COVID-19 cleaning

The new normal of building cleaning

Experts discuss lessons to be learned so far from the pandemic
Thursday, May 21, 2020
By Rachel Debling

Mary Lou Sinclair, associate vice president of health, safety, and environment at BGIS North America, recalls that the groundwork for her and her company’s COVID-19 response were laid within her first few weeks of joining the BGIS team. Though it never reached the fever pitch many had anticipated, congestion control surrounding the 2015 Pam Am Games, held in Toronto, Ontario, was project number-one, and it exposed her team to many of the real-world strategies they would employ when dealing with 2020’s explosive pandemic.

This was just one of the many insights shared during a May 20 webinar, part of a series jointly produced by Facility Cleaning & Maintenance, REMI Network, and ISSA Canada, examining the impact COVID-19 has played on real estate operations and building cleaning. The panel, comprised of experts across the cleaning service, supplier, and facilities management sectors, gathered to look back at the industry response during the first stages of the pandemic and to look ahead at what it means for the future of operations.

Sinclair was joined by her colleague John Castelhano, vice president of strategic sourcing at BGIS North America, and John Appleton, vice president of national accounts and co-chair of the national pandemic management team at Bee-Clean Canada, in a conversation moderated by industry consultant Tom Fournier of Shade’s Mills Group.

The need for businesses to have a contingency plan is key, Sinclair explained. In fact, BGIS had updated their plans for pandemic response back in 2017 and nimbly adjusted their approach as the 2020 outbreak progressed, first meeting daily in the early stages and now three times per week to debrief and provide updates. As she explained, they were already “empowered to get things done.”

Appleton agreed, adding that this has been a learning experience across the board for the industry. “What we learned was to develop policy, procedures, and guides for internal and client requests and requirements,” he explained. And as Bee-Clean has operations in Beijing (Appleton is also the president of Bee-Clean China), the company was provided a unique opportunity to see how the spread of COVID-19 was being handled prior to it landing on North American soil. One of the steps the company took was to implement a national pandemic management team as early as January, giving them ample time to respond and react to the rapidly spreading outbreak.

On predictions for the “new normal,” Castelhano first laughed, noting that the question itself was “tough,” before explaining that one of the lessons to be learned from COVID-19 is the importance of updated supplier chain risk assessment. BGIS spoke to its suppliers early on to get their perspective and determined which service providers were at risk and what actions they needed to take to mitigate disruption. The company also instigated a decontamination scope of work – the first in the industry, Castelhano notes – that compares safety versus cost.

The panel was cautiously hopeful about the future, citing profound changes for operators and occupants alike, such as “wipe in, wipe out” protocols and the logistics surrounding social distancing in the workplace. Each panelist ended by expressing their gratitude to the building cleaners across the globe who have put their health and safety on the line and who are only now being recognized as the unsung heroes they are.

A recording of the May 20 discussion is accessible here.

Facility Cleaning & Maintenance, along with ISSA Canada and the REMI Network, will be hosting additional webinars on topics pertaining to the real estate management and building cleaning industries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information regarding this informative webinar series.

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