After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. is returning to a semblance of normalcy. More people are fully vaccinated, more feel safe removing their masks, children are back in school and buildings by and large are open again.
But at the same time, there’s cautious optimism. We’ve seen what happens when variants arrive and we let our guard down too quickly. The virus is not eradicated and more variants are possible. And this may not be our last pandemic.
In terms of safely and thoroughly cleaning large facilities, including industrial buildings, offices, and other commercial enterprises like hotels and restaurants, the new normal has arrived, with a whole new set of procedures and expectations. If anything during the pandemic, we learned how important cleaning is for facilities. Cleaning companies were elevated to a strategic level of importance that had previously been just an afterthought in some cases. As people have come out of their quarantine bubbles, they expect things like hotels, restaurants, their place of work, airlines, etc., to be as clean as they keep their homes.
As an industry, we were emboldened to raise the cleaning standards that had long been considered not necessary, for cost reasons, by clients. Facility managers, operators, owners and stakeholders recognized the need for enhanced cleaning.
Here is a breakdown of the cleaning industry’s new normal, including how it changed for the better as a result of the pandemic, how it’s helping facility operations do the same and, by extension, how the collaboration will guard against letting our guard down:
• Cleaning is one of the industries hit hardest by the “Great Resignation.” As a result we are hiring more skilled laborers at a higher rate rather than hiring just warm bodies to fill in.
• Training has increased and is ongoing, not only at onboarding. This includes chemicals, personal protection equipment, efficiencies and ongoing technological and chemical updates. There is more focus on infection prevention rather than control.
• Scheduling has changed. We are seeing some clients with required on-site time for employees drop to two days a week; some are back to full-time and others are requiring technicians to maintain the safety throughout the day.
• RFPs and RFBs (request for proposals and bids) have been upgraded to include infection prevention.
• It’s become easier for cleaning companies to collaborate or create the request for services, given that we are trained and understand the needs of facilities better.
• Cleanable square footage is not necessarily the standard we bid on. Again, it’s about what is actually needed — tasks, hours, chemicals and equipment.
• Cost is still very much a factor, but it’s not the main factor. Many companies and especially health care can tap into other funds, such as emergency preparedness, mitigation and risk, as well as government funding for the pandemic. This assists clients with a building-maintenance budget while still getting the additional services they require.
• Cleaning companies have better chemical knowledge and usage. They schedule around tenants’ operating hours and tasks and frequencies, including high-touch areas.
• Technologies were introduced for the first time in many facilities. Electrostatic sprayers, air cleaners and robotics were being bought and used in record numbers.
• Inspection and documentation of cleaning is more important than ever for both safety and litigation.
• There’s better communication between client and cleaning company for updating cleaning to implement changes based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state mandates.
• Building service contractors are facilitating certifications, such as GBAC (Global BioRisk Advisory Council).
• Cleaning companies understand and implement Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s and other regulatory agencies’ standards and requirements.
• Building service contractors are being brought into committee meetings on rebuild and design for renovation and new buildings.
Many have opined that the pandemic has made us stronger as a country. Going forward, it can certainly make us cleaner. Consumers, business owners and facility managers remain highly conscious of the virus and other invisible health threats. The cleaning industry has adapted accordingly and has a bigger responsibility than ever before.
Tricia Holderman is the owner, president and CEO of Elite Facility Systems and the author of “Germinator: The Germ Girl’s Guide To Simple Solutions In A Germ-Filled World.” She is a speaker and consultant with more than four decades of experience as a national authority on infection prevention.