A question - When the coronavirus pandemic was a mere health issue contained to China; how was the cleaning industry in the UK viewed?

For some, cleaning was an important service and an absolute necessity to business and education functionality.

It is likely in the main however, ‘clean’ was a term linked to making a space look presentable but also something that businesses were often reluctant to pay for and didn’t see true value in.

Fast forward 12 months and after one of the most turbulent years that many of us would have experienced; cleaning, hygiene and sanitisation standards are now and continue to be a board level discussion point.

The once commonly commoditised cleaning offer is now replaced by a high-end, sanitisation standard that is not only designed to present a space in a clean manner but can be truly lifesaving.

Indeed, it’s not beyond the realms of thought that without highly skilled cleaning teams working in highly critical environments, many many more lives may have been lost.

This most morbid of thoughts is only the tip of the iceberg.

Over time but specifically during the last 12 months the industry has innovated, has committed to challenging the norm in a manner that has not been seen previously and has shared best practice to ensure that workspace users and the public are safe.

Combined with a heightened level of personal responsibility, the cleaning industry has and continues to deliver.

So, what has been learnt and what is the takeaway in how the last 12-months have truly changed the cleaning industry?

Never have the abilities and proactivity of a management team been tested like it has been during the pandemic.

The ability of managers to stand up and be counted, to make decisions on the fly, to develop cleaners and to motivate them to come into work in the most unsafe of times has saved lives and protected client’s P&L’s.

It’s by combining service excellence with commercial astuteness that clients have truly received the best of both worlds.

And then it’s about delivering. Cleaners are skilled, key workers. Of this there is no doubt.

It’s their knowledge, diligence, commitment to excellence and desire to perform at a consistently high standard that has truly protected the users of the many unique spaces that we have across the UK. It’s been the focus on exceptional hygiene standards that has delivered the results clients and individuals demand, especially in times of real need such as site based, Covid outbreaks.
The training and development of these highly skilled operators has also had to adapt rapidly in a world where being able to deliver face to face improvement has been consistently hampered.

From the outset of the pandemic, the speed in which training has been delivered has been staggering. Cleaners have had to learn all new cleaning techniques and use unique equipment to deliver safe spaces. Combined with a lot more ‘on the job learning’, cleaning teams have reacted to ensure that all spaces have been safe and usable, when required.

The willingness of cleaners to consistently go above and beyond their call of duty has left us all with a sense of humility and envy. We now need to ensure their welfare is also at the forefront of the industry’s approach forever more.

Cleaners have and should be worried about becoming another pandemic statistic. They are at risk and yet they attend their workplace regardless.

As an industry, instead of trying to see how low we can pay cleaners, maybe we should pay them their worth and support their mental health as a matter of course? Surely that is the minimum reward cleaners should receive for all their efforts over the last 12 months. Indeed, the recently formed All-Party Parliamentary Group should add a substantial amount of weight to this argument.

In taking this approach we will engender the correct behaviours from clients, contractors, and the staff themselves. This approach will improve loyalty and motivation, with a higher quality output the result. This reality is only going to benefit the whole industry and continually create environments that are befit of their users.

Care and customer service considerations have also rocketed. Providing focused customer services has been something that clients and contractors alike have deliberated and tried to get a feel for, for years.

The pandemic has refined this approach. It’s been imperative to communicate. To be proactive and to ensure that both client and contractor are provided with knowledge to make informed decisions. This must be the norm moving forward.

Management information systems are available to support but how many management teams have ever truly used them to develop a customer service approach that goes beyond auditing? Surely, it’s a necessity that customer service should sit at the heart of contractual relationship and not merely KPI’s?

Time and Attendance has come into its own during the pandemic. There has always been the necessity to understand exactly who has entered a site. This should not have ever been paid lip service too. Maybe it was, however.

Over the last 12 months, this risk hasn’t been acceptable.

Being able to share data, in real time, if a cleaner enters a site and subsequently tests positive to Covid has been imperative.

Knowing the exact time and date when that cleaner was on site, where they were located on site and who they may have encountered, has supported the Government’s drive to minimise interactions and provided client’s with knowledge of potential outbreaks before they may have grown out of hand.

Commercially it’s been a huge benefit too. Where budgets have been analysed to ensure best value, the support a robust T&A system can provide is second to no amount of guessing. Real time verification of hours and payment in line with the time delivered has ensured accurate charging and protected budgets.

Furlough has certainly provided a turbo charge to many industries. In being able to implement staff changes in a swift and direct manner has been a great help. Aside for anything else it’s provided both sides with the ability to manage costs and financial pressures a lot better than without. It’s protected many jobs too. The Government must be thanked for that.

The ability to flex will now never change. It’s going to be the basis for all contracts, maybe forever more. Indeed, maybe the industry shouldn’t fear not signing up to multi year contracts on a fixed price.

It cannot be that challenging to develop contractual mechanisms that properly reward cleaners and management team’s excellence, that are based on accurate and real time data and achieve that ‘partnership’ we all love to talk about.

Being transparent and proactive on both sides of the cleaning model is going to be critical. It’s the desire for both parties to work together, to deliver an exceptional regime with a flexible cost basis that will now provide excellence.

The importance of effective hygiene control, active sanitisation, reacting to any requirement and being visible has now become the norm. Cleaning teams have been equipped with all manner of innovative products and equipment to help fulfil this requirement.

Combined with improved working practices and bespoke training on new cleaning techniques cleaning is now most certainly a requirement for the future that is focussed on dealing in heightened controls and not on making sites look ‘pretty’. This is how it probably should have been all along.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, the off the shelf solution and commercial model was the basis of client engagement. Delivery productivities, driven by institutes, with a race to the bottom approach didn’t really put the client, their requirements or stakeholder needs at the centre of the solution.

It is imperative that we do not slip back into this world. It must be the industry’s commitment to ensuring that corners are no longer cut and that a lifesaving service is the norm that will underpin excellence into the future.

Due to the pandemic, cleaning is firmly on the map, gaining the attention and appreciation that the industry deserves. It’s now imperative that the industry, collectively, makes sure it stays there.

- Caroline Hutchins, Operations Director