Tips for Maintaining a Clean, Healthy Building Environment
While everyone adapts to the new normal, property managers are taking a closer look at the cleaning practices for their facilities. In addition, tenants are wondering if their employees will be safe if they return to the office. Aside from the baseline the health and safety issues this poses, cleaning could become a make-or-break service for multi-tenant facilities, particularly regarding the concerns about reduced tenancy rates because of the shift to remote work.
Dimitri Sigounas, Director of Development and Strategic Operations for Evripos Janitorial Services, has some recommendations for facility managers navigating this tricky time. His company has been busily adapting to the new landscape in janitorial services since the pandemic hit in early 2020.
Evripos is one of Ottawa’s largest cleaning services providers, with clients in both the public sector and the private sector. They work mainly in the multi-tenant high-rise office space and also in educational facilities, light industrial spaces, retail, and museums. They’ve been called upon to help with disinfecting long term care facilities where there have been serious outbreaks.
Shifts to Greater Visibility for Cleaning
When asked about changes in janitorial practices since the pandemic began, Sigounas noted that there have been two main shifts in how his teams have been working.
The first is the shift away from cleaning for appearance, and towards cleaning for health. Clients are, understandably, asking for more disinfection services.
The second shift is in the timing of cleaning activities. “Before the pandemic, no news was good news. Most of our clients didn’t want detailed reports, and they didn’t want to see our technicians at work. Our teams cleaned in the evening and overnight. But now, people using the space really want to see janitorial teams at work during the day— seeing the cleaners at high touch points makes them feel safe.”
Communication is King
Sigounas’s first recommendation to facility managers is to prioritize communication with janitorial service providers.
“The most important thing for a property manager to do is to bring us in on the ground floor when creating their plan,” he says. “We can help guide them with best practices right off the bat, and create a more efficient workflow and achieve the best results for their budget.”
For example, knowing a boardroom schedule will ensure that cleaning teams are available to disinfect the space afterwards. Similarly, knowing which desks have been actually used streamlines disinfection efforts. In addition, more clients are introducing desk or room reservation technology to facilitate the communication, including automated cleaning tickets triggered on usage.
“It’s essential for us to understand the employee traffic schedule,” he continues. “So we don’t spend effort if it’s not needed.”
Another key communication point is to inform janitorial teams if someone has COVID-19 symptoms.
Sigounas explains, “Someone can feel fine in the morning but have symptoms in the afternoon. That means they’ve been potentially spreading the virus for hours. If the virus is in a building, there is extra PPE we need to wear and protocols we need to follow— that’s when the Tyvek suits, eye protection, and booties come out. It’s vital that we keep our technicians safe, so they can keep others safe.” As a standard practice, cleaning technicians wear gloves and reusable cotton masks.
Communication is also happening on another front, as tenant employees are engaging directly with the cleaning technicians, says Sigounas. “Workers are coming up to us and asking about decontamination processes and equipment. We’ve even been asked to sell them masks and hand sanitizer! Before, we were simply there to do a task, and now we’re part of the educational process, and provide reassurance.”
To help tenants feel safer, Sigounas says that his teams are now posting detailed patrol sheets on each floor in spots where they’re easily noticed by everyone. “Instead of marking off full rounds as complete, our technicians now have individual line items for things like elevator buttons, door handles, and armrests, all of which need to be time-stamped. Some of our clients prefer digital quality assurance (QA), and our teams provide these updates via a mobile app.”
No “One Size Fits All” Answer to Best Practices
While all of Sigounas’s clients want their employees to be safe, there is no one approach that will work for all buildings and all organizations.
“Offices will have variations in employee hours, physical setups, traffic flow patterns, and whether or not they’re open to the public. Sometimes there are staff rotations in an office, and people work from home some days and come in on others. It can get even more complex if they’re hot-desking in the office and can use almost any workspace.
That being said, he recommends some key practices.
- Where space allows, have unidirectional stair wells and corridors to help employees maintain social distancing. This can help reduce the use of elevators, which become extremely slow when they can only carry one person at a time.
- To avoid the need for constant disinfection passes, block off or partially block off high-use areas like kitchenettes.
- Clearly indicating which desks can be used and which can’t will help focus cleaning efforts. The same thing goes for stalls, sinks, and urinals in washrooms.
- For hot-desking spaces, Sigounas recommends reversible tent cards. One side lets employees know the desk and equipment has been professionally disinfected. At the end of the day, the card can be turned around to let cleaning teams know the space has been used.
- Sigounas’s teams use electrostatic sprayers for disinfectant. These ensure that hard surfaces attract more droplets of disinfectant, including on the underside.
Cleaning frequency will depend on your risk tolerance and budget. Some of Sigounas’s clients want sweeps four times a day, with spot cleaning follow-ups. Others have to work within tighter budgets, but there are other options to meet those constraints.
“We’ve provided some of our tenants with disinfectant wipes, and training on how to do a professional job. Untrained people may clean desks and computer mice, but they will not know to disinfect things like chair levers, phones, and the undersides of surfaces.”
Preserving Health is Everyone’s Responsibility
“There is no one single solution to COVID,” says Sigounas. “But if you’re serious about the health and safety of your employees, collaborating with your janitorial service provider will give the best results.”
There are benefits to an active cleaning program. “If your health and safety program is more rigorous, you can bring more people back into the office. When they feel safer, employees can become more productive.”
An active cleaning program and integrated return to work technology can further bolster employee safety and their trust in their employer.
Summing up, Sigounas says, “The days of invisible cleaning are over.”