Cleaning and hygiene at work - connecting the dots...

6th of December 2016
Cleaning and hygiene at work - connecting the dots...

With the arrival of the Internet of Things it seems inevitable that the offices of tomorrow will become more connected. Jamie Wright from Tork manufacturer SCA considers the impact that smart technology could have on cleaning and hygiene at work.

One of the huge benefits of the internet is the fact that it saves us so much time. Gone are the days when the task of shopping involved trawling from store to store in search of a particular item. Now we simply Google the goods we want and order and pay for them on line within a matter of minutes. And for a small premium, we can even have our purchases delivered to our house on the same day.

When planning a holiday there is longer any need to leaf through brochures before heading for the travel agents’ in order to consult with experts. No, these days we simply check out all the options on the internet and use peer reviews to help us make an informed choice.

There are countless other ways in which the internet has been simplifying our lives and saving us time over the past approximately 20 years. But in the office – a place where productivity is key and where time is literally money – there is still some way to go before everyday processes become internet-linked.

Hunting around for a meeting room, controlling the heating and lighting, going to the stockroom for supplies, even finding an available toilet – all these and other everyday tasks can take valuable time out of the working day. So imagine a scenario in which everything is connected and where all these simple office-based activities are streamlined in order to make our working lives easier.

This is one of the future trends that emerged in a study we at SCA carried out this year. In the Tork Trend Report we polled the views of 8,000 office workers in 17 cities worldwide and carried out in-depth interviews with a number of key industry players. The aim of the report was to find out how the office environment is changing and to consider ways in which efficiencies could be increased and employee wellbeing could be improved.

The report revealed that increasingly connected offices would be welcomed by both employees and managers. Around 73 per cent of survey respondents felt that increased connectivity would improve their working lives while the industry players we interviewed believed that connectivity would increase efficiency in the office.

As an example, Microsoft was recently able to dramatically improve its energy efficiency at one location by means of a connected office space. The company discovered major energy inefficiencies at its Redmond campus in Washington in the US where 40,000 people are employed.

According to Microsoft productivity solutions specialist Niklas Dahlgren: “Connecting a vast network of data-providing sensors allowed the Redmond facility management to discover and fix major inefficiencies such as air conditioners and heaters counteracting each other, thus saving massive amounts of energy.”

Connected offices could also provide managers with more data on which to base decisions according to Linda Ekener Mägi, who works with strategic business development at global ICT company Ericsson. “Most companies still use stone age methods such as walking around and counting the number of employees sitting at their desks,” she said. “Cars have incorporated sensors and data collection for a long time so offices will soon be moving in this direction as well.”

Ericsson is something of a connectivity pioneer and the company recently developed an app to help employees find an available meeting room via their smartphone. The response of staff was positive - and also pragmatic according to Ekener Mägi,. “They said: ‘Great, now when will I get an app to find the available toilets?’,” she said.

In fact toilets – and hygiene in general – need to be a key focus of tomorrow’s connected offices according to Tony Löf, who is developing H&M’s global facility management concept. “There will be complaints straightaway if core hygiene isn’t maintained,” he said.

Our survey backs up this claim. Of the 8,000 office workers questioned, 79 per cent said they would inform their facility manager if they were dissatisfied with the quality of hygiene products supplied in their office washrooms.

More than half of the workers questioned globally said they often worry about being infected by unwell colleagues at work, with six out of 10 believing that working remotely is good for their health. And around 40 per cent of workers in New York and London believed that connected office systems could have a positive impact on hygiene.

The survey also revealed that four out of 10 employees often come across washrooms that have been inadequately cleaned and that have empty soap and paper dispensers. We at Tork have already addressed this problem by means of our Tork EasyCube system. This enables cleaning staff to monitor refill levels in ‘connected’ dispensers via their tablet or smartphone.

This will greatly improve hygiene efficiency in the office since cleaning teams will know in advance which dispensers. It will also free up more time for them to concentrate on other tasks, such as washroom cleaning.

Tork EasyCube has been launched at a time when the working environment already appears to be changing for the better. An encouraging fact that emerged from our study was that more than 50 per cent of people questioned feel that their employer cares about their wellbeing. Around 33 per cent of respondents said their office had been designed with employee health as a top priority, while more than 60 per cent said their office has been redesigned at least once in the past three years.

Today’s workplaces offer a number of facilities that aim to improve the employee’s lifestyle according to our study. For example, 45 per cent of respondents said their office premises incorporated a café while almost a quarter had a gym. And more than a third of those questioned said their office was a good place to socialise with colleagues after work.

However, these positive trends come with drawbacks as they can add to the cleaning and hygiene challenge. The increasing practice of incorporating a gym into offices means that there is often a need for showers, and these must be kept clean at all times to avoid infection risk.

New ways of working

The presence of a café or canteen also means that many employees will buy a sandwich and return to their desk to eat it. However, today’s practice of hot-desking – where no-one is assigned a specific desk or cubicle and where employees are seated at a different desk each day – can be an issue. Around 62 per cent of people questioned in our study admitted to being squeamish about coming across crumbs and debris left behind from other employees’ food.

“With people changing their workspace on a daily basis - sometimes several times per day - we need to provide solutions that allow employees to clean keyboards and other shared office components,” says Ola Sarvik, a member of Sodexo’s international network of cleaning experts.

As employees become more lifestyle-conscious and their expectations increase, there will be greater demands on managers to provide facilities that improve their quality of life. This will
help to attract a top quality workforce and boost productivity, since a happy staff is more likely to work hard and remain healthy. In other words: this will be a win:win.

Systems such as Tork EasyCube and Tork Smartfresh are the start of an office revolution that will lead to many more connected pieces of equipment at work. By providing real-time information these systems will enable facilities management staff to anticipate issues and solve problems before they occur rather than waiting for complaints from office workers or happening upon issues during cleaning rounds.

The next step will be to use connected systems to analyse the data so that architects can use intelligent information when designing new offices. Understanding how the facilities are being used and where the inefficiencies lie will enable management teams to build workplaces that better match the needs of employees.

As the office becomes increasingly connected the challenge will then be to gather all the information in one place, literally connecting the dots. Today this data tends to be fragmented between different systems with one service provider receiving data from the coffee machines, for example, while another receives information from the printers.

“Companies hesitate to invest more in office connectivity because of the short- term costs,” says H&M’s Tony Löf. “However, they need to realise the concrete productivity benefits that the Internet of Things can provide in the form of happier, healthier employees.”


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