Most people don’t give any thought to locker management systems, but most people have used a locker to store their possessions. This may have been one lined with posters and crammed with textbooks in secondary school. It may have been a temporary locker at the gym or in a secure government facility. It may even have been at work. Because organisations today are looking for flexible, intuitive and intelligent solutions to meet the growing demand for safe storage in new hybrid working environments.
Popular media features anecdotes of kids being stuffed into lockers by bullies. But that doesn’t undermine the important part lockers play in allowing people to work, exercise, travel, study, and do any number of other activities, confident that their personal items (and, to an increasing extent, their personal information) are secure. Lockers also play a valuable role in business today by enabling controlled access to corporate assets or documents. Or by providing a secure, convenient option for dropping off or picking up a wide variety of items.
In this guide, we look at the different types of lockers available today before moving on to locker management. We give an overview of the basics and benefits, plus how to choose the best system for you and what the future looks like for locker management.
1. A brief history
Before we focus on lockers today, let’s take a quick look at where they began. Lockers, as we think of them, were pioneered by Linus Yale. In 1850, he decided that traditional locks with keyholes had too many vulnerabilities that made them susceptible to thieves. So, he invented a dial-and-shift system in his locks, which formed the basis for the combination locks many of us grew up using. His Yale Lock Manufacturing Company still exists today – you may have seen its logo on padlocks.
2. Different types of lockers available today
There are so many locker options available now. And most don’t require you to bring your own padlock. Modern locks – the ones we’re discussing here – are standardised across every locker bank within an institution (such as a fitness centre or school.) Here are the main ones you’re likely to see:
a. Traditional lockers:
These rely on basic, non-electronic components such as gears, nuts, bolts, keys and tumblers. (If you went to high school anytime between 1980 and 2010, you’re probably familiar with these.)
i. Key locks: Each locker has its own key. It’s issued to the person using the locker and must be returned when they’ve finished using it. If someone forgets to return the key, or the lock breaks, it puts that locker out of commission for a while. The barrels of these locks are cheaply made, so they’re easy to break into for a thief with no technical know-how but a bit of determination.
ii. Combination locks: With these, the user needs to remember a combination of numbers (often one they’ve set themselves) and then turn the tumblers to the right place to get into the locker. They do have a master keyhole in case a user forgets the combination. But a major pitfall is that someone can watch the authorised user set the combination, and then unlock it themselves once they’ve left.
iii. Padlocks: These are the locks where a hunk of metal hangs from the latch it’s holding closed. While their sheer heft gives the illusion of security, padlocks have many of the same problems as key locks (because you need a key to open them). And, if they break, they can only be removed with bolt cutters – not something everyone has around.
iv. Coin-operated lockers: The user puts a coin into the slot, which releases the key. They can then lock their stuff up and leave with the key. These locks share many of the same problems as other key-dependent locks. And there’s also the issue that many people don’t carry loose change anymore.
b. Smart lockers:
These are IoT-enabled lockers that operate electronically and are connected to a central management system. Often, they’re integrated with a building’s other systems, such as security or access control. They’re the lockers of the future; we’ll discuss why later.
i. Digital lockers: Digital locks fall under the umbrella of smart locks, in that they operate on a digital system, and they’re becoming increasingly popular. Users enter an alphanumeric PIN (assigned remotely, via a digital locker management system) or even scan a QR code to lock and unlock the locker. This eliminates keys, padlocks, manual tumblers, and any other clunky, yet vulnerable devices.
Battery operated or wired? Battery-operated digital locks are cheap and effective, but you need to change the batteries and they don’t log or alert you to real-time events.
ii. RFID/smartcard lockers: These are another example of smart locks. They’re operated via key fob or by waving a smart access card past a reader. And they’re popular in places like college campuses, where everyone’s already using a smartcard to gain access to buildings and rooms. They need to be integrated with an existing access control system. But are incredibly efficient for those with such a system in place, especially when combined with mobile credentials.
3. The basics of locker management
We’ve said that smart lockers are connected digitally to a central management system. But who’s controlling this command hub? And why? What are the benefits?
We’ll clarify all of that in this section.
a. How does locker management work?
Locker management systems leverage the IoT capability of smart lockers to provide a range of convenient functions. In these systems, an organisation’s lockers are all on the same network, managed remotely and connected to a central hub. This allows both the organisation and locker users an incredible amount of reliability and efficiency:
i. Managers can control who uses the lockers and how. They can designate lockers for different purposes; limit and permit access to lockers for different people at different times; set and automatically update credentials to enable and deny access; and override access rights when someone gets locked out.
ii. Users don’t have to carry a heavy padlock or worry about losing a key. In this kind of dynamic system, they don’t have a permanent locker – they can choose from any of the available lockers in whichever locker bank is most convenient for them on that day. In some cases, they can open their locker using the same swipe card they used to access the building. And, once they’ve locked up, they can feel confident their belongings are well secured.
b. Why do you need a locker management system?
Hybrid working arrangements have become increasingly common since the pandemic, and mean that a constantly changing cast of people are on site at many businesses. To support hybrid working, many businesses have traded traditional personal offices for reservation systems that allow people to book a room or desk (and sometimes equipment) for the time they plan to be at the office.
It’s understandable that people working in a hybrid situation, who are only on site sporadically, may feel uncomfortable leaving their personal belongings in the corner of an office that’s no longer uniquely theirs. And companies with sensitive security needs may require employees to lock up their mobile phones, or other personal belongings, before beginning work. Which requires a secure, dedicated storage space, rather than a desk drawer in a random shared office. In fact, it’s now standard procedure at many companies to lock up your belongings in the same way you lock your screen when leaving your desk.
Another consideration is that employees may need to accept deliveries of important documents or assets. Leaving these items on the recipient’s desk or with their secretary isn’t a secure (or often even available) option. Especially in a shared office. What’s needed are dedicated asset management or parcel lockers. If only vetted users are able to access these, it’s a far safer way to make sure the correct recipients – and only the correct recipients – can gain access to items wating to be collected.
c. Who can use a locker management system?
We’re used to seeing lockers in fitness centres and schools. But a locker management system can benefit any organisation that needs to provide reliable storage for employees’ personal belongings, such as hospitals or police stations. It can also support workplaces that rely on secure storage for important documents or other assets, such as proprietary tech companies, courthouses, or other government agencies. A locker management system is key in supporting transient workplaces too, where different people are on the premises every day. And, in enabling dynamic locker use, can save valuable square metres in office space.
Next, we’ll look at some of the benefits of these systems and how they can add convenience, efficiency and security in a host of ways that might not be obvious – but are nonetheless game changing.
4. Benefits of using locker management systems
There are so many far-reaching benefits of a good locker management solution, but let’s stick with our top ten:
a. Physical and digital security
The primary benefit of a locker management system is you can manage all components via one central system. This gives complete control over locker permissions and credentials, so you can regulate who can access which lockers, at what time and for how long. Gone are inconvenient and vulnerable keys, padlocks or combination locks. As smart lockers are completely digital, they give an unprecedented level of control over the security of storage spaces.
Having this level of digital and physical security takes lockers to a different level of capability. They’re no longer just a place to stash your gym clothes – they’re somewhere you can safely store important or valuable belongings, assets and documents, allaying a host of concerns about security vulnerabilities.
b. Operational efficiency
One of the biggest problems with traditional lockers is the lack of efficiency they create. Keys are constantly broken or lost, combinations are forgotten and low-quality locks become sticky, broken or otherwise unusable. All of which can put the locker itself out of use. And means that managing lockers can be cumbersome and downright impossible to scale, especially when managing thousands of keys.
Smart lockers can integrate with systems already in place, such as RFID access cards or QR codes delivered by smartphone. This makes for a smooth workflow for those managing lockers and eliminates the problems outlined above with traditional lockers.
Smart lockers are a sustainable solution, allowing you to do more with less. As you can use smart lockers dynamically, you no longer need to provide permanent personal lockers. Which means you need fewer lockers in total and so less floor space; you can install a minimal number of lockers, where they’re needed, and no more. With hybrid work environments becoming the norm, people can use the same locker at different times of the day without ever interacting.
d. Productivity and time-saving
Gone are the days of wasting time searching for an available locker at the start of your shift or before a meeting. People can reserve a smart locker remotely, in advance, in the location closest to wherever they need to be. And, if lockers are being used to store assets or documents, those authorised to handle them can collect them or drop them off at their convenience, without compromising on security.
Locker management systems also prevent lockers being out of use and time being wasted if someone loses a key or forgets to remove their lock. The only unavailable lockers are the ones actively in use.
In these ways, a locker management system allows for quick access, optimal use, and a smooth process for managing lockers and safeguarding assets or belongings.
e. Compliance and audit trail
Data privacy laws are posing challenges for many businesses today. Locker management systems can help mitigate these difficulties by working on a secure, fully encrypted system and meeting compliance around data protection. They also provide clear audit trails for any investigation. Digital tracking replaces and far surpasses unreliable handwritten logs that can be error-prone, lost or incomplete. The result is greater security, alongside more and better data analytics, which enables smoother operations across the board.
f. Real-time data
As well as generating usable audit trails, digital locker management systems also provide actionable insights on who’s used lockers, and when, which can be used to improve user experience. This data is kept secure, in compliance with all data privacy laws. And it can inform relevant stakeholders, such as system managers and teams from IT, security and HQ, about usage patterns and trends. This can then inform decision making about how space is used in the future.
g. Secure parcel and asset management
If you want to give specific people access to proprietary assets, or equipment that’s expensive or in limited supply, locker management can be useful. Authorised users can schedule the use of these items in advance, and there’s no question as to who had them last or when they were taken and returned. The risk of theft, unauthorised use and loss are also considerably reduced when asset access is managed through a digital system.
h. Cost efficiency and commercial value
There are significant savings associated with managed locker systems. The most obvious is through optimising usage: you need fewer lockers and less floor space with a managed system because more people can use the same locker at different points throughout the day. But smart lockers can also save costs on parts, as keys and locks don’t need constant replacing. And the energy costs are reduced compared to battery-operated lockers. There’s also reduced staffing costs because you don’t need to rely on having someone available with an override code, master key or pair of bolt cutters for emergencies. You can either have fewer staff per shift or free up team members to work on other tasks.
i. Ease of management
Smart lockers not only eliminate the need to have someone on hand to handle user errors – they solve a host of management problems that traditional lockers create. With smart lockers, you don’t logs to sign out keys or manually record who’s using which locker or where an item’s been stored. And if there’s a change, such as an employee leaving, there’s no need to reset or re-key a locker. Everything is managed remotely through a digital system, and access is activated, deactivated and reassigned as needed.
j. Contactless experience
Even as the pandemic winds down, many people are still wary of unnecessary, prolonged contact with strangers. As smart lockers can be assigned or booked in advance, they can be managed in a completely contactless way. And they minimise the number of people standing around at locker banks trying to figure out which locker to use. Which helps to ensure a smooth, seamless workflow, as well as mitigating risks from crowding in enclosed areas.
5. How to choose the best locker management solution
As with most enterprise solutions, there is no one-size-fits-all model for locker management systems. Smart lockers have to work for you, your people, and other stakeholders in your organisation. So it’s important to consider which solution will best improve workflow and productivity, and ultimately provide a better experience for users.
Here are some suggestions for finding your best fit:
a. Think about your users
When considering a locker management system, there are some key questions to ask in relation to the people using the lockers:
- Who will be using the lockers and what do they need from them?
- Will they predominantly be working in a hybrid environment, where they come into the office sporadically, or will they mainly be on site?
- Will people be working standard office hours or will they need access to lockers earlier or later (in hospitals, for example, there may be three shifts a day)?
- Will visitors or contractors need to use these lockers?
- Will documents or assets be stored in these lockers for drop-off or pick-up (shared lockers for teams, for example), and how often will they be used in this way?
These questions will help to answer how many lockers you need, where they should be located, and what type of system you need for optimal operation.
b. Assess your accessibility needs
When considering accessibility, it’s important to think about the needs of all users, including those using a wheelchair. A locker management system should create an inclusive space that allows the broadest number of people possible to benefit from the lockers. That may involve placing lockers at different heights, reserving access to some lockers for users with specific needs, or providing access ramps to locker banks. This is important from the perspective of retaining talent, and also to simply be a good human and create a system that doesn’t leave anyone out.
c. Design the right system
Your locker management system should be designed to meet your specific requirements, fitting the various needs of your organisation and users – and doing so within budget. To arrive at the right design, you could consult a panel of employees or other stakeholders, and ask for their personal wish lists. You could visit other businesses for inspiration. And you could partner with a locker management service provider to get help designing a system that hits all your wants while adhering to considerations regarding space, cost, usability, security and aesthetics.
d. Test solutions with small focus groups
Sometimes, lots of input and opinion isn’t a good thing – as the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. Which is why it’s a good idea to consult with small groups of representative people to figure out what’s best for your organisation. Potential users can, for example, use 3D imaging tools to review and validate a variety of locker bank layouts or management systems that could work for you organisation. Taking the pulse via focus groups in this way is an important step before beginning construction.
e. Convince internal stakeholders
Choosing and designing a locker management system are major decisions that involve and affect a variety of stakeholders, including:
- Senior management
A digital locker management system has critical implications for the daily workflow of both security and IT, for example. And employees are the ones using the lockers. While HR is the team managing records of each employee’s role, department, shifts and more – which could all influence which lockers an employee can use and how.
Whichever stakeholders are involved, they’re more likely to get on board with a new locker management system if they’re consulted during the process of choosing and designing it.
6. The future of work(place) and locker management systems
As more companies embrace hybrid workspaces and transient people-flow, locker management systems will become integral for storing personal items safely and allowing secure delivery of assets and documents.
Digital locker management systems save time and paperwork and eliminate problems with keys, dysfunctional locks and cumbersome logbooks. They enhance security, provide robust user data and reduce both energy and administrative costs. Plus, employees like them – they’re convenient, enable aesthetically pleasing lockers and improve workflow tremendously.
As all-digital solutions become the norm for businesses, expect to see digital locker management systems becoming essential investments for forward-thinking companies. Users may not plaster their lockers with posters of 1990s movie stars – or maybe they will (we won’t judge…), but they’ll be more reliant than ever on smart lockers for security, privacy, convenience and peace of mind.