By Jim Melvin, Deputy Chairman, British Cleaning Council (BCC) and Group CEO, Exclusive Contract Services.
Like the rest of the UK’s economy, cleaning contractors and staff have been understandably rocked by the impact of Coronavirus and in my own opinion, reacted extremely well.
As a people industry, the priority across the sector during this unprecedented pandemic has been to support, train and protect our teams in order to be in a position to successfully assist our clients.
In very difficult circumstances for our supply chain, staff have generally received the correct levels of PPE throughout the crisis and companies have ensured teams followed the correct procedures throughout, whilst both advice and instructions changed frequently.
Good internal communications have been key throughout and have been deployed by cleaning companies across the sector.
At Exclusive, for example, we introduced Zoom coffee breaks and daily team catch ups, quizzes, racing and photography events, virtual wine tasting sessions, staff thank you videos, special awards and other initiatives to support morale.
Cleaning operatives throughout the sector are being asked to focus on new tasks while needing to be satisfied that their safety and wellbeing is protected which demands information, advice and training as the morale and wellbeing of operatives remains a fundamental consideration. It is primary in my view to be able to demonstrate staff help and assistance quickly where required.
Concerns raised by colleagues included being stopped by the police on their way to work early/late at night. In response, we issued letters from the company and clients to show officers if required, which they were.
Regular weekly and monthly communication with staff has resulted in furloughed colleagues being more informed and willing to return to work when asked, though some have been understandably nervous.
Another significant challenge cleaning contractors have faced has been being agile to meet the changing needs of clients. Clients want to do the best they can, accepting they have the same financial and people issues. We are seeing clients revise, change and improve specifications for cleaning operatives to complete additional or focused tasks, such as ensuring touch points are clean, employing additional numbers or day staff and, in certain sectors, providing 24-hour cleaning.
A significant number of clients have also committed to incumbent suppliers for an extended contract period which I hope is recognition of the excellent job contractors and staff have done.
Nevertheless, the future is uncertain with the economy in severe difficulty. Whilst clients and companies will have contingency plans, many workplaces are closed or have a reduced workforce within buildings which obviously impacts on the demand for our services.
Many staff in the sector are furloughed until the end of October and it remains to be seen what happens when the Job Retention Scheme ends. I sadly don’t believe that the new £1k Retention Bonus will make the difference that we had hoped.
However, I do think in the longer term, the future for the cleaning and hygiene sector will be positive. As a result of this horrible, indiscriminate pandemic, more people openly recognise how important professional cleaning and hygiene is.
In tragic circumstances, the industry has never had a better opportunity to showcase that it is well-managed, well-operated with cleaning operatives who care about their work. Staff have evidenced this every day during the crisis, with operatives having been praised by the Prime Minister, Leader of The Opposition and other politicians and celebrities. It has been both deserved and welcomed as a start point.
Through associations such as the Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA) and the BCC, the industry continues to seek recognition from Government and to drive the further development and knowledge of cleaning operatives. This will be vital as the economy recovers.
I sincerely hope that the demand for cleaning and hygiene services will strengthen as I genuinely believe that people will remember how we behaved throughout this crisis.
(This column first appeared in Tomorrow’s Cleaning magazine. You can see the original here: https://content.yudu.com/web/1jybr/0A1vxp9/TCSep2020/html/index.html?page=24&origin=reader)