Cleaning - no longer invisible

9th of March 2021 Article by Christian Bouzols
Cleaning - no longer invisible

The pandemic has highlighted the role of cleaners more than ever, writes Christian Bouzols in France.

The cleaning of company premises and public spaces has never seemed so important as today, according to Pascal Gahery, general manager of cleaning company Espace 72. This is because of the renewed expectations of clients who, since the pandemic, need their premises to be completely safe. This means in effect that the term “housekeeping” can be equated with that of “hygiene”.

Not so long ago cleaners were hardly to be seen. They arrived at the crack of dawn or at sunset, working in deserted buildings. But all this has changed and the return of the virus in France has suddenly shed a new light on the vital role of these contingents of invisible workers. “Housekeeping” no longer seems like a secondary activity because it has taken on the enlarged and vital dimension of a crucial tool for the maintenance of public health. This has led to a remarkable change of attitude towards cleaners.

Pascal Gahery says the pandemic has at least had one positive aspect - a better appreciation for the work of cleaners and for the cleaners themselves. Expectations have changed considerably.

“Previously, we were considered as providers of a convenience service. We just had to make sure premises were left nice and clean. But since the first Covid-19 wave, we’ve become the guardians of impeccable hygiene in all the premises we clean, so the people who work there can feel completely safe. We’ve had to adapt our protocols accordingly.”

This change of strategy involved staff re-training so the workers of Espace 72 could learn how to work both safely and efficiently. The company had to research products and practices in order to ensure the protection of its cleaners, who are given masks, overalls and goggles.

Gahery explains: “Our clients’ perception has changed. As their requirements have increased, we’ve become seen as professional people, able to implement adapted responses. These clients have come to understand housekeeping isn’t so simple and it requires distinct competencies. With our expertise, we show them who we are.”

The increased consideration surrounding cleaning operatives has impacted them directly. A first requirement was to reassure them about the safety of their respective tasks - requiring training in some areas.

Like other cleaning contractors, Espace 72 was hit hard when home working began to empty company premises of their employees. The company’s business fell by 70  per cent. “From an average of 7,450 man-hours of cleaning per month, our volume of work fell to 2,200 man-hours,” explains Gahery.

In this new context, he’s put a bonus system in place. “It’s important to recognise the efforts made by our people. Putting on a protective suit, taking it off - all this takes time. For each assignment, the cleaner gets the equivalent of an hour’s overtime.”

Employees have themselves noticed a change. One of them, Alexandra, points out: “Beyond the changes in procedures, Covid-19 has changed the way people see us. One senses a feeling of gratitude we never noticed before.”


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