In Praise of Contract Cleaning

I am not the only one to say that in a lifetime of working in this industry, I have never come across a situation remotely as challenging as CV-19. I know other industries are also going through hell, but there are some major differences with commercial cleaning.

Number one, we are on the front line, the fourth emergency service as I heard another colleague put it. For us, it has not been an option to shut up shop and wait until it all blows over. Number two, as a people industry whose staff are highly exposed, either through travelling to work or because of their place of work, we have had to manage the health and safety of our teams in an unprecedented way, sending them into battle (and I do not think that analogy is overused here) kitted out in uniforms we could never have dreamt of needing and using sanitising equipment straight out of Star Wars. Deep cleaning teams have even featured on the front page of The Independent – so shocking have been the images! The one thing we can say about cleaning, however, is that as an industry we will return to full strength, intact and at greater speed, in a way that some industries may not, thinking about aviation, restaurants and a few others.

In all the turmoil, there has been some heart-warming positivity, with three areas standing out. First has been the resilience of staff. I am sure I speak for all companies when I say that our front-line operatives and supervisors have shown immense bravery, with virtually no-one failing to attend shifts simply because they were afraid. Then there are our field managers out there supporting their teams and our HR, payroll and admin teams working 24/7. I had to salute the ingenuity of managers at DOC who purchased a consignment of what I can only refer to as ‘granny’ shopping trolleys to make it easier for our deep cleaning teams to carry their emergency kits, sterilising solutions, and PPE into buildings!

Second has been the way technology has helped us through the crisis. Video conferencing and chat, WhatsApp groups, VPNs to support home working, and of course the simple power of global texting to thank staff, reassure them and reinforce guidance on staying safe. In our case we are lucky enough to be using a staff engagement app that makes important documents accessible to all staff via their smartphones, enabling us to alert them via text when new documents have been posted. The thought of managing through this crisis in the absence of mobile technology is quite unimaginable.

Lastly, I must mention the client response. Speaking to colleagues, it is clear there are cleaning contractors out there, 90% of whose clients have closed down their operations, leading to some very difficult discussions about contractual terms. The situation varies between contractors working in the state funded sector – schools, colleges, local authorities – and those working in the private commercial sector. Not every discussion has had a successful outcome, but on the whole, it appears that clients are taking the view that when this crisis ends, there will be an urgent need for deep cleaning followed by a swift ramping up of operations. They understand that as contractors, we cannot simply lay off staff and re-recruit in a few months’ time. Many contractors I speak to have reached agreement with clients to cover their overheads, whilst front-line staff are furloughed under the Government’s Staff Retention Scheme.

As a last thought this month, it is gratifying to see the way the industry has pulled together, not just nationally, but globally, to share advice and discuss best practice on defeating CV-19. I have rarely spent so much time in conversation with colleagues outside our company and I would be delighted, when we see the back of CV-19, if we can continue the spirit of cooperation to address other challenges facing our industry that for the time being have, quite rightly, been put on hold.

Published in May issue of Cleaning & Maintenance.