Staying profitable – and safe – in a hybrid working world

A hybrid workplace model in the aftermath of COVID-19 means building services contractors have to apply extra rigour with hygiene standards, contracts and relationships when dealing with commercial office clients. Here, industry experts outline some of the key considerations that should be front of mind.

As many companies embrace a hybrid model whereby more employees work from home and office space is scaled back, some cleaning companies may be weighing up the prospect of doing less-frequent cleans and trimming staff numbers.

However, industry veteran Ron Segura, the founder and president of Segura & Associates in the United States, is urging cleaning operators to be more innovative and forward-thinking.

If an eight-hour cleaning shift at night has been reduced because of the work-from-home trend, he says there may be ways to fill the gap, including offering facility managers other services to combat COVID-19.

“That’s an opportunity, for example, to really sell them on a disinfection program,” Segura says.

“They already have scope in their budgets, and now you’re not selling a disinfection program as a luxury, you’re selling it as a necessity.”

As the market evolves as a result of the pandemic, Segura says cleaning companies also need to understand in great detail the contracts they have with customers.

That includes the extent to which their cleaning staff may be under-utilised, and what capacity they have to make additional service offers.

“To do this, you need to know your account and how much time it really takes to clean that account.”

Targeted hygiene to the fore

Segura’s comments come as companies in Australia and around the world contemplate appropriate post-pandemic workplace and staffing models.

According to a survey by the Cleaning Coalition of America, 76 per cent of c-suite executives in New York believe in-person work remains critical to their company’s bottom line and revenue, even though many workers continue to work remotely.

With survey respondents raising health and safety concerns over the return to office-based working, three-quarters say enhanced cleaning – as well as installing hand-sanitiser stations – is crucial to encouraging employees to embrace offices again.

Dr Lisa Ackerley, the director of medical and scientific engagement, hygiene, at Reckitt, the parent company of Dettol Pro Solutions, says now is not the time for complacency.

“We really want to keep it in people’s minds that hygiene is not just for COVID-19, it’s for life.”

The key in office environments and elsewhere, according to Dr Ackerley, is to adopt “targeted hygiene”*. This involves washing hands and using hand sanitisers at key moments and in places where it matters most for health, rather than indiscriminate disinfecting.

In turn, this makes the use of chemicals and hygiene products more effective and sustainable.

“That minimises the excess use of chemicals and reduces the cost because you’re not throwing chemicals in the wrong places,” Dr Ackerley says.

“Therefore, in an office environment, for example, make sure the hand sanitiser is located where people are going to use it as they walk into the office, and near their desks before they sit down after touching many high-touchpoints on the way through the office.”

Through her engagement with the International Scientific Forum, Dr Ackerley is well versed in hygiene trends in both the office and home. She says the group’s work in analysing the transfer of germs from the hands to locations such as toilets and elevator buttons can provide a guide for facility managers and commercial cleaners.

“It really informs us about when workspaces need to be cleaned,” she says.

“Some areas may only need an evening clean, but during the day other high touchpoints such as lift buttons might need cleaning more often. It may be, too, that employees would feel happier if they are involved in protecting their own work areas, so you can provide them wipes to enable them to do that.”

For instance, with many staff hot-desking in a hybrid working environment, it is important to encourage proper cleaning etiquette, including getting users to wipe down their desks before they use it and at the end of the day, so it is ready for the next shift.

“That’s not excessive. That’s targeted hygiene,” Dr Ackerley says.

While getting hygiene maintenance right in the workplace should be a key goal, she adds that it may count for little if work-from-home staff do not practise good hygiene when they walk back into their homes.

“One of the things we really need people to think about is “destination hand hygiene”, Dr Ackerley says. “Whether arriving at the office or when you get home, you need to wash or sanitise your hands. Put hand sanitiser near the front door to act as a reminder to wash your hands. It’s all about keeping up that rhythm because people are forgetting it.”

Responding to change

A recent survey by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry provides a snapshot of work-from-home trends involving CBD-based businesses in Melbourne.

It reveals that 42 per cent of employees are working in the office one to two days each week, and 25 per cent are in the office for three to four days.

Overall, the survey results highlight a gradual return to the office under a primarily hybrid working approach.

Matt Marsh, managing director of Sebastian Property Services in Victoria, says he expects most businesses to push for the return of workers to their offices as soon as its safe and practicable.

“Most tenants are just trying to get back to normal,” he says.

Hybrid or not, Marsh says the frequency of cleans in most offices has remained similar. “The reality is that most businesses have got people going into the office every day. So, they’re wanting their offices to be serviced.”

A potentially significant long-term change, according to Marsh, is the shift by some businesses to a smaller office floor plate as they seek rental cost relief and allow more staff to work from home. That could ultimately have flow-on effects for building service and cleaning volumes.

“The reality is that there’s potentially, for a while anyway, a downsizing in the market,” Marsh says.

“At some point, I think the money aspect is going to kick in, with people wanting cheaper rent, which will then flow through to what we do as a property services team.”

A silver lining could be that more businesses move into shared workspaces, which often require more frequent cleaning as people move in and out of the premises.

“There’s a higher onus to ensure the cleanliness and hygiene is very good in those spaces,” Marsh says.

Segura has no doubt that greater education during the pandemic around the importance of cleaning has seen it go from being “a necessary evil to a necessity”, while cleaning staff who were once undervalued are now viewed as being important cogs in enterprises.

The result is that facility managers, cleaners and office staff increasingly understand the difference between sanitation and disinfection.

“And all of those people who have been working from home during the pandemic, watching the news channels, have become very educated on disinfection,” Segura says.

“As people have started to reoccupy buildings, the first thing they want to know is how safe is the building, and what is their company doing to ensure high standards of hygiene.”

With the market now being more familiar with discussions about disinfection and high-touchpoint cleaning, Segura says outsource providers such as cleaners should value their services.

“People are now paying more attention to these cleaners who were once invisible.”

Hygiene habits in the spotlight

Jonathan Weiss, commercial director of B2B for Europe, Australia and New Zealand at Reckitt, says in this new work environment the smartest companies are embracing proper cleaning and hygiene as a cultural strength.

It can also assist businesses operationally and financially because strong hygiene standards can keep people healthy and safe at work.

“Sick people who are not working can cost a business a lot of money,” Weiss says.

Dettol Pro Solutions’ research indicates that 91 per cent of people expect businesses to implement additional hygiene measures because of the effects of COVID-19[1].

“People now expect businesses to act,” Weiss says.

On that front, Dettol has introduced a hygiene desk kit that includes hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes and surface spray to safeguard workers.

“Desks are actually one of the germiest spots in the office,” Weiss says.

“You don’t know who has used that keyboard before you.”

He advocates a four-step safety program.

  1. Make sure cleaners and office workers are trained to clean and disinfect.
  2. Use targeted hygiene to attack high-touchpoint areas.
  3. Appreciate that timing is everything and you do not need to clean hourly when no one is in the office.
  4. Insist on using trusted sanitisers and disinfectants.

Focus on communication

As the pandemic continues to play out, Segura urges cleaning and hygiene providers to pay attention to detail in request-for-proposal (RFP) documentation and clearly outline service offerings to clients.

“One of the things I stress to contractors is the need for communication,” he says.

“This communication between your management and their frontline people must be very clear.”

He also advises identifying any likely new technology that your business uses and showcasing it as a point of difference.

“If I am a customer, I want my partner to bring the new technologies and come to me and say, ‘Hey, here are a couple of new things on the market and this is how they’ll benefit you.’ In the cleaning industry, we’re still weak in that area of the contract side, so it’s something where you can set yourself apart.”

Marsh agrees that clarity and communication will be ever more crucial between building services providers, cleaners and customers.

“In the end, we’re all providing a service,” he says. “So, communication is the key. We’re helping them deliver their services as best as possible, but it’s a two-way street. If we don’t communicate, we won’t get the right outcomes for our stakeholders or tenants in buildings, and that’s more important than ever because there’s going to be a lot of change over the next couple of years with regard to people’s needs.”

This article first appeared in INCLEAN Australia magazine. Read the original article here. 

*Bloomfield SF, Rook GA, Scott EA, Shanahan F, Stanwell-Smith R, Turner P. 2016. Time to abandon the hygiene hypothesis: new perspectives on allergic disease, the human microbiome, infectious disease prevention and the role of targeted hygiene. Perspectives in Public Health. 2016;136(4):213-224. doi:10.1177/1757913916650225

International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Developing household hygiene to meet 21st century needs. IFH (International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene); 2021. Available at:

[1] Fleishman Hillard Survey, March 2020

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