Freshly disinfected surfaces and frequently restocked bottles of hand sanitiser have become the hallmarks of buildings still open for employees and keeping the workplace as clean and hygienic as possible is a non-negotiable during the pandemic.
Cleaning procedures have been stepped up and new ways of working implemented to help disinfect all areas of the workplace on a regular basis and reduce the spread of viruses. While much of the work is still done by cleaning teams, technology is increasingly playing a role.
Higher expectations around hygiene among both companies and their employees are here to stay, says Peter Whyte, a divisional director at JLL’s Integral business. “A clean, safe working environment matters now more than ever,” he explains. “What’s more, heightened efforts in place due to COVID-19 are set to transform how cleaning contracts are managed in the future.”
So how is workplace cleaning adapting to this new reality?
- Robots on hand
Demand is rising for robots that partner up and make cleaning methods more efficient. Avidbots, which has recently launched its second device, Neo 2, has seen a 100 percent increase in demand for its robots since the COVID-19 pandemic reached North America, while SoftBank Robotics’ Whiz is making inroads into vacuuming office carpets with just a little human help. The benefits of robotics for workplaces, their employees and Integral’s own personnel, are now coming into their own, says Whyte.
“Clients are enthusiastic about robotic solutions that save time and cost while delivering high quality cleaning solutions,” Whyte explains. “That was certainly less so the case prior to Covid-19.”
For large floorplates, robots are particularly of use, explains Nils Van der Zijl, vice president of sales and marketing for SoftBank Robotics EMEA.
“There’s a bigger role for robots to play for those offices with expansive areas to cover,” he says. “While the robot is covering the metres, cleaning staff can be tackling other more complex tasks; which right now means proactive sanitisation and new protective measures.”
In 2020, disinfecting robots appeared in busy airports such as Heathrow, emitting ultraviolet light to kill viruses. Similar technology is making inroads in offices too. Fogging and misting robotics that can help when sanitising indoor environments, such as U.S. firm Build With Robots’ Breezy One, which moves and sprays disinfectant in the air.
2. New tools and greener products
Products used to clean the workplace are changing as companies look to improve their sustainability credentials.
“There’s a real drive to switch to greener cleaning products which do less harm to the environment,” explains Stuart Wilson, a divisional director at Integral, pointing to the availability of more eco-friendly biological products for indoor surface cleaning and sanitising, which are also less aggressive on surface materials and are safer for operative use.
“There’s also a carbon footprint benefit with higher dilution rates translating to significant reductions in plastic waste, storage, transport and associated carbon dioxide emissions,” he adds.
3. Changes to cleaning rotas
Traditionally cleaners arrived in workplaces when most employees had gone home but with hygiene critical to keep essential workplaces open, cleaning rotas are adapting. Now it’s common to see cleaners delivering enhanced cleaning regimes during the day, especially focusing on areas which are commonly used such as lobbies and bathrooms.
Longer-term, the shift to more remote working could also impact cleaning schedules. If peak offices times are Tuesdays to Thursdays, it opens up Mondays and Fridays for tasks such as deeper cleaning, previously done after hours.
“Quieter times of the working week can perhaps allow bigger cleaning operations involving moving furniture or higher noise levels to be carried out,” says Whyte. “Going forward, cleaning standards will remain high and companies may opt for a blend of more deep cleans and regular cleaning during the working week.”
4. Keeping track of space usage
The ability to monitor how frequently spaces are used can help cleaners determine which areas of the workplace are a priority. Technology can notify cleaning teams of soap shortages or a blocked toilet; moving away from half-daily, back-of-the-door tick box checks. Heavily used areas of the workplace such as bathrooms, breakout areas and kitchens are as much of a challenge as meeting rooms, Whyte says.
“Booked meeting rooms which are not used is one thing, but right now, the random quiet call taken by an employee in an unbooked room is just as important to know about,” he says. “How much responsibility is handed to individuals to clean the areas they use is currently up for debate; should cleaning products be placed, for example, in saloon meeting booths?”
Infogrid‘s smart building platform uses wireless IoT sensor technology to monitor people entering or leaving rooms or using tables, alerting onsite cleaning teams to areas that need attention. Scrabble-tile sized stick-on sensors can be easily applied to doors and desks and then report back data via 4G and the cloud to a central dashboard.
The use of such technology will only grow in years to come. “Right now, companies are just thinking how to keep their workplaces as safe as possible for staff but in the coming years we’ll see cleaning operations, like many other areas of facilities management, bring technology and humans closer together to boost efficiency and effectiveness,” says Whyte.