How Will The Covid-19 Pandemic Affect The Office Cleaning Industry?
The large hard-cover history books would tell us that one of the greatest periods of economic expansion and social change came after the Black Death pandemic in the mid-14th century. However, if you read more closely, you will notice that the period came after decades of upheaval, civil unrest, and calamities.
More than a few people have made a somewhat incorrect comparison between the plague and the present-day Covid-19 pandemic. The anxiety, fears, and uncertainty are easy to understand. All data points to severe economic downslide and recession in the months to come, an overburdened NHS, hospitals unable to meet the flow of the infected, businesses closing down, and rising levels of unemployment.
Not everything is as bleak as it sounds, though - and the office cleaning industry makes no difference. What many experts see as insurmountable obstacles may prove to be stepping stones for growth and evolution for the contractors who manage to adjust to the new realities. We will try to take a balanced look at where the industry stands today and the most likely developments in the months to come.
Big Business Is Hurting. But Is This A Long-term Trend?
One quick look at the macroeconomic data will convince us that the UK is going through some rough times. According to the Office for National Statistics, the unemployment rate for the three months to November 2020 was estimated at 5%. It was 1.2% higher than in the same period last year and 0.6% higher than in the previous quarter. Simultaneously, the redundancy rate reached a record high levels of 14.2 per thousand.
One may argue that macroeconomic data is too blunt of a tool to tell the precise story of a single sector. The leading London estate agents and office realtors confirm growth in empty office space and decreased demand by new or relocating businesses. Office cleaning contractors have followed these trends with serious concerns that sometimes approach panic. There can be no doubt that the numbers are alarming. At the same time, the big sharks see no reason for long-term pessimism.
The highly respected quarterly poll of UK chief financial officers, performed by Deloitte in the last month of 2020, demonstrates a sweeping optimism for the long-term economic prospects. The Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the Brexit insecurity, will cause major unrest on the markets and the real economy. However, recovery will certainly come, probably as early as the last quarter of 2021. It will be slow, painful, and to many - disappointing in its parameters. But it is inevitable.
Will Home Office Replace The Traditional One?
One of the most dramatic changes that the Covid-19 pandemic brought to office workers (the author of the present article included) was the need to start working from home. Some pundits have even gone so far as to write the obituary of the traditional office. If people can work from home and achieve the same productivity levels, they argue, why would companies spend tens of thousands of pounds on renting huge corporate premises and their maintenance?
For starters, a significant portion of the office workers cannot achieve the same productivity levels. They struggle with time management and concentration when they work at home, not to mention more serious mental and physical health problems, depression, and anxiety. Many people miss the social interactions at work, the specific corporate esprit de corps, the creative and funny environment that you can hardly reproduce between the four walls of your residence.
I expect that most office employees will choose to return to their working place as soon as possible. Once they overcome health-related anxiety and the fear of infection, they will prefer their team's camaraderie to the solitude and piece of home.
Covid-19 Will Force Some Major Changes In The Future
In other words, sooner or later, with economic recovery slowly bringing our life and work back to normalcy, things should settle down to their old ways. Or will they?
According to the new government requirements, all businesses must provide a Covid-19 compliant working place. What does it mean in practice? First, the implementation of screen protectors, signs about physical distancing, increased distance between desks and single working stations, a list of approved procedures to be visible in every room. Even when we defeat the virus - as vaccination and herd immunity undoubtedly will - I see no reason why workers' attitude should change. They will be in a position to demand the application of health safety measures in the future, as we will have a new understanding of the dangers of mass respiratory infections.
How will this changed attitude affect office cleaners? I believe there will be a different focus of attention when it comes to office maintenance. Up until 2020, office managers and employees wanted their working place to look and feel clean. In the post-Covid world, they will require much more concentrated attention to common "touch-points" such as door handles, light switches, and the shared office equipment (printers, scanners, etc.). The focus will switch from the single working station to the common areas - staff and conference rooms, washrooms and restrooms. If vacuum cleaning and dust polishing were the staples of old office cleaning, disinfection and pin-point, proper treatment of specific areas will be the new norm.
The New Interaction Between Businesses And Office Cleaning Contractors
Some large-scale corporations have already created a new position on their staff - special Covid-19 officers. Their responsibilities are to observe the above-mentioned measures and improve the health and safety policies at the working place.
When a company books an office cleaning contractor, the latter usually assigns a personal account manager to the new customer. The account manager oversees all interactions between the cleaning crew and the customer and is in charge of the timetable, payment, and cleaning requirements. Very few companies have a comparable counterpart - but the Covid-19 officer will fit perfectly in the role. In my opinion, this will significantly streamline the communication between customer and service provider and make the job of the latter even easier.
Implementation Of New Office Cleaning Methods
As I mentioned at the very start of the article, Covid-19 has forced us to change the way we think about fundamental things we had previously taken for granted. We will probably never look at a door handle the same way, anxiously wondering who had touched it before us. The new attitudes pose different cleaning challenges, especially in office cleaning, where you have to treat premises shared by tens if not hundreds of people.
If there is a problem, there is always a solution - and forward-thinking office cleaning contractors have already come up with innovative methods and services. Antiviral fogging, for example, is quickly gathering momentum as one of the top new techniques. It employs an antiviral disinfectant solution, compliant with BS EN 14476 standard, to sanitise large-scale areas and eliminate viruses, bacteria, and other hazardous biological agents. The treatment has proved so efficient that it is applied in hospitals.
To sum it up, office cleaning contractors have to expect a downturn in 2021, but there are strong reasons for optimism that the sector will recover in the years to come. Furthermore, changed attitudes and the increased demand for health safety will result in higher spending for specialised cleaning and disinfection services, including innovative methods and more detailed treatment of the working place.