The last few months have been nothing short of a whirlwind for the professional cleaning industry and for building service contractors. There have been a lot of changes in the way we perceive what the health of a building is. There have been changes in the definition of a healthy and safe facility. We’re still fighting the storm of the pandemic, and one wonders how this has impacted cleaning contracts. Have there been changes in the information that’s included in the cleaning proposals or what are the new sections or steps one needs to highlight in these proposals? Clean Middle East spoke to Andrew Law, Technical Services Director, Tafawuq Facilities Management and Imran Ahmed, Regional General Manager of Services ADNH Campus, in an exclusive webinar, which discusses the nature and scope of cleaning contracts post COVID-19. Here is a brief excerpt and summary.
The impact of the pandemic
The impact of COVID-19 has been deep and wide ranging. It has not just had an impact on our buildings; it has impacted our staff as well. Health and safety measures are the need of the hour. Hence, labour accommodations are being increased to adhere to social distancing; laborers are being transported to working sites. Work timings and shifts have changed due to social distancing. In fact, Tafawuq has had to work closely with its clients to make sure they have a deep understanding of the new processes in place and that they follow the guidelines of social distancing as proposed by the authorities.
With regard to sanitation, the chemicals that are used currently have been in the market only for a short span of time. These have to be approved by the Dubai Municipality to ensure that they are effective in the fight against COVID-19. Then again, high contact areas have to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each use. Take for instance, swimming pools. Before the pandemic struck, swimming pools would be cleaned 2-3 times in a day.
Now facilities have stationed people right there. Everytime a sunbed is used, it is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before being used by someone else. Pool decks, too, are being cleaned more often. Even staff allocation has changed. Earlier, the cleaning staff would be rotated throughout the facility. Now, they are stationed in their respective areas to prevent cross contamination. Apart from these factors, the most important thing is the level of awareness people now have about cleaning, disinfection and sanitation. Earlier, cleaning was an operational task, which would be running in the background and people were not overly concerned with how it is carried out. The market requirement as of today is that cleaning and disinfection is carried out properly.
Everybody has a greater level of education about it with the information they see on TV or through the media. So people themselves know what good cleaning looks like. In such a scenario, it is important that facilities employ organizations or staff that perform cleaning AND disinfection properly. As a result, the cleaning contractors business is going to witness a lot more detailed contracts driven by more technical information and accreditations on the chemicals and equipment being used. Another consequence of the increased awareness is that it will filter out companies that are in this industry just for the sake of money and do not deliver optimum solutions and services.
Growth factors that assist the contract cleaning services market
If you’re looking at the market generally, there are different growth factors affecting different areas of the world. Here in the GCC, we’ll have tentative growth of 4.9% and 5.1% in the next five years. It may vary with the area. Moreover, now, there is a high demand for sanitization within the residential market and commercial markets. For example, if you have a COVID-19 positive case in the office, there is a requirement to sanitize the office. This was unheard of in pre-COVID times. Now it’s happening on a regular basis all over the emirates.
High-contact public cleaning increases labor allocation, which increases cost, which, in turn, obviously increases the market turnover. This cycle is going to be a constant because people might refer to it as “POST COVID” but the fact is that we are still IN COVID. So during these times the nature of the contract will change the marketplace. A few years ago, input-based contracts dominated the market. The number of cleaning staff, security, people, etc., dictated the pricing of the industry. It was a very competitive market.
What we are now faced with is an output-based contract, i.e., instead of cleaning between x-time and x-time, cleaning contractors have to have 24*7 control of the building so they can do heavy cleaning within an evening, which was previously done during the day. This migration from input- to outputbased contracts is going to be a positive move. It will increase standards throughout the GCC. Cleaning contractors will also be required to focus on disciplining data. Then again, there’s a lot of smart technology coming to cleaning. A classic example would be smart washrooms. Another very important factor is the presence of cleaning teams. No matter what technology we adopt, in the current scenario, people would want to see cleaning teams in action.
Cleaning contracts - a perception
There is a major difference in the client perception of cleaning processes. Earlier, the focus would be on maintaining the right temperature within the facility, the right lighting, ventilation and ambience were always on the list but from February 2020, it has put a big swing on the cleaning contracts. A majority of cleaning contracts were suspended, particularly in the leisure and hotel industry as amusement parks, shopping malls and hotels closed down indefinitely.
Cleaning companies have had to redeploy their staff to different facilities to ensure that people do not lose their jobs during the pandemic. But on the flip side, this has been a good time for cleaning service providers to work on their accreditations and train their workforce for the larger challenge at hand - disinfection for COVID-19. They also seized this opportunity to work closely with clients because the need to understand new requirements from the client’s side has increased even further. Clients are also looking for a highly visible presence from the cleaning team whether its on a commercial property or residential.
We are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and things are still changing for the cleaning industry on a day-to-day basis (in terms of learning and operations). Clients are repeatedly going back to the cleaning contracts to assess how they can get the optimum services (e.g. the extra sanitization) for battling COVID-19 with their current agreements. This is because they are more concerned about the safety of their visitors and staff more than ever.
Cleaning service providers say that they are witnessing different requirements from different types of clients, so cleaning contracts vary case by case. They are constantly assessing how they can support their clients in these troubling times and what solutions they will need to come up with in the future. They are putting their best foot forward in getting their client’s businesses back on line and support in whatever way they can. Expectations from suppliers The use of traditional chemicals is now changing.
There is a big push from the client’s side to opt for environmentally safe products and chemicals. As we move forward, there are going to be even more changes in what clients require. The focus will be to achieve optimum disinfection and sanitation while also taking care of the environment. These characteristics will need to be integrated into one comprehensive solution because they need to be easy for the cleaners to ferry from one place to another. The products also need to be standardized and accredited.
There are hundreds of cleaning products in the market that make unrealistic claims about fighting COVID-19. When used, they pose a greater risk by creating a false sense of security. So the industry needs to take control of the cleaning market where each claim is audited by a certain authority.