Robotics, Commercial Cleaning, Cleaning Automation, COVID-19 Tue, Apr 21, '20
A New Coworker to Relieve Your Shift: The New World of Commercial Cleaning

Commercial cleaning companies have long been working to identify new ways to do more with less. Intense competition in the sector has pushed many companies to lower costs, forcing companies to become more efficient in how they clean. Now, however, efficiency has become even more critical.

Cleaning companies have suddenly become essential frontline workers in the battle to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 infection. Online jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter saw help-wanted ads for cleaners grow 75% this March compared to a year earlier, MarketWatch reports. Even as some businesses have closed, others are stepping up their deep cleaning to ensure customers they’re safe for business.

However, this intense demand is putting cleaners at risk of infection themselves. In addition, workers who must take time off to care for ill or at-risk family — a right now protected under the Department of Labor’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act — are dwindling the numbers of some commercial cleaning companies’ staff. It’s a new test for commercial cleaning company owners, who have even more reason to seek strategies to remain efficient with their current or reduced staff. 

It’s one reason more commercial cleaning companies are turning to automated cleaning technologies for support.

Where to deploy automated solutions

Automated cleaning technologies, including commercial robotic sweepers, offer a clear argument for use today: they can’t get sick or spread infection. However, these technologies aren’t a cure-all for today’s cleaning demands. Instead, they must be strategically deployed to support the existing human workforce.

Robotic sweepers can’t take over the critical deep cleaning and disinfection recommended by the CDC as necessary to keep workplaces safe and healthy. However, these robotic automation  tools can take on more mundane tasks, like vacuuming, to free up existing staff for critical disinfection. Automated robotic sweepers like Whiz by SoftBank Robotics can clean up to 30,000 square feet per shift, adding significantly to cleaning staff’s efficiency. 

These monotonous tasks cannot be overlooked during today’s focus on deep cleaning. Tasks such as vacuuming are a necessary first step toward ensuring that deep cleaning is  effective. Thorough cleaning of soft, porous surfaces such as carpets and rugs is critical prior to high-level disinfection and sterilization. Without it, any remaining inorganic and organic material on these surfaces could interfere with the effectiveness of disinfection processes.

Break down staffing barriers

Adopting robotic solutions for specific, targeted tasks is also a critical piece of getting your existing staff onboard with this strategy. There’s a longstanding fear among many workers that automated robotic tools are here to take their jobs. To get the full benefit of these solutions, employers must confront this fear head-on by explaining the benefits of automation for staff. After all, these tools are meant to take over their most monotonous tasks, tasks most likely to cause musculoskeletal strain by rates as high as 63 percent, and allow them more time to complete value-added functions.

Before implanting any new automated solution, managers you  explain:

  • The key reasons you’re adopting the new technology.
  • The benefits to workers individually and as a team.
  • What it will replace and how it will work within the team.

New expectations around clean

While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic spike in interest around robotic cleaning technologies, many cleaners believe that the pandemic will transform expectations around what we consider clean. If efficiency was a problem prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a challenge that will only be exacerbated in the future, as higher expectations for a clean environment persist.

Dr. Robert M. Hebeler, an adjunct business professor at Rollins College, predicts that tourists will no longer be satisfied with what looks and smells clean, and the hospitality industry may need to offer a personal guarantee “that every measure has been taken to ensure they and their families will not get sick.” He suggests the future will demand greater investments in cleaning staff, hand sanitizing stations and touchless technology, and ways to communicate cleanliness measures to guests. Data — such as the kind tracked by automated cleaning technologies — will be an expected proof point.

In other words, a deeper clean will likely become the new normal, particularly if COVID-19 becomes a new seasonal illness as experts predict. Those cleaning companies willing and able to adapt to the future of clean today will be better prepared to care for their staff and clients in the long run. Now is the time to make smart technology decisions to keep pace with the market and deliver industry-leading solutions to your customers. 

This doesn’t have to be an enormous upfront investment. Some autonomous cleaning solutions like Whiz, the autonomous vacuum sweeper from Softbank Robotics 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 facilities.