About one-third of Singapore’s workforce is now able to return to working in offices, factories and schools.
Firms in a few industries such as finance, telecommunications and manufacturing have been allowed to resume operations on-site in the first phase of the country’s gradual reopening.
For the past two months, many premises were left completely vacant during the circuit breaker, while all employees providing non-essential services could only work from home.
Left untouched, workplaces that are now reopening require thorough disinfection to make sure their environments are safe and usable for returning employees.
This, in turn, called for a massive mobilisation of the cleaning industry. We got in touch with a few cleaning companies to find out how they are coping with the demand.
Back-To-Back Cleaning Requests
Weeks before companies were set to reopen, the number of enquiries and requests for cleaning services exploded.
One of the cleaning firms we spoke to, Home Cleanz, told us that they’ve been fully booked every day until late-June.
“We had to kindly decline [any other] customers who asked for urgent cleaning works,” said Home Cleanz founder Cheryl Chan.
Although her team’s full strength is 60, some of them have been stuck in Malaysia on lockdown, while those who serve residential clients are not permitted to work — whittling them down to 16 staff.
Similarly, Jasmine Ong of Amazing Clean shared that her team has been putting in additional hours at night and on weekends to accommodate to their clients’ needs.
Amazing Clean has 12 staff, and is also engaging a few more part-timers to meet the spike in demand.
HVAC Engineering, a firm that has specialised in disinfection and decontamination for years prior to Covid-19, is currently dispatching its teams to do 15 cleaning sessions a day.
Some larger facilities they work on may even require two or three sessions to complete, said the firm’s environmental consultant Anthony James.
Beyond offices, they have also been offering their services to warehouses and factories, gyms, schools, retail centres and places of worship.
Battling Dust, Mould, And Covid-19
With no maintenance for an extended period of time, offices have become covered in dust, and mould and mildew have been very common.
In normal times, these may have only been seen in more extreme cases. But the post-circuit breaker state of workplaces requires cleaning companies to bring out the big guns.
Our staff will vacuum the ceiling to remove cobwebs, and wipe all the furniture with disinfectant, placing emphasis on high-touch areas. All accessible surfaces like walls and window blinds will be cleaned with bleach solution.
We will then vacuum the carpets and mop the floors, and do deep cleaning for restrooms and pantries with disinfectant or bleach solution.
Cheryl Chan, founder of Home Cleanz
Some of them will suggest carpet and upholstery shampooing, especially if mould has grown in these areas.
On top of getting rid of unwanted dirt and grime, the current priority is to heighten sanitisation in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
All the cleaning firms we spoke to heavily emphasised on disinfecting high-touch areas and using misting or fogging to disinfect the premises thoroughly.
HVAC Engineering also takes it a step further as they provide their own proprietary self-disinfecting coating called Active Shield+.
After all the cleaning is done, they apply it to surfaces like door handles, switches, taps, and lift buttons to continue eliminating viruses for up to 90 days.
Tackling Deep Cleaning Needs And Supply Issues
While Singapore’s transition to Phase 1 brought on a huge wave of cleaning requests, demand was already rising since the start of the pandemic.
Each of the four companies we interviewed said they have been called up to disinfect locations where there were suspected or confirmed cases of infection.
For some of them, it was a big jump to adjust to the level of cleaning required.
Among them was BUTLER, a property management and concierge startup that provides a range of services including cleaning.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, they revised their training procedures and raised higher standards for the 50 staff in their cleaning department.
We upgraded our chemical cleaners and equipment, used relevant technology to enable tracing, and placed great importance on minimising human-to-human contact when working on-site.
Our emphasis and expectations on upholding hygiene standards have definitely become more stringent.
Poon Da Qian, founder and CEO of BUTLER
Others like Amazing Clean and Home Cleanz have taken part in the National Environmental Agency (NEA)’s courses to understand its guidelines and learn about the best equipments and chemicals to use.
Besides adapting to deeper cleaning methods, they also shared that it was challenging to obtain the supplies they needed to carry out their jobs.
The availability of surgical masks was one of the problems earlier on, when all the stock in Singapore was quickly snapped up, and retailers jacked up their prices.
Along with personal protective equipment to keep their cleaners safe, cleaning equipment and chemicals are also in very high demand.
“Due to the widespread use of disinfectants, suppliers that are facing a shortage of the product will limit the [amount we can] purchase,” Jasmine added.
To secure what they needed, they constantly reached out to many different local and overseas suppliers to widen their supply chain.
Digital Processes Reduce Physical Contact
Covid-19 has been shedding light on the importance of digitalisation, and the cleaning industry is no exception.
More firms are starting to acknowledge that taking some manual processes online can provide a convenient experience to their customers.
Furthermore, it will also play a part in reducing physical contact as people become more cautious of hygiene, now and beyond the pandemic.
With their all-rounded management services, BUTLER has already been adept in this area.
Founder and CEO Poon Da Qian shared that their office management solution system is where clients can access all information and easily procure services. This also allows their team to efficiently plan operations based on the client’s needs.
Home Cleanz is also seeing the value of making a digital shift, and is currently trying to adopt programmes that will make transactions smoother.
Their aim is to make it easier for customers to order cleaning services in a few clicks, automatically generate and send invoices to them, and allow them to simply scan and pay.
Higher Standards Of Hygiene Beyond Covid-19
Cleaning services will always be needed, but the way people expect them to be delivered may be slightly different after our experience with Covid-19.
In line with a stronger emphasis on health and hygiene, people may hire professional cleaners more frequently and ask for more specialised services.
Compared to simple routine cleaning that mainly involves general sweeping, mopping and wiping, Cheryl believes “disinfection cleaning will be the way to go”.
As people come out of this outbreak more aware of the hygiene standards in their surroundings, regular disinfection and sanitisation will become the norm especially in commercial buildings.
Should customers want to maintain more frequent cleaning performed at higher levels, Jasmine suggests that the costs of cleaning might increase to support the industry’s ageing workforce as they put in longer hours.
On the other hand, Anthony also expects that customers who have become more knowledgeable about cleaning methods will be keen to purchase products that they can safely use to sanitise their living and working spaces themselves.
Perhaps cleaner habits are here to stay as we learn to better protect our health during this pandemic.
Featured Image Credit: HVAC Engineering