Agility and resilience – the new differentiator in FM and commercial cleaning
An industry stepping up to meet the challenge of COVID-19
By Simon Jacobs, Marketing Director, Softbank Robotics EMEA
Much like health and social care workers who have displayed incredible bravery and commitment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaners have made a vital contribution to fighting COVID-19 and protecting the wider public over the past six months.
Whilst the role of cleaners during the pandemic has been highlighted in some quarters, we must hope for wider and more sustained recognition of this ongoing contribution, with more stories such as this across the media. Indeed, as the BBC asked back in April, are hospital cleaners the forgotten heroes of the pandemic?
The answer is undoubtedly, ‘Yes’, but it’s not just cleaners in hospitals that are having a huge impact. Cleaners across all types of buildings and workspaces are undertaking vital work, often enduring long and unsociable hours and physically strenuous tasks, and managing an increasing workload, as clients put pressure on FM providers and cleaning contractors to do more for less.
Improved hygiene standards and the deep sanitisation of hard surfaces are seen as critical in protecting against the spread of the virus and in ensuring workers feel comfortable and confident about returning to the workplace. High performance cleaning has become mission-critical to businesses.
Traditional business models have been found wanting
Whilst under pressure from clients to improve the quality and frequency of cleaning, FM providers and cleaning contractors have also needed to balance this with the need to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff, many of whom have been absent due to furlough, sickness (whether their own or that or a loved one) or the need to self-isolate.
We should remember that this challenge is set against a backdrop of longstanding resourcing issues in the cleaning sector, where staff churn is often extremely high and an ongoing pain point for FM leaders.
As in so many sectors, COVID-19 has highlighted the need for agility and resilience within business operations to a degree that was almost inconceivable before. Traditional operating and resourcing models have been tested to their limits and in many cases, they’ve broken, unable to respond effectively to the unforeseen requirements of a global pandemic.
Within cleaning, many providers have struggled to adapt to dramatic changes in client expectations, such as the need to focus more attention on high traffic areas and to make cleaning more visible to workers and end users of buildings to instil confidence. Such dramatic changes to the type of work carried out and to long-established rotas and timetabling has shown just how rigid many traditional business models have been.
At SoftBank Robotics, we carried out research amongst FM leaders across the EMEA region at the very outset of the pandemic and even back then there was a huge appetite to embed greater agility and resilience within their organisations. 77% of FM leaders admitted that a lack of workforce agility is a challenge within their cleaning operations and 78% stated that more agile ways of working are critical to delivering smarter cleaning to meet the needs of future buildings. It’s difficult to imagine that these numbers won’t have risen considerably over the last six months.
Agility and resilience – Cobotics is helping businesses to respond to COVID-19
Across all industries, the organisations that have best been able to manage the disruption and huge uncertainty caused by COVID-19 are those that were able to lean on and scale up their use of technology to respond to rapidly changing requirements.
COVID-19 has exposed the limitations of people in responding to turbulent and rapidly evolving crises, no matter how highly skilled and committed. At the same time the pandemic has highlighted the benefits that technology and automation can deliver, supporting frontline staff and picking up the slack when human workers are unavailable or unable to meet heightened demand.
Within cleaning, organisations that have integrated cobotics into their operations have been able to scale up their use of cobots, such as Whiz, relieving cleaning teams of repetitive, time-consuming and strenuous tasks. This has freed them up to focus on the tasks which make a real difference to clients and end users of buildings during this time.
What’s more, where cobots undertake tasks such as the vacuuming of large floor space, they deliver greater consistency and performance than traditional manual approaches.
The other benefit of cobots is that they help cleaning teams through difficult periods, easing their workload and enabling them to focus on more rewarding and varied tasks. This improves engagement, health and wellbeing, meaning absence rates fall and cleaning staff can keep turning up for work – that’s game-changing at a time like this.
For FM providers and cleaning contractors, deploying cobots within cleaning teams also affords them a greater level of flexibility when it comes to scheduling and assigning work, to ensure changing client demands around the frequency and visibility of service delivery can be met.
Our study found that 81% of FM leaders regard cobotics as a potential solution to cleaning challenges over the next five years. Once again, six months on and it’s highly likely that figure is creeping closer to 100% over the next five months!
Cobotics is delivering for FM providers and their clients
The very essence of cobotics is agility and scalability. Accessed on an Opex, cobot-as-a-service basis (CaaS), without the need for large, capital expenditure, FM providers and cleaning contractors can be up and running with a cobot within days, with minimal training required for frontline staff. They have complete control and transparency on cost. And they start seeing the benefits immediately, in terms of performance, productivity and staff and employee satisfaction.
We’re working with FM providers and cleaning contractors that are putting cobotics at the heart of their COVID-19 response strategies. In doing so, they are ensuring they have the agility and resilience to navigate the next phase of the pandemic, however that plays out over the coming months.
FM providers that are deploying cobots are now able to offer their clients very real and immediate solutions to the urgent challenge of getting people back into workspaces in as quick and safe a way as possible. And perhaps most importantly, they’re able to demonstrate the agility and resilience that all business leaders must surely be looking for in any partner as this turbulent and unpredictable period continues.