COVID-19 caught the world off-guard. Yes, every facility was being ‘cleaned’ before the pandemic, but as the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, the cleaning industry revisited and struggled hard to maintain the highest levels of hygiene. Now that we are halfway through (hopefully) the pandemic, let’s assess how prepared we are for future such events.
COVID-19 in the Middle East Vivek Sanglodkar, a professional with 12 years plus experience in Facilities Management and Soft Services Management with expertise in managing medium to large team Operations in GCC & India, believes that the Middle East has always followed a very high standard for cleaning, hygiene and soft services. The world-class infrastructure here demands nothing less but ‘grade A’ services. Clients here travel often and experience and handle the best & latest technologies. Exhibitions introduce the latest machines & practices for cleaning, waste management, pest control & hygiene. Also, the talent acquisition index of the Middle East has seeded the best talent across the world for the FM market. The pandemic hasn't been able to do as much damage in the Middle East compared to other nations due to its hygiene standards and timely actions from the government. On these lines, I strongly feel, Middle East is much better equipped to handle any future pandemics.
Hangmati Limbu, Housekeeping Manager, Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort Al Ain,upholds that this pandemic has reinforced the teachings about the value of life as directly or indirectly it relates with cleaning and hygiene. Cleanliness is very important to everyone and particularly for the housekeeping department in ensuring its consistency at all times; this has become the main focus and an every moment task. It is by strictly following the cleaning standards, safety protocols and local regulation guidelines that we become stronger day by day and are ready to tackle a pandemic in the future. She further highlights how her team gained a rich experience through this period.
Ibrahim Moawad, Director of Operation, Rooms and Housekeeping, Accor Hotels, KSA says that the world has learnt and gained good experiences from the current pandemic. We can use these good experiences to be well prepared for any future situation. In the future, in such similar situations, we have to take immediate action. One of the most important actions we should take is to immediately remove any medical research barriers between nations. Another important measure would be to normalize strict hygiene and sanitize practices worldwide with an international control and audit system
Precautionary measures and cleaning practices after the COVID-19 restrictions
“COVID-19 has put all cleaning standard measures on the table again for proper reviewing. Professional housekeeping departments have updated all their cleaning sequences and are using new sanitations methods with specific data sheets. The old methods of sanitation are not enough at the moment to keep houses, hotels, companies or any other buildings safe and virus free. New variants of COVID-19 can be combated with proper sanitization techniques and on job training is required as well,” says Ibrahim Moawad
Hangmati strongly believes that following precautionary measures and continuous training on safety protocol will ensure high cleanliness standards are maintained. The motto of a successful team comes through an important awareness that such procedures are for both the guest and staff’s safety and are adhered to by implementing checklists, SOPs and consistent guidance across all guest touch points. She is confident that the experience her team gained in handling new chemicals, misting and sanitizing of the property will become part of routine cleaning even after the pandemic.
Vivek and Ibrahim further reiterate some important measures that will become a part of the new normal:
- Frequent washing and sanitizing of hands
- Use of PPE
- Immediate isolation of a suspect
- Regular cleaning frequency,
- Cleaning & sanitizing high touched surfaces
- Enhanced personal hygiene practices
- More vigilance for employee health & emphasis on wellbeing
- Special attention to our cleaning chemicals being used, their strength & potential to clean surfaces.
- Usage of approved disinfectants, mild bleach solutions and active chlorinebased products will stay.
- Practices like fumigation and surface praying will be a standard practice.
- praying will be a standard practice.
- Maintaining social distance
- Keeping all high touch areas such as door handles, phones, TV remote controls, etc. clean and sanitised all times.
- Overcoming the challenges of dealing with different customers are very challenging now
- Regular training for cleaning team
- Using up to date cleaning chemicals
Cleaning and hygiene operations post the pandemic
Cleaning and hygiene operations have completely changed after coronavirus. The most important factors are the changes in the sanitization data sheet and the way of cleaning and sanitizing. The guests are more aware about cleaning and disinfection than ever before. So it becomes important to keep this entire operation visible to gain their trust.
At the same time, protecting the cleaning team also remains an important responsibility. All of these factors put together makes adhering to the proper cleaning sequence the top priority. Ibrahim suggests that sanitizers and sanitization methods must be approved by regional brands to make sure they can deal with different types of viruses and can protect both the hotel team and guests. The correct way to sanitise, he reiterates, is to concentrate on high-touch areas, to make sure that chemical and sanitizing chemicals can kill the virus. Regular on-the-job training is also important to make sure that the cleaning team can not only clean and sanitize properly but can answer all guest questions or at least know how to escalate the issue properly if needed.
“I think that by continuously following related guidelines and safety protocols set by both our management and the local authorities, we will successfully handle the future, post pandemic. It is very fortunate that technology and innovation has tremendously supported us over this period and we have to adapt to these changes to tailor them into our daily practices,” says Hangmati.
Vivek has seen a great learning curve for the entire FM industry. “We have learnt that the lesser you touch anything, the better. In the last year alone, we have come up with so many new gadgets, softwares or similar things where a person need not touch at all, operate on voice commands or it is sensor based. The cleaning & hygiene industry is no exception to this change. We have got machines that now run without operators or with minimum human interaction. Sensors are now used frequently in the hygiene industry to avoid any human contact whatsoever. Chemical dilution units with auto dispensers have become a necessity. In short, in times to come, we will reduce any human contact for cleaning & hygiene operations. Although it can’t be eliminated completely, we are a bit closer to robotics & AI. The future will show us more of AI & use of robotics in the cleaning industry,” he says.
Measures for the future
Vivek further goes on to discuss how pandemics or diseases spread due to unclean surfaces or unhygienic practices. He personally thinks if everyone across the globe keeps the current practices active, we may not face any such adversity in the future. Each one of us will have to stick to strict cleaning and sanitizing schedules and frequencies. High touch points must be replaced with sensors. All the facilities - private or public, must have more sanitizing points. Chemicals with better results against many viruses have become a necessity.Ibrahim strongly believes that the world can be ready for similar contingencies by keeping updated with all data coming from the WHO or any other trusted resource. “We can keep our teams well trained to deal with such situations by creating a contingency plan for any unplanned crisis or situations. If the team is fully empowered, they are also aware that they are supported in such difficult times. Moreover, such a pandemic situation changes rapidly and an empowered team will only be able to take quicker decisions in the right direction without waiting for approval. The contingency plan will involve a couple of things:
- Identifying different types of resources or risks that might cause any future crisis.
- Prioritizing risks, their potential impact and preventing them.
- Sharing the plans properly with approvals in place to enable proper training.
- Testing out these plans to ensure that they are practical.
- Finally, and most importantly ensuring that all contingency plans are updated on the basis of new, approved research
A good awareness and understanding of safety guidelines and precautionary measures coupled with staff and client education will surely support facilities in facing any future challenges.
Biggest learning from this pandemic
The saying goes that “every bad situation comes any time without invitation”. Hangmati therefore believes that we have to be strong and ready to face any situation with positivity, dedication and strength. “This pandemic has taught us a lot, and we highly believe that our team members have been a big asset along with the support and guidance from the local authorities during this pandemic, and they all deserve recognition. They are simply heroes!,” she says.
Vivek sums up his learnings from the pandemic:
- Keeping facilities clean, hygienic and healthy is no more a luxury.
- Investing in better infrastructure, cleaning machines or assets is the need of the hour.
- Average performance that may have been acceptable earlier is non acceptable now.
- Companies & organizations now have budgets for PPEs, sanitizers and cleaning personnel.
- FM companies need to constantly hunt for better talent, machines and practices to achieve results never expected before.
- Organisations have also started monitoring the overall health of the employees which is a holistic approach towards community well being.
So are we prepared for another pandemic?
Yes and No.
If we keep adhering to the cleaning and sanitation protocols we follow stringently today, and continue to stay updated on the latest research, then yes, we are prepared for similar contingencies. But if we do the contrary, then any virus or bacteria can catch us offguard. Are you prepared?.