Technology is boosting efficiency everywhere and cleaning is no exception. John Reale says you’re not getting the service you deserve if your cleaners aren’t using clever tech.
In some industries we readily accept technological (and subsequent social) change as par for the course. Since digital communication exploded into dominance, marketing and advertising campaigns have become interactive and measurable. The one-way communication channels that ruled in the past (print and TV advertisements, billboards, direct mail, etc) have lost their crown to the digital channels (websites, email, social media etc) that facilitate two-way conversations between businesses and their customers.
In the accounting space, clever cloud-based systems have afforded smaller businesses an unprecedented level of transparency and convenience. Business owners can manage and monitor their accounts from almost anywhere, using a simple app on a mobile device. Optical recognition of payable invoices in programs like Receipt Bank have drastically reduced the data-entry burden and electronic batch-payments have bought back the hundreds of admin hours once devoted to writing cheques to pay employees and suppliers.
Online shopping, once the stuff of futuristic sci-fi film fantasy, is quickly becoming more reliable and convenient, giving brick and mortar stores a run for their money. Clearly, most industries have embraced, and been significantly transformed by, technological advancements. Mostly for the better.
Then there is the cleaning industry.
For some reason, many commercial cleaning contractors continue to drag their heels when it comes to exploring the technological advancements available. Admittedly, technology is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cleaning. Surely a mop is a mop. A vacuum is a vacuum. Improvements to these tools only move the needle so far in terms of major change, right?
But this view fails to consider the laundry list of challenges that cleaning contractors face. Dirt removal isn’t the only (or possibly even the main) business activity involved in running a commercial cleaning business – there are so many moving parts from people management through to client expectations and environmental responsibility.
The great news is that if you can think of a problem, then no doubt someone, somewhere has developed a tech-based solution. Why waste energy reinventing the wheel? Since it may not be immediately apparent how technology can assist cleaning contractors overcome these challenges, let me lay it out for you:
Challenge number one: people management
Like any other service business, commercial cleaning runs on people power. That means managing a large workforce of diverse individuals who must work independently and with a minimum of management oversight.
Challenge number two: cost and time management
Cleaning is an industry with a lot of players, many of whom use rogue tactics like underpaying their staff to undercut the competition. This puts constant pressure on honest operators to manage increasing costs while also staying competitive. Since the largest cost is time, this needs to be carefully managed; any blow-outs must be quickly identified, eliminated where possible and communicated to the client if out-of-scope work is the issue.
Solve two problems with one tech solution
If your cleaning contractor is still managing staff rostering on paper or even in Excel, then your life is about to get a whole lot easier. Smart cloud-based programs, like freshOps, enable contractors to schedule staff to shifts which then automatically sync with their mobile devices. All cleaning staff are required to check in and out of shifts, providing accurate data for both time management and supervision purposes.
Challenge number three: payroll administration
Manually tracking the hours worked by mobile teams of cleaning staff at various times and locations for payroll purposes is a logistical nightmare. Additionally, accuracy is of the highest importance to ensure all workers are remunerated fairly (which includes complex calculations around overtime and other entitlements).
Smart contractors will choose people management software that integrates with their accounting package. For example, Xero will import data on hours worked for accuracy and convenience. The correct award rate is automatically adopted based on the time of each shift and payroll files can be easily created.
Challenge number four: quality assurance and client expectation management
Much involved with resolving both these issues comes down to scope management. Most contractors and clients put a lot of time and effort into nailing down complex scope agreements that have been specifically tailored to ensure the ongoing presentation and cleanliness of a facility. Sure, you can ask the cleaners to adhere to the scope, but surely there are ways to increase both contractor and client confidence that the set tasks are being performed as expected.
No more paper checklists on clipboards attached to bathroom walls (which may or may not be filled out accurately). Savvy contractors can now add cleaning scopes to their people management software; think checklists that must be checked off upon completion and the ability to request and receive photo verification in real time. Exception reports can then be run so management can easily track what tasks may have been missed. While clients will naturally be happier knowing that staff performance is being closely managed and monitored, they can also raise any issues via digital ticketing systems; problems can be flagged immediately and resolved or improved quickly.
Challenge number five: environmental impact
The environmental consequences of the choices made by cleaning contractors around waste management, water wastage and the use of harsh chemicals is something we can no longer afford to ignore.
Challenge number six: tools and equipment
Better equipment often equals a higher quality and more efficient clean. Let’s be honest: there are mops and then there are mops.
In addressing these last two challenges, we discover that not all problems can be solved by software apps. However, their resolution still relies upon technological advancement. Suppliers of the cleaning industry have invested in the research and development of more effective, greener and highly efficient cleaning equipment and chemicals. Some examples include:
- Microfibre cloths and mops which require little chemical use and are more effective than traditional cotton cloths.
- Citrus based chemicals which are significantly safer, not only for the environment but also for the cleaners, clients and the facilities themselves (when compared with traditional industrial strength chemicals like bleaches).
- Advanced machines, like scrubbers and carpet machines, which make maintaining facilities easier, faster and more effective.
What’s in store for the future?
I’ve spoken to a couple of big hitters in the industry and they’ve offered some insights into what technology we might see burst onto the scene over the next 10 years.
Martin Callan, Founder and CEO of getfreshOps.com, predicts that “the clever use of hardware inside smartphones and smartwatches will assist cleaning contractors to better manage and monitor their cleaners remotely. Location technologies, such as GPS, Bluetooth Beacons and NFC spell the end of paper checklists and allow contractors to know exactly where their teams and what they are doing.” While these proof of service methods aren’t new, Callan emphasises that the trends point towards wider use of technology to “gather real proof, not just tick boxes”.
Graeme Synan, of Victorian Cleaning Supplies, forecasts that businesses will start investing more into innovative equipment, surface technology, compliance or real time active management sensors (RTAMS). “These technologies will add significant value in reallocation of physical resources to more productive complex cleaning environments. Contractors who are progressive with technological change will have a sustainable business model and longevity of operation.”
I know what you’re thinking: what about robots? Well, driverless scrubbers have already been developed. While this is still relatively new technology, who’s to say that it won’t be the norm for larger facilities in 10 years’ time? The consensus overall seems to be that tech is no longer ‘the future’ of the cleaning industry – it’s already here. The time is now to embrace the advantages that these advancements offer, so contractors can offer clients the more efficient, greener cleaning service they want, need and deserve.
John Reale is the founder and managing director of Realcorp.