The art and science of cleaning

Julian Fris explores this unheralded but vital position in the industry

Cleaning projects are, without a doubt, some of the most interesting pieces of work we undertake. It’s a seriously under-valued profession but unquestionably an extremely important component of everyone’s business

Julian Fris explores this unheralded but vital position in the industry

Sadly, cleaning is taken for granted. It is like a magic wand is waved during the twilight hours and everything is transformed. As we know, first impressions are extremely important to guests and staff, and many judge an organisation by how their space is presented, how clean the toilets are, whether the windows have smears, if there’s grime in the corners of the room and so on. Comments you often hear are: “Because the place is so dirty it as if they don’t care!”, “They have no pride in their appearance, what are they like as a company?” With that feedback, any chef won’t get the chance to show off their culinary skills as they will have lost the chance to impress already.

Having conducted surveys at all-inclusive resort hotels, the second most important element after the beach and watersports was room cleanliness. In hospitals hygiene is a lifesaver and features highly in patient surveys. It’s a major factor for everyone, at least until you get to some decision makers. In fact, it got so bad in the NHS a few years ago they had to rewrite the specifications, fund enforced deep cleans, and ensure that costs weren’t cut further at the expense of patient care. Remember MRSA?

Good cleaning means longer asset life, less redecoration, happier customers and better well-being. Despite its common perception, cleaning is not all mops and buckets, toilet brushes and minimum wage – it’s a world of motivation, innovation and influence. By looking analytically at your spaces you can work out how much input you actually need before you go out to bid or keep in-house.

One of our favourite cleaning projects was at an entertainment venue in London. It only closes for five days a year, the rest of the time it has a range of events in the auditorium and many of the side rooms with multiple turnarounds a day. They were spending a seven-figure sum with two-thirds provided in-house at well-above the market rate but low productivity; the rest went to a contractor who did the less popular jobs.

Most agreed change was required but some stakeholders were nervous, so we completely mapped the space, room usage with dimensions, access and utilisation to give us a true cleanable area. The target cost to clean all areas ended up at two-thirds of the existing budget, which convinced the CEO and stakeholders to market test. Five bidders were shortlisted – the winning bid was virtually on the benchmark so the company were appointed and proceeded to transform cleaning. Quality improved by 20% points, the auditorium was cleaned straight after performances (not the next day) and costs reduced. Job done. We do this for everyone – insurance firms, hospitals, schools, universities, sports stadia or visitor attractions. It’s fascinating how ambivalent clients are about cleaning, then they get really engaged in the process and once they realise they can make a difference.

Cleaning companies just need to price sensibly so they can put more time into innovation such as robotic scrubbing machines, hand dryer video displays, flow cleaning, environmentally friendly cleaning materials and so on. This ‘intelligent’ cleaner invests savings (usually 10-15%) back into staff pay, terms and conditions adopting the Living Wage. In reality, 80% of cleaning is a ‘people cost’ and if you look after the team properly they will become more engaged and motivated. Many of the innovations will come from the staff finding new ways of doing things and better firms reward or award staff for this.

So the advice would be that we shouldn’t relegate cleaners to ‘passing ships in the night’ – they are singly the most important people in a hotel, hospital, restaurant, office or anywhere. They support brands, values and help show that organisations care about guests, staff and anybody they deal with.