During the past year, the cleaning industry has changed by leaps and bounds. It has been heavily impacted by Coronavirus and the lockdown in different sectors, businesses, and operations. A British Cleaning Council audit of members shows that organisations and individuals are having to adapt rapidly to the major changes brought by the virus.
In this article, we will be exploring one of the most frequently asked questions in the industry - how has cleaning changed during the pandemic?
The increased importance of cleaning and disinfection
Clean Middle East spoke to Tania Khouri, General Manager, Al Kout Mall, Kuwait. Tania believes that providing a clean and safe environment is very vital for the comfort of inhabitants (visitors, employees and customers) in a commercial building. “Accordingly, we ensure cleanliness - right from air quality, the physical building all the way to the surfaces that inhabitants may come into contact with. Cleanliness and disinfection also impact health and safety as the building needs to be clear of volatile organic compounds, bacteria, viruses and other unseen microbes such as mites. At our malls, we already had a robust program in place relating to processes and chemicals, but the crisis made us review our program from every aspect,” she says.
Osama Elshourbaji, Mall Manager at The Gate Mall, Kuwait, also believes that during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis in the world, many concepts changed in the business world, especially the concepts of hygiene and disinfection. Contrary to expectation, the risks of infection are growing in everyday life. After all, who is able to make a distinction between cleanliness and hygiene? This situation is further compounded by the growing number of persons who are susceptible to infections.
What has changed?
A great development took place in the concepts of hygiene just last year. The purpose of cleaning and hygiene shifted. Pre COVID-19, cleaning was just another normal operation. The outbreak changed the cleaning world and its perception of cleaning. It triggered a growth boom in that department and has forever changed it. There have been two areas that came into the limelight due to the pandemic crisis - total cleaning and smart disinfection.
Tania says that the fear of transmission of the virus resulted in ensuring that cleaning operations were more detailed and comprehensive. SOPs were reviewed again keeping the threat in mind and evolved to become comprehensive resulting in a more detailed and total cleaning operation. “The fear that surfaces would be contaminated through contact through the thousands of visitors to our malls made us study, explore and understand disinfection in even more detail. We quickly educated ourselves to understand how best to decontaminate surfaces on an ongoing basis to protect against COVID-19. We identified the right chemical disinfectants, methods of applications and frequency. We also set up new protocols for areas that are high contact such as balustrade guard rails, elevator call buttons, escalator handrails, washrooms and so on. In addition, we set up a SMART protocol to disinfect the entire front of house and back of house areas of our malls using proper disinfection post our thorough analysis of selecting the right solution for our malls. We recruited our own team and now have a permanent team whose job is to only disinfect the physical building, whereas a separate team only cleans the building and the surfaces within. This setting up of two independent teams to manage two aspects of cleaning is a major change from previous years,” she says.
All of this was not an option anymore but more of a business need, a requirement to restore and sustain customers’ confidence through the measures the industry is taking.
Osama reiterates that there is a big difference in hygiene concepts in 2020 from all previous years, as awareness of the importance of cleanliness has increased dramatically among shoppers and among those working in shopping centers.
Training amidst the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, the cleaning service provider had to be fully trained on the new protocols imposed. They had to be acquainted with new detergent, new methodologies and frequency.
Training was an ongoing practice to keep the team alert. There was barely any information about this novel virus, and thus, as and when the WHO would make a new announcement or update, facility owners had to rush to keep their teams updated. Thus, training became a way of daily practice.
“Ever since the emergence of the virus, we activated the crisis team in the shopping center. We also started a training plan to combat the COVID-19 crisis, and the impact of this plan was reflected in workers' increased knowledge of disinfection,” says Osama.
Cleaning requirements from the customers/clients
One of the biggest challenges faced was to ensure consistency in cleaning prevailed in an era where information could easily be leaked by customers through social media. In the light of the pandemic, clients and their end customers have become more aware, alert and demanding in terms of hygiene, and it is through hygiene that facility owners can deliver the best customer experience and assurance. “This has impacted our daily inspection, evaluation and follow up conducted by the cleaning supervisor to ensure procedures are adhered to in order to proactively try diminishing shortages,” says Tania.
Choosing the right solutions for disinfection and sanitization
During a pandemic, the most challenging task at hand is to choose a solution that is effective in combating it. At Al Kout Mall, choosing proper disinfectants to meet the business need was an additional responsibility. The solutions were chosen after careful consideration of 5 factors - effectiveness, time, price, ease of use and safety.
Before the pandemic, The Gate Mall used to make an action plan on an annual basis and the numbers of workers, quantity of disinfectants were estimated. However, the pandemic changed everything.
Challenges in cleaning services
The year was full of challenges. For Al Kout mall, recognizing disinfection after cleaning as the next step and hence, as mentioned, reconfiguring cleaning guidelines for the health & safety of its inhabitants ( visitors, employees and customers) was the first major challenge. Cleaning staff needed to be trained properly in safe handling the disinfection, in using the proper PPE gear and the new cleaning protocol. Secondly, increasing disinfection frequency and visibility remained a challenge. The most common cleaning response to the pandemic is to increase the frequency of disinfecting common areas such as restrooms, elevators, elevator call buttons, etc. Typically, this is done during business hours by cleaners wiping touchpoints (door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, etc.) with a disinfectant.
For Osama, the major challenge was to gain awareness of the Coronavirus and the risks it causes, and ensuring visitors and workers adhered to social distancing.
These challenges were overcome through proper education, training and follow up. Malls also reassessed how they could deal with visitors. Re-evaluating the protocols was another significant measure to be followed. Through constant monitoring, malls in Kuwait have been able to amend these protocols and made them simple and achievable .
The future of commercial cleaning market post COVID-19
The commercial cleaning market is growing, and few trends such as improving the disinfection by introducing long-lasting antimicrobials, touchless technology, smart cleaning and equipment technology and robotic cleaning will come to the rescue.
A housekeeper’s perspective
“Earlier, housekeepers would focus on cleaning. They would constantly assess if every area is clean, if it has been properly dusted and wiped. These factors are still being considered, but the focus has now shifted to disinfection and identifying high touch areas. If we talk about rooms, high points such as door handles, AC button, TV remote, etc., are identified and thoroughly disinfected. We even keep a sticker inside the rooms for the guest to be assured that these touch points are indeed disinfected.
In addition to this, all cushions have been removed from the rooms, leaving only the essential items for the guests. Temperatures have been increased for laundry to ensure proper hygiene. Then again, every reusable thing inside the rooms has been replaced by their disposable counterparts and everything has gone digital,” says Ram Sharam Khatiwada, Rooms Operations Manager at Lapita, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Autograph Collection Hotels.
To sum up, cleaning has adapted with the new normal, and rightfully so.