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From low spec to high tech, office cleaning is adapting to a changing workplace


With more people back in offices than at any time since the pandemic, cleanliness remains under the microscope. While some of the more stringent cleaning routines have dissipated gradually in recent months, many changes implemented during the pandemic have remained, and look likely to become a standard part of the office.

“People used to have fairly basic expectations of cleaning such as ‘has my bin been emptied or has the soap been refilled?’,” says Peter Whyte, Divisional Director of Soft Services at JLL company, Integral. “Now, however, enhanced cleaning regimes play a vital role in workforce confidence.”
In a recent survey, 75% of company executives in New York cited office cleaning as the most important factor determining staff’s willingness to return, according to the Cleaning Coalition of America.

Their concerns are valid. After prolonged periods of isolation, people’s resistance to common infections has declined. According to Reckitt Benckiser Professional, 30% of U.S. workers are now more concerned with catching a cold or flu at work than before, and Australia has just had its worst flu season in five years.

So how is cleaning smartening up its act to match the demands of today’s workplace?

No longer a dirty secret

Once the Cinderella of facilities maintenance, janitorial services are moving from a largely after-hours affair to a more 9-to-5 model.

“With health and wellbeing top of mind, employees want the reassurance of seeing high-touch surfaces cleaned throughout the day,” says Whyte.

Not only does this benefit the cleaners by allowing firms to give workers better and longer contracts with less anti-social hours, it also has a positive effect on office hygiene behavior.

“It’s like a kid who’s more likely to put their shoes away when his mother is around,” says Whyte. “Employees become more considerate when they can see the people who’ll be clearing up after them.”

There are sustainability benefits, too. Delivering more cleaning activity during normal working hours means firms avoid having to power up the lights in largely empty buildings.

Smart technology for flexible work

As hybrid working evolves, cleaning is now upping its game by adopting smart technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).

“It’s no longer logical or economical to maintain fixed cleaning regimes, given the way occupancy is fluctuating,” Whyte says.

Paper checklists are rapidly being replaced by data-driven dynamic cleaning powered by sensors, dashboards and dongles that do everything from gauge customer satisfaction sentiment to measuring air quality and identifying desk use. These always-on data points mean cleaning services can be driven by real-time usage, rather than pre-set schedules.

Janitorial staff now concentrate their attention where it adds more value, while recognizing the best times to replenish consumables. And by avoiding wasted effort, it frees up time which can be dedicated to more lengthy periodical cleaning tasks, saving on additional costs.

“The data even helps identify trends that inform future office design, such as if your six-person meeting rooms are most often only occupied by two people,” says Whyte.

And while cleaning robots may once have seemed far-fetched, you may soon be sharing a lift with one, according to Whyte, who’ll be trialling a vacuum bot able to use elevators to travel between different floors. JLL’s Future of Work Survey found that 51% of organizations plan to start using industrial robots for cleaning, maintenance or security by 2025, as they become ever more sophisticated thanks to AI.

Higher standards

A drive towards recognized training and accreditations is another result of shifting attitudes. Organizations such as the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) and ISSA are aiming to ensure global consistency in levels of cleaning across the sector. And with smart phone apps paving the way, dispersed cleaning operatives now have better access than ever before to ongoing communications, training and updates.

Cleaning products themselves have not escaped increased scrutiny, with sustainability conscious organizations demanding assurances from environmental best practice marks such as Green Apple.

Manufacturers and service providers are responding with eco-friendly products that are petro-chemical free, non-toxic and come in recycled and recyclable packaging.

“We also avoid battery or electric powered air fresheners and unnecessary site deliveries. Even the way we procure cleaning goods and services has been overhauled,” explains Whyte. “Our aim is to source from a more diverse supply chain that encompasses female, minority or LGBTQ owned businesses.”

In previous recessions, cleaning has proved an easy target for cutbacks, yet Whyte hopes this time around the sector may prove more resilient.

“More than ever, organizations are aware of the critical contribution workplace cleaning makes to efficiency, sustainability and most importantly, workplace health and wellbeing.”

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