as noticed by the mailroom. Gone were the crowds which thronged the counter. Without them, the lights seem a little brighter, the waiting room a little larger. A new plant tops the transformation, showing life can once again flourish in the space.

The improvements can easily go unnoticed but have a significant impact on daily life. Not having to worry about a small logistical problem such as mail makes the busy schedule of a Brandeis student much easier to plan for. The convenience of online shopping has made Amazon one of the largest companies in the world and the newly improved mailroom allows us to take full advantage of this modern technology.

The enhancements are the result of improved planning, increased staff and, most importantly, a switch to Swiss Post Solutions (SPS) as mailroom service provider. This is the second switch of mail manager Brandeis has made in the last five years, the first being a 2014 switch from Canon Inc. That switch left popular employees Bill “The Singing Mailman” Bowen and Nancy Landry, who had a combined 62 years of employment in the Brandeis mailroom, out of a job. Canon Inc. was replaced with Xerox, who held the role for four years before their replacement this year.

This reflects a pattern in many of the Brandeis improvement projects which have taken place recently. The construction of our new dorm, Skyline, is mainly a fix for the remarkably poorly-handled construction of the Castle, which created a toxic and unstable building. The quiet adoption of toothless free speech principles is an attempt to soothe anger over the poorly communicated cancellation of “Buyer Beware.” (By the way, if you hadn’t noticed, the page which used to list draft principles of free expression has been edited to show they were adopted by the university).

The mailroom improvements are a microcosm of Brandeis’ larger efforts to improve student life. The new postal system is an enormous boost to students’ quality of life. It is an inspiring reminder of the university’s ability to solve problems relatively quickly. Yet when thinking about it, one must wonder what life at Brandeis could have been if basic delivery expectations had been met from the start.

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