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Future of the cleaning sector

Zukunft der Reinigungsbranche

Whether at school, the library, or the airport—when it comes to hygiene and safety in the workplace, regular, thorough cleaning is indispensable. But current developments in technology, the economy, and health are bringing fundamental changes to the cleaning sector as well. What challenges will this industry have to meet in the future? And what innovations offer new opportunities for optimization? Here, we survey the past and present, and we take a closer look at future trends in the cleaning sector.

Coronavirus and its influence on commercial cleaning

The need for hygiene, cleanliness, and safety has grown tremendously in the last few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic—and with this has come a new appreciation of commercial cleaning. But with requirements to be vaccinated, tested, or recovered, and with the mask mandate for cleaning personnel, labor conditions in this sector have also become significantly more challenging. The situation is further exacerbated by hurdles such as strongly fluctuating rates of occupancy in office buildings. Due to hybrid work practices, with employees working in home offices on some days, customers at certain times have a diminished need for cleaning services. The trend suggests that remote work will become increasingly common and customers will further reduce their office space. Yet even if this trend holds, dedicated cleaning personnel will continue to be needed.

Furthermore, in the course of the coronavirus crisis, some companies have adopted the practice of having their offices cleaned multiple times daily. This is being done to comply with hygiene standards and increase employees’ sense of safety. Daily cleaning of this frequency results in more-attractive working hours for cleaning personnel. Service providers can respond to cleaning needs on shorter notice, and the more regular contact with customers enhances the perception and appreciation of the cleaning professionals. In the future, there will thus be a focus in the sector on cleaning planning.

Cleaning planning—a look to the future

In the past, cleaning was planned according to a small number of determining factors. Parameters such as the flooring material and the size and type of the space to be cleaned served as the basis for contracts of limited duration. Then came a shift to results-oriented contracts. Here, the “service level”—performance characteristics and grades of quality—was decisive. This form of cleaning planning was very imprecise, however, which led to customer dissatisfaction and wasted resources.

Today, ongoing digitization in the cleaning sector allows the use of new technologies for the improvement of cleaning planning. The Internet of Things (IoT), for example, enables the networking of objects by means of sensors. Through the IoT, items like trash cans, indoor plants, and paper towel and soap dispensers can automatically signal their fill level and don’t have to be checked manually, which saves a great deal of time. Similar sensors can register the occupancy of rooms and determine their intensity of use. This technology opens the door to need-based cleaning that deals with resources sparingly but, when necessary, uses them in a reliable manner.

Data-driven and automated processes will make commercial cleaning even more intelligent in the future, allowing a maximum of transparency between the service provider and the customer. This involves the flow of important data, for example on room size, use, and fill levels, into a central platform, which gives a structured overview of the cleaning services necessary. At the start of a shift, employees can view directly which cleaning tasks are actually required.

In the future, the customer will also be able to generate tickets for a desired cleaning task quickly and conveniently. For example, if a drink is spilled in a little-used conference room, the room number can be entered easily via an app. Cleaning personnel can then be informed immediately and the ticket added to the task list.

This kind of “intelligent cleaning” makes more-efficient resource planning possible, thus enabling the service provider to respond to customers’ wishes in real time. But it isn’t only planning tools that will play an important role in the future—intelligent cleaning machines will also create opportunities in this business sector.

Support from intelligent cleaning robots

While for some it may sound like science fiction, for others it’s already everyday reality: collaborative robots, or cobots, make close cleaning cooperation between humans and machines possible. These cleaning robots can relieve human personnel by carrying out certain tasks independently. For example, cobots can assume dangerous or monotonous, recurring tasks such as floor cleaning. For cleaning staff, this means less time pressure and more time for challenging tasks..

Modern cleaning robots use high-tech sensor technology as well as mapping capabilities supported by artificial intelligence (AI). This enables them to register their surroundings in detail and react to obstacles accordingly, that is, stop or maneuver around them. If multiple large spaces or floors in a building have to be cleaned simultaneously, multiple cobots can also be implemented and networked with one another. In this way, each cobot knows what to do.

Cobots can positively influence the efficiency and productivity of the cleaning team and thus mitigate cost pressure in the cleaning sector. Customers additionally seeking to conserve resources can combine this technology with a sustainable type of cleaning.

Occupational and environmental safety in commercial cleaning

The future is green—not just for the energy or automotive industries, but also for the cleaning sector. This begins with cleaning products. Conventional cleaning agents often contain pollutants such as acids or chlorides. When these substances end up in wastewater during cleaning, they can pose a danger to humans and animals. But they can also have harmful effects for cleaning personnel: handling chemical cleaning products daily often causes irritation of the skin and mucous membranes. Gentler cleaning agents will therefore have to play a greater role in the future—for reasons of both environmental and occupational safety. In addition, for increased sustainability, a purchasing focus should be placed on cleaning products with low packaging and disposal costs.

The issue of sustainability and occupational safety in the cleaning sector isn’t limited to the question of cleaning products, however. Other working materials should, for example, be as low-noise and pollutant-free as possible in order not to endanger the health of cleaning professionals. Cobots that function as quiet vacuum cleaners and can completely filter out dirt and dust are an example of this. The new minimum wage in the commercial cleaning sector also has a positive effect on the satisfaction of cleaning personnel and protects against unfair labor conditions and underpayment.

Service providers committed to sustainable commercial cleaning thus profit doubly: both the environment and their employees welcome the positive effects in equal measure.

Conclusion: green and digital for the future

So what does the future of the cleaning sector look like? The coronavirus crisis posed companies with new challenges, which were overcome through dedication and innovation. This has brought about a new appreciation for cleaning work. Hybrid work practices are currently causing high fluctuation in the demand for cleaning services. In the future, however, new technologies like the IoT will help to determine the actual need and to implement personnel planning with maximum efficiency.

Automatic cleaning robots are already reducing the workload of cleaning personnel tremendously, especially in larger office spaces. Appropriate occupational and environmental protection is also becoming more and more prevalent in the cleaning sector—and on the customer’s side, too, green commercial cleaning practices are offering growing added value.