Bill Morris in Building Operations on October 21, 2021
The current four-year contract between New York City co-op and condo boards and their unionized building staffers – doormen, porters, handymen and others – expires on April 20, 2022. That means that property management companies will soon be girding for a familiar quadrennial headache: preparing for the possibility of a walkout by unionized workers.
That headache hits in several areas, but one of the most vexing – and time-consuming – is developing a system of identifying all building residents so that they can be screened by fill-in doormen and security guards.
“It’s one of the most challenging aspects of the interface between residents and management,” says Jacob Sirotkin, a vice president at Century Management Services. “To ensure that only residents come into the building, we have to develop an ID for them to show to unfamiliar doormen or security guards. Same for their dog walkers and nannies and other hired help. And COVID-19 will make it worse since you don’t want a crowded lobby.”
To deal with the challenge in years past, Century bought a machine that printed out ID cards that were distributed to all buildings, then to individual residents and their employees. But coordinating the effort with thousands of residents was never easy. “It’s tough to get people to read notices and fill out forms,” Sirotkin says. “We wanted to try to figure out an easier way to prepare for a possible strike.”
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Enter a tech entrepreneur from Brooklyn named Josh Gross, who has developed software he calls BuildingQR (Quick Reader), which is capable of producing an ID card in the black-and-white pixels of a QR code on a smartphone, which is similar to a bar code. Gross’s company, BuildingBoard, scored a success last year with software that helped boards conduct virtual annual meetings when the pandemic prevented in-person meetings.
“If there’s a strike next year,” Gross says, “buildings will need to have a system to check IDs. Historically that has meant compiling a huge list of names and printing out thousands of ID cards. I asked myself: ‘Why print all this paper? If we can make the voting process digital, why can’t we make this digital?’”
Sirotkin was sold. “When Josh came up with this concept,” he says, “we decided to hire him based on the prototype.”
Century, which manages about 100 unionized co-ops and condos in New York, is developing a tab on its website that will allow residents to enter their name, address, the name of the building and their management company. They also identify any outside workers who will need to enter the building. They are then assigned an ID number. It’s all embedded in a QR code on their phone, which a doorman can scan with his phone. For low-tech residents, the management company can print out a QR code, and that piece of paper can be scanned by the doorman.
The cost? “It’ll vary depending on volume,” Gross says, “but it’ll be a dollar or two per apartment on average. We’ll send the invoices to the property managers.”
Gross is confident that QR codes have become so ubiquitous that even tech-averse co-op and condo residents will be able to adapt to them. They’re now common in restaurants, he points out, and the pandemic has awakened many people to the upside of technology. He cites the success of his virtual-meeting platform as proof.
“It’s going really well,” he says of BuildingBoard. “Dozens of buildings have signed up, and they say it’s been a lot easier to get a quorum, which is huge. No more reconvening the meeting if you don’t get a quorum. A lot of property managers have told me it has made their job a lot easier.”
He’s hoping to hear similar reactions to BuildingQR if the imminent contract talks between the Realty Advisory Board and Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union break down and building staffers walk off the job.
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