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2021: The future of cleaning & hygiene

22 January 2021

Following a year of unprecedented challenges Cleaning Matters magazine speaks to industry experts to examine the challenges of COVID-19 on the cleaning & hygiene sector - and what impact these will have throughout 2021.

THE IMPACTS of COVID-19 have been felt in businesses across the UK and, despite an obvious need for increased cleaning practices, cleaning companies are no exception with only 76% of businesses in the sector currently trading, according to ONS data.

Perfect Clean, a Scottish cleaning company, has analysed the latest ONS data to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the cleaning industry.

The administrative and support service industry, which accounts for cleaning, has been one of the worst affected industries, second only to accommodation and food services. 

In the week leading up to Christmas alone, 6% of businesses in the sector permanently ceased trading, which is more than double the national average. Additionally, 53% of businesses in the sector saw turnover decrease compared to pre-COVID levels.

With businesses following government advice to ‘work from home if you can effectively do so’ in England, many businesses have been left empty, reducing the demand for office cleaning services. Savill’s found a dramatic 50% decrease in office space uptake in The City of London alone.

While the country battles through another lockdown, there are still reasons to be hopeful. The government aims to vaccinate 15 million people in the UK by mid-February and a third vaccine has now been approved for use in the UK. As more people become vaccinated, it is likely we will see workplaces opening up for business as usual once more. And as workplaces attempt to re-open in line with COVID-secure guidelines, there will likely be an increase in demand for cleaning services at workplaces, on transport, as well as in homes. 

Savill’s has also reported an uptick in office premise demand in London and the South East, signalling that some businesses are intending to return to traditional office spaces this year. With this return, there is likely to be an increased demand for commercial cleaning services once again.

Enter 2021 with the right data

As the cleaning industry heads out of 2020 and into the stabilisation phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dianna Steinbach, vice president of International Services, ISSA, observed that it is a good time to reflect upon where cleaning businesses stand in the eyes of the cleaning customer.

"We have seen a growing awareness of how cleaning can reduce risk, something industry professionals have been hoping for over many years," she said.

"This has led some facilities to invest more in cleaning services or technology. At the same time, lockdowns and business disruption has led to reduced revenue for many businesses, and commercial offices continue to face low occupancy rates as many employees remain working from home. In fact, cities such as London have developed efforts to try to entice people to return downtown after so much time away."

Steinbach warned that the unfortunate side affect of the pandemic is that many customers are making tough choices regarding how to spend their smaller budgets, and some of them are pushing back to lower cleaning costs. "At a time like this," she stated, "it is critical that you are able to articulate the true value of cleaning as an investment in their business bottom line and the confident return of employees and customers to kick-start much-needed business momentum.

"Communicating the best business case for investing in proper cleaning right now requires you to connect the dots between your services or solution and their organisation’s top pain points. The power of your case comes from the right data to catch their attention and explain how you help solve their current issues."

ISSA has gathered data from around the world to make this task easier to accomplish, and offers a calculator to help you create a specific business case for your customers based on industry research.

Steinbach continued: "You may want to begin with reference to the current heightened concerns people have, surrounding cleanliness. Seventy-two per cent of people are concerned about germs left on surfaces shared by colleagues, according to research by GP Pro. So companies will need to communicate how they are cleaning to protect their employees.

"Next, businesses need their workers to be as productive as possible. Therefore, you can share statistics on cleaning’s impact on worker productivity.  First, improved cleaning and basic han hygiene measures can reduce viruses on a surface by more than 85 per cent, according to a study in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 2019. Combine that with the fact that sick workers lead to higher absenteeism costs and lower productivity and it is worth reducing that risk of cross contamination. 

"Plus, the total cost of absenteeism in the US, Australia and the UK combined still is only 10% of what businesses pay due to employees who come to work sick, according to the Global Challenge Virgin Pulse. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, presenteeism has even higher costs and consequences. If entire sections of an office or shifts in a workplace need to quarantine due to one sick co-worker, productivity is impacted."

According to Steinbach, the investment your customer needs to make to maintain responsible levels of cleanliness at a time when their most important stakeholders need to gain greater confidence in returning to activity, will be a fraction of the costs that reduced levels could generate. She noted: "The bottom line is that proper cleaning is an investment in getting business back on track and you know how to create the right program to meet their needs as cost-effectively as possible… that just may mean at a price a bit more than they first thought they could get away with.

"One ISSA member who used this approach and the ISSA Value of Clean Calculator actually convinced a bank to not just evaluate their cleaning needs, but to increase the amount of cleaning they requested in their tender. This is the power of the right data in the right business case. This data and other Value of Clean tools are complimentary for all companies that join ISSA or renew membership for 2021. To learn more, contact emea@issa.com.   

Preventative cleaning: Reopening in a post pandemic world

In the early stages of the global pandemic, information about the virus and how to combat the spread was unclear and changing by the day. This inconsistent information left many of us struggling to understand how best to enhance health and safety protocols. We have now come to know that COVID-19 spreads from person to person through small droplets, aerosols or through direct contact. Surfaces and belongings can be easily contaminated by the virus, and the risk of spread is significantly increased when people are in close proximity to each other. 

Social distancing and keeping indoor spaces well ventilated are all key examples of ways to reduce the spread of coronavirus. But it’s also important to consider increasing the frequency of cleaning to reduce the presence of the virus.

In addition to healthcare facilities, environments where group activities are carried out, such as offices, factories, gyms or schools, will need to deploy these preventative cleaning practices to limit the risk of transmission. What’s more, it has never been more critical to restore people’s confidence in revisiting these places that need to resume operations, emphasising the importance of high-quality cleaning programmes. 

Best practice cleaning procedures

According to Jean-Henri Beukes, CEO of Ecocleen, disinfection, sanitisation and sterilisation are three processes expected to be a critical part of our "new normal."

"These measures go one step further than simply frequent hand washing, wiping surfaces and using antibacterial hand gel," said Beukes.

"Preventive cleaning processes need to ensure these environments are not only cleaned at the beginning and end of each day, but throughout the day as well. The frequency of cleaning will often depend on the number of people using the space or visiting the environment. It’s also recommended to reduce clutter and remove difficult to clean items. Not only will this ensure cleaning is much easier, but it also lessens the amount of surfaces that could transmit COVID-19."

Beukes warns that attention should also be paid to high-traffic areas, including surfaces or items that are touched frequently, such as door handles, light switches, lift buttons and bathrooms. However, this will vary depending on the specific conditions of each environment, as they will have different needs and applicable legislation to abide by. For example, frequently touched items will differ significantly between an office environment and a gym. In a working environment, cleaners will place a focus on desk surfaces, electronic devices and remote controls, whereas gym equipment and changing rooms will be the focal point in a leisure facility.

Cleaning up after COVID exposure

In environments that were previously occupied by someone potentially infected with COVID-19, these cleaning best practices will be supplemented with further preventative measures.

Beukes observed: "Areas where a symptomatic person has briefly visited, such as corridors, should be cleaned thoroughly as normal. However, in areas where they have spent substantial time or frequently touched, need to be cleaned and disinfected meticulously, such as bathrooms, door handles, telephones or light switches. 

"It’s also important to safely remove personal waste from individuals with symptoms of coronavirus and waste from cleaning materials used to disinfect areas where they have been. This waste should be stored and not disposed of in communal waste areas until negative test results have been confirmed, or alternatively the waste can be stored for at least 72 hours. Furthermore, cleaners working in these areas should wear minimum PPE, in addition to disposable gloves and an apron. It’s also vital for them to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after all PPE has been removed."

Educating staff on preventative cleaning

As we move to our new normal, Beukes believes it’s critical for staff working in these environments to receive sufficient training and further education, to help them understand how to properly clean public areas, as well as equipment thoroughly. "From gym managers and teachers to office employees and healthcare professionals, they should all be taught new procedures to ensure they recognise the importance of cleanliness in the fight against COVID-19," he asserted.

"What’s more, they should take part in training to make sure that they are fulfilling the responsibility of their role and that they are up for the task. It’s critical that they completely understand infection control procedures and follow the guidelines to ensure they are providing a safe environment for themselves and visitors to each environment. This training will also contribute to their general wellbeing, which is just as important to safeguard in these circumstances.

"Due to the pandemic, external cleaning services have generated COVID-19 specific cleaning training. This means that all cleaners will undergo training to meet the certain cleaning requirements whilst battling the virus. Staff will also conduct a risk assessment and then sign off the training on a document."

Quality of cleaning products

Beukes added that the next step is to review the quality of products used for preventive cleaning. "We should all be considering using biological products rather than chemicals, as they promote a safer environment, as well as reduce the risk of long-term illness. Eco-friendly cleaning products are on the rise, providing a number of alternatives that compete with regular cleaning products that contain harsh chemicals. Not only do they reduce environmental damage, but they also protect the health of people in these environments. 

"Natural cleaning products also improve air quality, making it a more hygienic and comfortable environment for everyone. This is especially beneficial during the winter months, when windows and doors may not be open as often. These types of cleaning products are also proven to be completely safe for cleaners, as they don’t contain toxins, chemicals or corrosive substances that could be harmful to their health. This is particularly important during this time, as cleaners will have longer or more frequent exposure to cleaning agents when implementing the COVID-19 preventative cleaning measures."

Deploying a commercial cleaning service

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a time of uncertainty and every industry has been left grappling with best practices to keep environments safe. As a result, the demand for high quality cleaning service providers has understandably increased over the past 12 months. Beukes believes that deploying contract cleaners gives peace of mind, as employers and staff can be confident that the environment is safe and organised. He added: "It also means that no one will have the burden of having to ensure the environment is kept clean, reducing the potential stress of having to assign preventative cleaning tasks throughout the day. 

"Professional cleaners are experts in their field and hiring a reputable commercial cleaning service means that the highest standards of cleanliness will be achieved. These cleaners will have received extensive training to understand COVID-19 health and safety measures, as well as experience in preventing the spread of the virus in each environment. What’s more, they will be equipped with proper tools necessary to carry out cleaning tasks to the very highest standard."

Every environment has its own cleaning requirements and, according to Beukes, when hiring a professional cleaning service, a bespoke cleaning programme can be created. "Working closely with the client, they will build tailored cleaning measures to suit their specific needs," he noted. "For example, scheduling the cleaning contractors as and when they are needed throughout the day, and focussing cleaning efforts on high traffic areas. These bespoke services also mean that the plan can devised within any budget, creating value for money for every client."

Looking to our new normal

Reopening in a post pandemic world requires careful planning and attention from everyone. In environments where group activities are carried out, preventative cleaning measures will need to be deployed to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus and limit transmission. This includes cleaning environments at the beginning, throughout and at the end of each day, as well as paying special attention to high traffic zones or areas that are frequently touched during the day. Ultimately, Beukes reinforced the need for a regimented cleaning protocol which will help maintain a clean environment and provide reassurance, when cleaners are seen frequently wiping down high traffic zones. 

He concluded: "In addition to safeguarding staff, it’s important to invest in training to make sure the people that are fulfilling the responsibility are up for the task. It’s critical that they completely understand infection control procedures and follow the guidelines to ensure a safe environment for all. The quality of products used for preventive cleaning should also be considered. It’s recommended to use biological products rather than chemicals, as they promote a safer environment and improve air quality. What’s more, commercial cleaning services are on hand to take care of preventative cleaning practices, ensuring peace of mind and creating bespoke cleaning programmes to suit individual needs. 

"Everyone has a role to play in making sure environments are safe and remain open. As a result, transparency is critical in the new normal, with health and safety efforts communicated to help minimise the risk of coronavirus. What’s more, it has never been more vital to restore people’s confidence in revisiting these places, emphasising the importance of high-quality cleaning programmes in the longer term."

A positive outlook for 2021

In the difficult circumstances we face at the moment, it would be easy to be negative about the future of the cleaning and hygiene industry, but in the short, medium and long term, chairman of the British Cleaning Council, Paul Thrupp believes that the outlook is very positive.  

"While we had many challenges within the industry during the pandemic, overall, we have been pulling out the stops to meet rising demand," he said.

"The pandemic has put cleaning and hygiene right at the top of the agenda and reminded everyone of the importance of our sector’s work in protecting people’s health and safety, and whilst it is a shame that it took Coronavirus to highlight our great work, it will, I believe, leave a lasting impression on everyone’s mind.
"People now expect and want to invest in highly visible cleaning and hygiene practices and quality standards and I believe that view and mind-set is here for good.
"Going forward I see increased and sustained investment in cleaning and hygiene services, which will create job opportunities along with the adoption of advanced technological solutions which will help cleaning and hygiene operatives deliver higher standards."

Similarly, James White, MD, Denis Rawlins, thinks the future of the cleaning industry looks very positive with much potential, however it depends on maintaining momentum.

White said: "While the pandemic has been a hugely challenging time for our world, there has been a silver lining for the cleaning industry. Finally, citizens and governments understand the value of our sector, our people and how we contribute to our environment; above all, how we keep it hygienically safe when the threat of coronavirus looms over us. 

"Now that we have had public recognition, we should build upon it. It is time for the cleaning profession to re-fashion itself into a desirable career choice with clear paths of development, progression through continuous training, smart investment and reward structures. I also think that there’s immense value in embracing technology, the importance of data gathering, and perhaps most essential, delivering cleaning services and methods that are scientifically researched and proven. Only in these ways, I feel, will we continue to improve our service and professional brand, especially when we are likely to be faced with future devastating biological threats, as already predicted."

White concluded: "We have the potential to be a highly respected profession, but we must raise the bar ourselves."

The importance of training

End-users’ expectations of cleanliness and hygiene are higher than ever, and will remain so for quite some time, certainly throughout 2021. Joanne Gilliard, CEO of Jangro told Cleaning Matters that ensuring professional cleaning staff receive high quality and relevant training will be essential this year to help uphold these standards.

"Training is critical to help keep the workforce safe whilst it continues to work with COVID-19 in general circulation," she asserted.

"At a time when consumers are much more selective about where they spend their time and money – basing their decisions on hygiene levels – training can make all the difference.  A well-trained employee will achieve a high quality clean every time, enhancing a business’ image and making it a more attractive place to visit. 
Jangro’s award-winning e-learning platform, the Learning Management Solution (LMS), offers a flexible and contact-less approach to training, particularly pertinent whilst social distancing is still required. Highly accessible, it is optimised for all devices, covering a wide range of topics, and was recently accredited by the CPD Certification Service.

"Since cleaning operatives are risking their own health to keep public spaces clean, hygienic and COVID-secure, ensuring they continue to have access to high quality training is the least we can do for them in 2021."

Adapting in a pandemic

Jan-Hein Hemke, managing director of Facilicom UK & Ireland observed that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of having systems in place to protect people and places. As a result, he thinks organisations will give much more emphasis to making premises safer, from the point of entry onwards.

"The cleaning sector has played a huge role in safeguarding the population and ensuring the spread of the virus is restricted, by implementing robust hygiene practices and effective cleaning systems," Hemke said. "As a result, a spotlight has shone on our industry like never before.

"Cleaning teams have had to adapt quickly in response to COVID-19, often stepping away from their usual role to deliver new services. For instance, we extended our range of infection control support tools, offering fogging, thermal screening cameras, and ‘Return to Work care packages’ amongst other services. 

"Recognising the importance of protecting workplaces, we recently launched SAFER with Facilicom, an Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) surface testing regime. This offers clients a comprehensive package of post-clean surface testing,  reassuring staff returning to their workplace. Starting with an extensive hygiene audit and providing tangible results data, it gives extra validation that key touchpoints and high traffic areas have been effectively sanitised. Certainly, whilst COVID-19 is around, workplace safety will stay top of the agenda."

Changing perceptions
The pandemic has changed perceptions of cleaning and hygiene. As the world emerges, businesses will want to deliver – and be seen to deliver – the highest levels of cleaning, hygiene, and infection prevention to reassure and protect their customers, guests, and employees. To do this, Lynne Snoding, sector marketing manager, BSC, Diversey, UK & Ireland, believes they need new ways to incorporate disinfection and innovations into their everyday tasks to deliver enhanced outcomes that exceed expectations.

"Disinfection will remain critical and it is important to use products that are effective against pathogens of concern," said Snoding. "Manufacturers should be able to demonstrate their products meet the EN14476 virucidal standard and are therefore effective for disinfecting surfaces and hands against enveloped viruses like SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.

"Novel formulations such as Diversey’s Oxivir range and technologies such Moonbeam3 Disinfection Technology, which uses UV-C, enable new ways to disinfect surfaces. These and other innovations support greater choice and flexibility to specify the best combination to replace and complement existing processes.

"Cleaning teams will need to do more with less and operate sustainably to meet customer expectations while controlling costs and reducing waste. Switching from the short-term solutions that met immediate needs during the pandemic to professional systems that offer deeper long-term benefits will be part of this process."

Washroom hygiene investment

Award winning washrooms need more than an investment in facilities that are functional and aesthetically current - they need to be well maintained and most importantly spotless – perfect, unstained, immaculate. Cleaning and maintenance must be the most important activities if the washroom provider wants to provide the best facilities for their customers and staff.

"Cleaning is never more important than during an epidemic," said Mike Bone, managing director, Loo of the Year Awards. "However, consistently maintaining high standards of washroom cleaning will act as a deterrent in addition to presenting the facilities as hygienic and attractive. 

"The Washroom Cleaner of the Year Awards form part of the annual Loo of the Year Awards but relate specifically to the cleaning staff that looks after facilities, rather than washrooms themselves – an unbiased independent assessment.

"While Loo of the Year Awards provide adequate recognition for entrant’s washrooms, it is the cleaners who look after each facility, be they individual full-time cleaners, in-house cleaning teams or external cleaning contractors, who also deserve recognition. 

"Cleaning is judged at the same time as the Loo of the Year Awards inspection and any cleaning staff seen at the time of the unannounced visit are deemed to represent the whole cleaning team. There are a Washroom Cleaner of the Year Awards for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland, and a National Winner for each country."

Securing the future of employees
In 2020, business landscape has been transformed, almost beyond recognition. The continued and necessary repositioning of the cleaning industry in 2021 will, said John Shonfeld, master, Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners, require some tough and creative choices to secure the future of its 1,600,000 employees. 

"COVID-19 has given us a unique opportunity to demonstrate the vital role of the cleaning industry to society as a whole, said Shonfield.

"Cleaning and hygiene are at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus. Surface, deep cleaning and advising companies on the introduction of protocols is now the norm for us. This will no doubt continue well into 2021. I believe that the marketing and delivery of cleaning services will change as we have adapted to our customers’ requirements. The importance of cleaning should be marketed as a professional service to ensure standards are achieved and maintained  - especially to  reduce risk during the current pandemic.

"We may see more of our industry professional standards complemented by using certified protocols and techniques with appropriate methodologies and chemicals. We don’t need to lose sight of environmentally safe practice, and use ecologically sound chemicals. 

"We as an industry must seize this time to become more politically and professionally astute to lift the profile of the cleaning industry."

Home and remote working

According to Paul Zuidema, managing director EMEA at Ergotron, home and remote working – at least in part – are definitely here to stay. A recent survey reported three quarters of staff currently working from home think it’s likely their employer will continue to let them do so post-COVID. However, as Zuidema noted, another report also revealed that the majority of knowledge workers questioned (72%) would prefer a mix of remote and office work, a hybrid approach.

“With the impact of COVID-19 and the experience of the changes that 2020 brought, numerous stakeholders try to predict what the (ideal) balance should or will be in home and office working but frankly, there is no perfect answer," he said.

"Working from the familiarity of our own home makes us feel good but, on the other hand, our natural human need to socialise is coming under pressure. What we can keep as a lesson among others is to focus on the present time and secure our physical and mental health. At the end of the day, it is being proven that work can happen everywhere – we only need to support the most productive version of it.

“Next year the focus for employers and employees should turn to ensuring a safe, comfortable and productive environment. This means investing in equipment and furniture that fits ergonomically with the technologies that we all use everyday and are fit for purpose to be used in the home environment. Employers can then be confident in the knowledge that even while their workers are alternating between office- and home-working, they have access to ergonomically designed workspaces that benefit both physical and mental health and that enable employees to work where work happens.

"Technically almost everything is possible these days; the big evolutions will have to take place both in an emotional context and the evolving company culture.”

Planning and communication

Since the start of the pandemic, planning and communication have been central and fundamental pillars of the national and global response. Although we are going through a time of huge adjustment and disruption, some things will always stay the same, including the need for clear communications. Ceris Burns, managing director of PR and communications agency, Ceris Burns International said this is essential to good leadership and to drive behaviour change.

"Now more than ever, it’s vital that organisations within the cleaning industry maintain visibility in their target markets," Burns asserted. "With the world increasingly moving online, the sector should also give more emphasis to connecting with audiences through digital marketing.

"COVID-19 has reframed the way we communicate, with organisations everywhere adopting a more empathetic, personal tone in both their internal and external communications. It has also emphasised the significance of the cleaning profession in responding to health crises, helping to stop the spread of infection through robust cleaning and hygiene practices.

"For a long time, the cleaning profession has been undervalued by many outside the field. Now that the sector is gaining wider public recognition and respect, it’s important that we build on these changed perceptions. Through communications, we must continue to emphasise the industry’s professionalism and critical role in safeguarding society."