Software and mobile solutions - are cleaners getting smarter?

21st of July 2020
Software and mobile solutions - are cleaners getting smarter?

Are cleaners keeping pace with the latest digital technology, or are they resisting any high-tech changes to their working methods? And what incentives are companies offering their cleaners to sweeten the “smart pill”?

It is becoming a growing trend for cleaning companies to introduce “smart solutions” into the workplace to enhance efficiency and boost productivity.

These solutions cover everything from digital systems to automated machines, virtual reality tools and sensor technology. But none of them is of any use if the cleaners themselves are unwilling to embrace them. Providers therefore need to make every effort to ensure their systems are user-friendly and intuitive.

But how do they do this, and how receptive are cleaners to any “smart” changes to their working practices?

Not very – at least at first, says Anabas account manager Jean-Patrick Judson. “Users often fail to see the benefits of smart solutions to begin with,” he said. “The key to getting them to buy in to these changes is to provide tangible evidence of how these technologies will improve their experience.” FM services specialist Anabas has introduced a number of smart solutions including clock-in systems to support payroll.

“We have discovered that once users see the real benefits, they embrace the change,” said Judson. “For example we have been able to show how our clock-in system reduces errors and ensures staff are paid for the exact hours they work.”

The overall reaction from cleaners has been more positive than negative, he says. “Staff are impressed to see that we are investing in technology that improves their working lives – and they are proud to be using cutting-edge solutions that help them do a great job for our clients,” he said.

According to Judson it is extremely important that any smart solution should be highly intuitive and easy to use. “At Anabas we have a very hands-on approach,” he said. “We show our teams how the new technologies work and we demonstrate how they can make users’ lives easier. And we back this up by sharing data that supports the benefits we’ve mentioned.”

IPC’s latest technological solutions have also been generally well received by cleaners, according to communications manager Gabriella Bianco. “They find our TelematicS GPS to be particularly useful because it geolocates the fleet and records the parameters of each machine to optimise performance and schedule service time,” she said. The Telematics GPS sends data on each scrubber dyer to a specified smartphone, tablet or computer.

Bianco has been unsurprised by cleaners’ positive reaction to the company’s latest technology. “Today’s cleaners are becoming increasingly aware of the need to manage and control their machines in order to improve performance and reduce running costs,” she said. “They also understand the difference that new technologies can make in their daily activities.”

Needs explanation

Reluctant adopters need the benefits of the technology explained to them, says Bianco. “The cost of a high-tech machine always turns into substantial savings in the medium term,” she said.

Essity offers two smart solutions for its customers –Tork Digital Cleaning Plans and Tork EasyCube. Tork Digital Cleaning Plans uses software to help cleaners and managers stay on top of cleaning tasks, while Tork EasyCube connects buildings with sensors to allow cleaners to remotely monitor cleaning and replenishing needs.

End-users have generally been more positive about both systems than the company expected according to communications director Reneé Remijnse. “Technology adoption can sometimes be challenging,” she admits. “But when users see the impact our digital solutions can have on their everyday working lives they are pleasantly surprised and often become strong ambassadors for our product.”

According to Remijnse the real-time data Tork smart systems provide helps to empower cleaners and give them a clearer idea of what is needed. ”They embrace this way of working because needs-based cleaning gives them more control over their work,” she said.

Both software systems are said to be intuitive and easy to use. “The manager application of Tork Digital Cleaning Plans includes a resource centre with wizards and guides to show the user how to set up their plans,” she said.  “And the cleaners’ application is very visual and not too text-heavy with icons and a simple checklist to designate each cleaning task.

“In fact, many of the features of the software mimic how people use smart devices in their everyday lives to create a more seamless experience and an easier learning curve.” The company fields a team of customer success specialists who help with manager and staff training.

End-user acceptance of the technology is key, says Remijnse. “This is our primary reason for designing software that is intuitive and easy to learn,” she said. “We don’t offer inducements or incentives to use the systems, but we show real-life proof-points to illustrate the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of data-driven cleaning. And the testimonials and enthusiasm of our early adopters has encouraged new users and made them see that a more digitised way of working can be a valuable long-term investment.”

Distributor of cleaning supplies Jangro has also introduced a virtual reality platform to facilitate training. This allows cleaners to “see” virtual corridors, kitchens, washrooms and other potential environments and determine how to clean them and what products to use.

Feedback regarding both systems has been positive, says the company’s ceo Joanne Gilliard. “Innovative technology has become the norm and any new app, platform or equipment that genuinely helps staff to work more effectively or that facilitates a tricky task is well received.

“People love the fact that these technologies streamline all the relevant information and digital resources, enabling them to tell at a glance what products they need while gaining clear instructions on how to clean that particular area.”

According to head of IntelliClean Kaspar Adank it is not uncommon for cleaners to initially resist any change to their working practices. “However if you look at the introduction of these solutions as a change management process and you incorporate some level of training, people tend to accept and use the solutions very fast,” he said. According to Adank it is important to follow the rules of “design thinking”. “This involves building a small prototype and then seeking feedback from users, shadowing them and adjusting the prototype to suit their practices,” he said.

IntelliClean replaces standard cleaning rotas and uses collected data to create a dynamic route plan. This is then displayed on a tablet where cleaning staff can see it.

Adank has had a similar experience to other commentators – that cleaners’ reactions to smart solutions have generally been more positive than negative. “They employ technology in their daily lives which means that the use of a tablet or smartphone is nothing new to them,” he said. “In fact there is often more resistance from team leaders than from cleaners.”

Staff on the ground tend to appreciate the benefits of IntelliClean, he says. “It provides them with some protection because all tasks are logged - and this transparency can be used in the case of any complaints,” he said.

Training and good arguments are all that is required to persuade cleaners to adopt new technology, claims Adank. “The acceptance of end-users is key because no solution will work if it isn’t used
properly at the sharp end – no matter how much intelligence there is in the background,” he said.

According to Kärcher’s digital products director Dr Friedrich Volker, older cleaners are sometimes more reluctant than younger ones to use systems that involve apps and smartphones. “It is therefore crucial to address any potential concerns during product development as well as in training,” he says. “If cleaners see the value in terms of convenience, time savings and a reduction in uncomfortable tasks, they usually accept new digital solutions.”

The concerns of decision makers about end-user adoption usually far outweigh the actual negative reaction on the part of cleaners in Volker’s experience. “For example, managers expected washroom visitors to avoid using the feedback buttons provided because of fears that these might be perceived as unhygienic,” he said. “However, we set up a study and found that thousands of people actually pressed the buttons in just a few washrooms.”

Kärcher has recently bought SoniQ Services, a software startup that offers mobile systems such as time tracking, performance recording, inspections, cleaning instructions and messaging. Its ceo Philipp Andernach says the generally positive reactions from cleaners has come as no surprise to the company.

“This is because our product corresponds to the mobile devices and apps that staff use privately,” he says. “But while we have found users’ reactions to be very positive towards the apps, there is a great deal of fear in the industry in general - not so much about the technology itself, but more about the fact that it might be misused by employers.”

According to Andernach, the company’s apps are intuitive and require no formal training. “Like other apps they are designed for ‘learning-by-doing’,” he said.

He adds the company’s software has the advantage of allowing cleaners to focus on the task in hand without actually changing their existing processes. “Benefits to the employee include time-tracking, documentation and a fully consistent process that helps to provide fair payment along with compliance, work ethics and employee happiness,” he said.

“However, there is never a 100 per cent adoption rate and some employees are unwilling to work with the system at all.”

Incentives to use technology can be helpful in some cases, says Andernach. “However, any perks and incentives must be closely linked to the product,” he adds. “Gamification can help enormously.
“Because it is crucial that the end-user buys in. If your employees refuse to accept and embrace the product, then it is a fail.”


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