Clean Break: Using data to adapt commercial cleaning services for the new reality

 Executive Summary

Commercial cleaning contractors face unprecedented demands for new standards, revised methods and a more visible presence in the delivery of their services to commercial real estate, manufacturing and other large facilities. COVID-19’s precise characteristics continue to be debated and may yet evolve further, but the economic distress caused globally by pandemic-related lockdowns have supercharged the appetite among building owners, corporate clients and public sector landlords for deeper, more thorough cleaning of facilities both to stem the risk of viral spread and to reassure people that the buildings in which they work, shop, live, and breathe are taking every step possible to safeguard their health.

Sadly, the falloff in revenues many clients have experienced means these new demands often do not come along with additional funding. These changed expectations will persist well beyond the current pandemic period, meaning commercial cleaning contractors must revise time-honored assumptions on how to deliver their services, both for today’s challenges and for the post-pandemic world. To meet these new demands, commercial cleaning must move from a territorial approach that assumes an after-hours, one-time pass through a given floorplan, to a targeted, data-driven metabolism that uses cleaning resources more dynamically and cleans based on usage and occupancy, demonstrating to clients and their occupants that post-COVID cleaning is more vigorous, responsive and effective.

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic, striking as it did without warning, left the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) sector and all of its varied service contractors, tenants and portfolio investors with little time to think strategically about how to react. With many offices, retail spaces and other facilities emptied of occupants by emergency lockdown orders aimed at containing the virus, a kind of triage took root throughout the CRE ecosystem.

  • Tenants scrambled to implement remote working technologies where possible, or to enact protocols aimed at keeping staff, customers and other occupants safe through social distancing or contract tracing protocols.
  • Landlords and portfolio managers struggled with demands for rent holidays and laws in some jurisdictions suspending evictions even as their own revenues and business models were under stress.
  • Retail and manufacturing firms wrestled with the fact that remote working offered little relief and that maximizing the number of workers who could safely remain at work has a direct correlation with corporate revenue.
  • Facilities Managers (FMs) grappled with the reality that expectations around cleanliness, occupant wellness and building configuration would be permanently raised and altered by the pandemic.
  • Commercial cleaning and other building management contractors, already locked into low margin contracts, faced new demands to provide reassurance to building occupants that every step possible was being taken to prevent the spread of the virus – all without any additional money or resources to do so.

Indeed, the economic disruption caused by lockdown orders and lingering public fears of the deadly virus meant few businesses had the luxury of directing new budget resources toward initiatives that would deal with these new challenges. By and large, CRE professionals were expected to redeploy existing resources, and in many case, do more with fewer resources because of the collapse of revenue brought on by lockdown mandates, defaults on lease payments and other economic distress.