How to manage service providers remotely

One of COVID-19's major challenges has been maintaining or improving cleaning activities when the managers responsible are not on-site.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Derek Oliveira

With the advent of SARS-CoV-2, the need to provide teleworking employees with the safest possible work environment has brought about massive changes in the structure of most companies in all kinds of industries.

Just a year ago, teleworking was mainly practiced during business trips or for exceptional reasons as a last-resort solution. Today, and likely for months to come, it is encouraged and even becoming the norm. Visits to offices are now sporadic for many people, sometimes following a schedule to control traffic within the building.

This poses an additional challenge for cleaning activities, which must necessarily be maintained if not improved in the current context, when the managers responsible for their supervision are likely not on site.

Many cleaning service companies have been forced to rethink their work methods, add tasks, modify work schedules, and purchase better equipment to meet higher standards and criteria.

A major survey conducted last July by Essity, the Tork manufacturer, involving 10,000 people in 15 countries revealed that people expect higher standards of public hygiene because of COVID-19. In total, 72 per cent of respondents have higher expectations for hygiene standards in hospitals, while 57 per cent said the same for restaurants and public restrooms.

The introduction of social distancing measures, mandatory use of additional personal protective equipment (PPE), and an increase in the frequency of certain tasks paradoxically with a decrease in the availability of labour are imponderables that can compromise the profitability of operations. For a manager who finds himself obliged to telework, effectively managing so many changes under additional pressure due to customer expectations requires a solid organization and good asset management.

Questions still remain. How to ensure the rigorous monitoring of work routes while working remotely? How to convey what tasks have actually been carried out? Is the service provided in accordance with the established standards? Did all employees show up as scheduled and respect their schedule? With all these changes and new requirements that have destabilized work routines, are the teams putting their efforts in the right places? While the company may be dealing with reduced revenues due to the health crisis, is there sufficient supervision of this important expense stream of cleaning and maintenance?

There are many solutions; the biggest challenge is to find the right one. Whether it is to supervise fieldwork or to improve the management of operating costs, multiple IT solutions and new technologies make it possible to maintain control over operations, even remotely.

If it is not documented, it is not done

An effective management system requires a good documentation system. If it is not documented, how do you know if it is done? This is a basic principle taught in all management schools, a precept widely used in scientific or medical research and the motto on which the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of ISSA, the reference in the housekeeping industry, is based.

It all starts with documentation. Experts agree that documentation must be factual, detailed, accurate, current and in no way dramatic, discriminatory, misleading, or subjective. The fastest way to gather relevant data without adding workload to an employee and without being tainted by human subjectivity is to rely on IT solutions.

Work route tracking software

Several models for work route tracking are available on the market. Some come with NFC (Near Field Communication) stickers that are installed in all rooms or spaces in a building that need to be maintained by the cleaning crew. Each sticker is associated with a room by a number and any other location details (floor, building, sector, etc.) to obtain exact coordinates. In addition, a detailed task list can be pre-configured for each space, allowing the employee to refer to it during its execution or self-assessment.

When an employee performs maintenance on a space, he simply scans the sticker of the room, which allows him to retrieve several data that can later be transposed into graphs to facilitate the analysis. That data, for example, can include:

  • The number of rooms or areas cleaned and disinfected
  • The person who performed the tasks
  • The time when the last maintenance was done
  • The time it took the employee to complete the task.

Further programming of this type of device also allows employees to communicate with one another and to generate “tickets” that require follow-up actions, such as reporting equipment malfunction or out-of-stock items.

IT applications for workplace management

As a result of the pandemic, the cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces is more important to customers than ever before. Now that most employees have adopted teleworking, some offices may remain undisturbed for several days. In other words, tasks that used to be called regular or routine are no longer necessarily required. A wise manager will try to reassign employees to other tasks. But how do you go about verifying the actual use of work areas, and how do you ensure that the instructions issued to cleaning crews are accurate and respected?

Some high-performance computerized management systems allow you to add a register to record sporadic visits to your building using self-service terminals located at the entrance of the building. The employee will simply enter his name and the workstation he used during his visit and instantly, a notification is sent to the supervisor or team leader to plan and carry out the disinfection in the evening.

This solution can be highly beneficial in companies that have implemented an organizational practice of desktop sharing (hot desking). An employee can consult remotely from his smartphone the status of the workstation before choosing it, reserving it, and heading to the office.

Not only does this system make it possible to manage the workstations that need to be cleaned and disinfected, but also to record statistics on the building’s traffic. For example, a floor that has not received any tenant visits will not require cleaning. This allows time for the team to recuperate so that they can perform other tasks as part of their regular working hours.

QR Code stickers

Customer satisfaction will always remain a key criterion in assessing the quality of cleaning operations. It is therefore important to provide a means for users to express their opinion and to express their appreciation, or not, of the environment they frequent. Even better, we must have the means to quickly collect their comments to react and correct complaints or problem situations as soon as possible and thus eliminate other complaints. By soliciting the direct collaboration of users, the company reflects its commitment to respect its standards and guarantee a healthy and safe environment for collective health. This is a small gesture that demonstrates vigilance and has many advantages, including direct feedback from the people for whom you are making efforts to maintain a clean environment.

Stickers with QR codes are affixed at the most strategic locations, and users’ comments are transmitted in real time. The system can generate complaint tickets, which can be traced if follow-up is required. Once the situation is resolved, the system records the correction and response time.

Technology will always be powered by man

Although technological innovations are increasingly being exploited to advance the cleaning industry, the quality of service will always depend on a team of people. Appliance connectivity is becoming more and more popular because it has several advantages. Take, for example, intelligent toilets that self-disinfect, or soap or hand sanitizer dispensers that indicate when to replenish them. Robotic devices that increase pace while making tasks easier are also here to stay. This allows you to work faster and have access to data at your fingertips, but the devices will never work on their own or replace the work of custodial staff.

Thus, to continue supervising and controlling service providers even remotely, a manager must integrate IT solutions into their working methods that allow the collection of relevant data that will give him a realistic picture of the situation, as if he were there.  The more data you are able to generate, the more control you will have over your operations.

Derek Oliveira is the Senior Director at ValkarTech │ Building Hygiene Management, a Canadian consulting firm that guides, supports, and advises their clients on ways to optimize the operational performance of their organizations in terms of building hygiene and sanitation. For more information, please email, visit, or call (647-812-0160).

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