Smart Cleaning: How is it Driving the Cleaning Industry and the Challenges that Come Along with It

The cleaning industry has without a doubt undergone massive transformation in the last 2 years. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only necessitated but more importantly, accelerated this transformation, ushering in an era of digitalization, or as many in the built environment industry would call it – smart cleaning. 

Smart Cleaning Revolutionizes Cleaning Industry

Smart cleaning technologies encompass in large part the installation of IoT sensors and request buttons that are often integrated in the digital workplace management solutions. The result of this integration is a more dynamic way of cleaning that takes into consideration occupancy, foot traffic and real-time requests from building occupants.

This is a stark improvement from static cleaning before where cleaning is done on regular and specific intervals regardless of the number of building occupants or actual requests and need for cleaning. IoT devices are also being used to track high volume and value mobile cleaning equipment. Robots equipped with IoT sensors that interact with facilities, like elevators, are increasingly used and teamed-up with frontline cleaners, creating super teams. Wearables worn by cleaners may be less known but not far ahead in the future. They help cleaners keep track of physical challenges they might have in carrying out their day-to-day activities. The same is true for gamification and social technologies deployed to actively engage frontline cleaners. 

Smart Cleaning as an Incentive Workers Back to the Office to Get

This smart cleaning revolution is in demand not only because we need them for effective and efficient cleaning in this post-pandemic world, but also, they have become an important incentive to get workers back into the office. In a study carried out by the Cleaning Coalition of America in March 2022, 258 executive-level employees in New York from companies across a range of industries and sizes were polled. More than two-thirds of respondents said their employees had expressed concern that in-person work could pose a health and safety risk. The study further states that

“A total of 75 per cent of those surveyed cited office cleaning as the most important factor determining their staff's willingness to return. And respondents also felt that enhanced levels of cleaning and disinfection were crucial, with one in five claiming that the vital role of cleaning was the key lesson they had learned from the pandemic.”

Challenges in Implementing Smart Cleaning Technologies

With implementation of new technologies, comes change. And with change comes challenges. There is the usual resistance to change – preambled by questions such as “is this what we need'', “will it solve our problem”, “will it be more efficient” and “what is the return on investment if we implement this technology”. These are all valid concerns and should be addressed by decision makers and those directly responsible in implementing the technologies – including facility and property managers and frontline workers. But there is more to it than addressing concerns in cost, efficiency and adaptability.

Let us walk through how smart cleaning technologies look like.

Smart cleaning will rely on data collected by sensors (including motion and sensors integrated into cameras) throughout a given space.

Virtually every touchpoint in washrooms, wherever they may be located (offices, airports, malls, etc.), can now be monitored by sensors, from motion detectors at the doors to know how many people have entered, to sensors that determine how full waste bins, soap dispensers and paper towel holders are. The data goes automatically into a centralized system that is integrated into a dashboard that shows cleaning teams exactly what needs to be cleaned when they start their shift. The very characteristic of dynamic cleaning mentioned earlier.

Smart cleaning also enables more efficient cleaning of spaces such as meeting rooms and workspaces. Motion sensors can inform cleaners whether a room has been used or not since the last cleaning, saving time and resources eliminating the need for cleaners to manually check. If a room has been reserved, but ended up not being used, the system automatically makes the room available again in the room reservation system and removes it from the cleaning task list.

From the building users’ point of view, they can directly create cleaning tickets using a mobile app. For example, if there is a spill that needs cleaning or a leaky faucet needing repair or a coffee machine out of supply, they can directly request for cleaning or servicing or scan a QR code on the coffee machine and instantly submit their requests. The crew responsible receives the requests in real time via their own mobile app, and the request is automatically integrated into their task list.

In the above scenario, notice that crucial to the implementation of smart cleaning technologies is the data captured by sensors at every touchpoint as well as processing of this data to produce actionable insights.

This brings us to the concerns on privacy and security. These can easily be overlooked. What data from building users are captured? How are they captured? How intrusive or non-intrusive will they be? How will this data be stored and secured?

Data Privacy, Protection and Security

Ever since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), became enforceable on May 25, 2018, ensuring security and protection of private data, became a matter of compliance in the EU and not just for good business practices and mitigating security risks. GDPR is also the model by which data privacy, protection and security are being enforced across the world, including the UK (although no longer a member of the EU), Japan, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa and the US state of California. Building users, both clients and employees, have legal rights to be taken into account on storage and accessibility of their data.

A special consideration must go to workers’ councils. These corporate governmental bodies will want to have their say on the installation of sensors in the building, and the extent in which sensors and cameras for cleaning purposes might control the employees’ activity. It makes a big difference in this case if the data captured are processed in an impersonal way and eliminated right after, so not stored. 

IT security is another important aspect to consider. It is vital that data captured by sensors cannot be hacked. We could imagine the case in which a hacker accesses the cameras of a cleaning robot and in this way, gets to know internal floor plans of a building and thus, critical parts of the facility. Collaboration between the IT department and the FM team avoids problems of this kind.

In conclusion, data protection, privacy and security, when not included in the evaluation and implementation of smart cleaning technologies, or considered a little too late, can have the potential of “making or breaking the smart cleaning project”.

The Possibilities for Smart Cleaning

As an intrinsically data-driven solution, smart cleaning collects a wealth of valuable data. There are various possibilities that can be done with the data collected. Use cases are, for example, automatically predicting cleaning demand trends and making resource planning more efficient, regarding both staffing and logistics. External data, like weather forecasts that can affect the occupancy of spaces and the level of dirt on floors, can be integrated into cleaning schedules, so planning ahead can be done with greater precision.

Data-driven smart cleaning will continue to drive the cleaning industry. More than ever, it makes it possible for service providers to provide a high-quality service. It enables transparency, as it gives a clear overview of all tasks and transparent records of day-to-day cleaning activities, ushering in a new avenue for auditability and quality-monitoring.

In the post-pandemic world, building occupancy rates will continue to fluctuate as more workers become part of the hybrid way of working. Smart cleaning empowers you to plan and predict with greater precision and to respond to your customers’ wishes in real time.