Mon | May 25, 2020

The state of the commercial cleaning industry: Response to COVID-19 [Part 3]

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2020 | 12:20 AM
The commercial cleaning industry is not for the faint of heart and this is validated by the demand of COVID-19
The commercial cleaning industry is not for the faint of heart and this is validated by the demand of COVID-19

At the end of writing Part 2 of the series on the commercial cleaning industry, I had planned to write a Part 3 to explore the state of the industry. However, events have rapidly overtaken my plan, with the explosion of the spread of COVID-19 among workers at a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) centre.

This unfortunate occurrence has exposed the grim underbelly of cleaning and sanitation which falls under commercial cleaning. I have been in the business going on 30 years (May 4, 2020), and I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of cleaning and sanitation observed when touring locations to gather information as the basis for bidding. I can state categorically that clients are mostly insistent on a clean and sanitary working environment for their clients to do business. Their scope of works are usually detailed, inputs clearly stated along with cleaning times – daily, weekly, monthly, annually, etc.

In particular, tender documents published by Government entities leave nothing to the imagination, as it is all laid out, including standards for the required services. Private sector companies locally and internationally have significantly improved their requirements for standards over the years.

Some companies screen contractors via prequalification exercise and hold pre-tender meeting. It is not unusual for a tender process to range from 90 days to 120 days and beyond. It means that commercial cleaning contractors have to exercise stamina and endurance and we do during normal times.

The industry has responded well to outbreaks and threats of outbreaks in the past, including H1N1, Zika, Ebola, and more recently in Jamaica, Dengue. However, the new coronavirus is in a class by itself.

In a previous article, I stated the four legs which underpin infection control. They are cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing and hygiene. I have been listening very keenly to the woes at the BPO centre where the infection exploded. This resulted in the locking down of an entire parish, St Catherine, which is the home base of a major BPO, followed by other spread across the municipality of Portmore and deep reaches into Kingston and St Andrew. Therefore, it is sad to predict, but it will only be a matter of time when the effects of what started in Portmore will reverberate throughout the BPO industry, as workers traverse companies in search of employment opportunities.

Having said that, let me return to the subject at hand – the state of the commercial cleaning industry: Response to COVID-19. In Part 2 of my article titled ‘The Commercial Cleaning Industry: Turning Off The Lights During COVID-19’, I spoke of Standards For Best Practices And Service Delivery. I went on to say, regarding standards for best practices, “what does it really mean and who is it for? I stated it is the best way to do something. That is the method or technique which consistently shows superior results better than if done any other way. It is the benchmark against which service is judged. It should become automatically the standard by which services are provided, when applied to the cleaning service industry – the services must, therefore, be systematic, consistent and professional.”

My writings are not designed to cast aspersions nor denigrate the state of the industry, but to highlight the actual role it should and must play at this time like no other. It is the preferred meaning of standards for best practices and service delivery to be applied to determine its applicability to the situation at hand at the affected BPO centre, and indeed all others.

STATUS OF THE COMMERCIAL INDUSTRY: FACTS AND TRENDS

During the past 30 years, I have witnessed the ups and downs in the industry, both by association, encounter and research to educate and inform the operation of MMS Ltd and our valued clients and employees. What is clear is that there is no data on the local industry from which to determine any trend in the current statistics, growth and contribution to the economy. What may be known is price-based competition learned from published results of bidding, and this is garnered from state agencies.

On the surface, the commercial cleaning industry primary drivers are a few established companies and a few emerging ones. My point of reference is the yellow pages and the Internet. Some have prominent addresses and advertisements and websites, others not so much. One can test by calling the published phone numbers and some will go unanswered; either they have exited or are emerging to enter. Others have explosive launch, advertorial and articles, then they go silent.

The commercial cleaning industry is not for the faint of heart and this is validated by the demand of COVID-19 which hit just as there was the beginning of upswing in the economy evidenced by the growth of the BPOs, among others. Included were multiple construction of housing and commercial sites requiring post construction cleaning, outsourcing of janitorial and related services by education, health, entertainment, points of entry, telecommunication, among others. Larger clients were increasingly preferring to bundle their needs, for example, property management, security, washroom supplies, pest control, grounds and landscape services under a single contract.

More recently, there were attempts to introduce a consortium of companies to drive the bidding process. The latter is to be tested, as it requires companies with robust infrastructure and the three Ps – people, process and pricing. This trend is welcomed, as facilities management and building service companies will have to step up in the competition.

The trend needs to be checked along the following areas:

n Customer service – efficiency and quality

n Responsiveness – how nimble to respond to crisis, for example, COVID-19 and the four legs – cleaning, disinfecting, sanitising and hygiene.

n Investment to underpin process – technology to include software for accounting, payroll, HR, billing, among others.

n Customer base – finding the right customer and match their service requirements, knowing “you cannot be all things to all men”.

n People – finding, training, and equipping employees.

n Competition – quality of service. Even in the face of low bidding quality matters.

I am imploring the relevant agency(s) to gather statistics on:

n Market size

n Number of legitimate businesses

n Industry employment – workforce

n Average size of the business by revenue and resources

n Areas of industry activities

a). Commercial

b). Residential

c). Other

Market research is also required to determine the industry as a whole, its performance and contribution to the economy, products and services, competition, and operating condition.

COVID-19 may be a blessing in disguise as a jump-off point to formalise the industry once and for all.

M. Audrey Stewart-Hinchcliffe, CD, JP, MSc, BA, is chief executive officer and founder of Manpower and Maintenance Services Group Limited. Email comments to ceo@manpowerja.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.