Future of work, cleaning automation, COVID-19 Tue, May 19, '20
Future of Work: 4 Predictions on Post-COVID Commercial Office Cleaning Standards

As social distancing requirements begin to ease in the U.S., business and property owners are planning their phased-approach to bringing staff back to the workplace. However, concerns about the spread of infection remain high, particularly with speculation over the seasonal return of the novel coronavirus. U.S. business owners watching people return to work in China, where employees maintain strict 6-foot perimeters in the workplace, or Italy, where politicians debate allowing only individuals whose blood carries the right antibodies to the virus to return to work, recognize that work environments will need to change before workers return to the office confident in their safety. That means changes will also be needed from the commercial office cleaning professionals responsible for these spaces.

While it’s too early to tell how the future of work will look—although numerous theories already exist—there are a few issues you can expect to see come up as your cleaning staff gets back to working in staffed offices. Here are the expectations you may need to meet in cleaning the office of the future.

1. Workspaces spread out and barriers pop back up

Don’t expect COVID-19 to put an end to the “physical” office space altogether. An April 2020 MIT survey found that remote work was the new normal for 34 percent of Americans who previously commuted to work, a switch made in response to social distancing requirements. A separate report from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that’s about the same percentage of people who are able to work from home.

Share of jobs that can be done at home, by metropolitan area

share-of-jobs-that-can-be-done-at-home-by-metro-area

Source: How Many Jobs Can Be Done At Home? https://www.nber.org/papers/w26948.pdf

So while workers will be returning to work, the spaces they return to are likely to shift in both the near- and long-term to provide more room for social distancing. In the short-term, cubicles may be returning. In the long-term, you may see larger desks more spaced out and fewer collaboration spaces. In some cases, staff may be asked to work in phases, with the potential to bring in office cleaning services in between.

The future of work, predicts Dr. Lisa Winston, hospital epidemiologist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital at the University of California, San Francisco, told the NYTimes, lies in having “fewer people in a space” at a single time. That requirement, too, will impact commercial cleaning businesses.

2. High-contact hotspots may change

Architects and property developers dreaming of a future workplace with fewer high contact spots are thinking about things like automatic doors and voice-activated elevators, coupled with natural antimicrobial copper surfaces and built-in ultraviolet cleaning systems. In truth, however, the high-touch surfaces your staff is being asked to clean will likely evolve rather than disappear altogether.

In the short-term, offices are turning to sneeze-guard style plexiglass partitions and other physical dividers to protect staff from germs, and those spaces will require regular disinfection. Cushman & Wakefield’s design for the “Six Feet Office” of the future features refillable hand sanitizer stations at every desk as well as disposable paper placemats for desks. So, alongside disinfection routines, cleaning staff may be responsible for taking out more trash with more disposable items and keeping the hand sanitizer flowing.

3. Deep cleaning becomes a daily norm

And speaking of deep cleaning, that’s one critical topic on which all office designers and operators can agree. An article from Recode by Vox predicts that post-COVID office spaces will be instating more frequent cleaning policies, even as they adopt supportive technologies—think antimicrobial fabrics on chairs and UV lights for nighttime disinfection—to step in. Clients may want greater insight into the types of products your cleaning staff is using and the PPE they’re wearing as well, as Karla King, director of environmental health and safety for EBI Consulting, told Bisnow.

4. Validation and new policies needed to put fears at ease

In addition to expectations about cleaning, cleaning staff can expect to play a critical role in helping allay fears about returning to work. Demonstrating cleanliness will be a central part of this. One solution will be the use of more technology tools that can provide data that demonstrates a consistent level of cleanliness. For example, Whiz, the autonomous vacuum sweeper from Softbank Robotics developed and distributed in partnership with Brain OS and ICE Robotics, provides real data about each cleaning—including how, when and where cleaning was performed—using Whiz Connect to obtain real-time, data-driven analytics .  

Those types of automated tools will also help ease concerns about the number of people in a workspace spreading germs. Even as cleaning companies are being asked to do more, clients may resist having more workers in a single space. There will also be much less tolerance for letting a sick employee go to work. Companies that don’t already have a sick leave policy in place should put one in place today.

Finally, you’ll want to protect your business from any liability that may come as a result of future infections. Michael A. Fried, president of Aftermath Consulting Group LLC tells Claims Journal that cleaning staff may potentially be held liable for infections that result from contact within their buildings. Fried advises employees crafting cleaning plans to consult with IICRC-certified experts. Certifications like this one may help put greater trust in (and lower risk to) your company.

The right investment can support these changes and more

Collaborating with a robotic coworker can help cleaning staff achieve many of these goals, including more time spent deep cleaning without changing staffing levels. These types of technology solutions can play a powerful role in supporting offices of the future by alleviating workers’ concerns and keeping more businesses running.

What’s more, they don’t require an enormous upfront investment to get started. Some autonomous cleaning solutions, like Whiz, developed and distributed in partnership with Brain OS and ICE Robotics, are available with a subscription model, allowing you to cost-effectively pilot the solution in your buildings. 

While no one knows for sure which trends will make it into the future workspace, the need for change is certain. Investing in new automation tools and technologies today can keep your company ahead of that change.