Training to manage the unexpected

17 November 2020

Jan-Hein Hemke highlights the importance of ongoing training to equip cleaning operatives with the skills and agility needed to deliver their role in this evolving pandemic. 

TRAINING HAS always been a vital part of personal and professional development, and I am a firm believer in investing in our people and their future. Not only does this ensure colleagues are up to speed with the latest practices and guidelines, but it also helps to nurture talent and ability. Well trained staff are happier, more motivated, and provide a better service to customers.

Coaching is also essential to protect operatives’ health and safety. This is vital when you consider that many work with a variety of hazards including chemicals, sharps, and exposure to infectious pathogens. It is therefore paramount that they are given comprehensive training, to bestow them the necessary skills to perform their job safely and effectively – and to a high standard. 

But what happens when we are plunged into crisis mode, faced with an unknown enemy? Some may think that no level of training could have prepared us for the COVID-19 battle. But I disagree. 

Of course, there were new working processes to follow and novel products to consider, but as it became evident that cleaning and hygiene was one of the first lines of defence against this virus, it was clear to me that we could make a real difference to the health of the nation.

Changing perceptions 
For a long time, the cleaning profession has been undervalued by many, despite the extensive training required to meet standards and health and safety requirements. It’s a shame that it has taken a global pandemic to change hearts and minds, but it finally feels like attitudes towards contract cleaning are improving.  

We’ve always worked hard to change perceptions and get people to recognise the important work that professional operatives do. Despite the immense current challenges, I have been overwhelmed by the unwavering dedication of our cleaning teams. I am so proud of the way that our people have come together and pulled out all the stops for our clients. 

From undertaking additional training, to delivering tasks outside of their normal requirements, our teams have gone above and beyond to ensure clients and their premises are clean, hygienic, and safe. 

Training is engrained in each cleaning operatives’ professional journey with us. It’s not a tick box that we reluctantly fill once a year. It’s an ongoing commitment that ensures our teams are up to date with ever-changing practices and guidelines, and have the confidence to know what to do in any situation. 

During times of change, it’s important to ensure that all colleagues feel supported to deliver additional or enhanced duties. From being knowledgeable about infection control, to understanding how to operate during a crisis, we must keep training up to date and accessible to all. 

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. I have received great feedback from many clients, thanking our teams for their sheer perseverance. They have commented on the diligence of our service, praising our colleagues for the challenges overcome and applauded the professionalism of staff, who remain positive despite extremely challenging circumstances. 

Upskilling during a pandemic
When the pandemic first broke, we very quickly put new coaching systems into place, to upskill our operatives on specialist cleaning practices like fogging. Following comprehensive staff training, we have also introduced new COVID-19 related services to help safeguard our customers, including ‘SAFER’ with Facilicom. This Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) regime offers clients a comprehensive package of post-clean surface testing, giving comfort to staff returning to their workplace. Cleaning operatives were also trained in the correct use of personal protective equipment and social distancing measures. 

As the virus spread, there was a huge surge in demand for deep cleans and fogging, but having prepared our staff early, to ensure they had the skills they were going to need to combat coronavirus, we were ready and waiting to deliver these services for concerned clients. We were one step ahead. 

Of course, training hundreds of our colleagues during a global crisis wasn’t easy and trying to deliver sessions alongside COVID-19 restrictions was a real challenge. But through socially distanced sessions and video calls, we were able to upskill our teams to deliver these vital services at a time of real need.  

As an organisation a lot has changed for us, but clients need us more than ever. With a heightened responsibility to protect customers’ staff and premises, it was vital that we trained our colleagues in resilience, to ensure they remained professional and positive. With this in mind, we launched our Inspirational Toolkit, packed full of stories from colleagues, useful tips, and practical advice to guide people through this challenging time – both professionally and personally.  

This online resource features a raft of support tools, from training modules on working together online and mindfulness, to working from home and wellbeing advice. Many of our colleagues also provided short video clips to talk about how they were managing lockdown. And we even created our very own Facilicom Video Call Bingo – a light hearted game to prevent colleagues from getting bogged down with virtual meetings. The toolkit has been extremely well received by our teams and we hope to use it well into the future, beyond our pandemic days.  

A personal approach 
Now, more than ever, it is essential that our colleagues are able to adapt easily to meet clients’ needs. This is a quality that we have instilled in every single one of our colleagues through our Hostmanship approach, which is geared towards both the operational excellence and the human, social aspect of the job. It is all about ensuring our colleagues have the skills to go the extra mile for our clients, responding to changing needs and requirements. 

This also helps boost our colleagues’ self-esteem and builds their confidence to communicate and engage with their peers, clients, and customers effectively. Our training and development programme not only supports our cleaning teams in their professional role, but also provides them with skills that can be transferred to their personal lives.

This begins with a welcoming and open attitude to the people and situations we encounter. We believe that this is a significant way that we can add value to our clients, as well as enriching our colleagues’ wellbeing. When all processes are geared towards operational excellence, there is a risk that the human aspect can be overlooked.

Training as part of a package of measures
Hand in hand with ongoing, tailored training is the importance of fair pay for a hard day’s work. The cleaning sector is often perceived as short-termist and underpaid; we want to change this perception so that our colleagues feel respected and valued.  We have been strong supporters of the Living Wage movement for fair pay for many years. In fact, we are a founding member of its Service Provider Recognition Programme and were one of the first national contract cleaning companies to sign up to it. Our sister company, Trigion Security Services, also actively supports this initiative. 

Since joining the Living Wage scheme, we have seen lower absenteeism, increased staff retention, and higher levels of job fulfilment. This, in turn, has led to better teamwork and service provision, and greater client satisfaction. 

During this pandemic, our cleaning operatives have been putting their own concerns to one side to deal with the job at hand. From ensuring that client premises are safe and protected, to delivering vital services, like office deep cleans and touch-point sterilising. Now, more than ever, it is vital that these colleagues are rewarded fairly for their efforts. 

Training should be implemented as part of whole package of measures to ensure that our staff remain positive, healthy, and appreciated. We have many other processes in place to support our colleagues. These include our internal ‘Facilicom Awards,’ which recognise and thank colleagues who have gone over and above our exceptionally high standards. These are awarded quarterly and communicated via social media and to everybody within the company via email and our internal newsletter. This scheme is also supported annually with our ‘employee of the year’ award, presented at our annual company meeting at the start of each year. 

In addition, we place strong emphasis on workplace wellbeing and our Employee Assistance Programme provides 24/7 quick access to counselling, where staff can discuss any physical, mental, social, or financial issues.

As our cleaning operatives continue to keep our businesses and public places as clean and safe as possible, we owe it to them to invest in their development and futureproof their careers for many years to come. 

Jan-Hein Hemke is managing director of Facilicom UK

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