The spirit of collaboration

25th of August 2023
The spirit of collaboration
The spirit of collaboration

Collaborative business-to-business ventures are built around establishing strong relationships at all levels and by connecting people through a common purpose. David Parker at EMCOR discusses why cleaning as a service lends itself to a collaborative approach and offers advice on what that entails.

COLLABORATION IS ONE of those terms that can be in danger of becoming watered down through overuse. If everyone says that they take a collaborative approach to work, what does that really mean?

In truth, genuine collaboration takes a great deal of strategy and effort and leads to great results. After all, you get as much back as you put in.

Collaboration has been at the heart of our business for more than a decade. We were the first facilities management company to be certified to BS 11000, the British standard for collaborative relationships, and the first facilities management company in the world to be awarded ISO 44001, the international standard for collaborative business relationship management systems.

EMCOR UK is also a founding partner of the Institute for Collaborative Working as we look to support collaborative working across all UK business sectors.

What does it look like?

Collaborative business-to-business ventures are built around establishing strong relationships at all levels and by connecting people through a common purpose. Collaborative excellence is based on developing a solid platform of trust, integrity, openness, honesty, responsiveness, fairness, and commitment.

Successful collaboration involves organisational cultural alignment, joint business planning and goal setting, the sharing of risk and reward, establishing innovation and value creation processes and measures, sharing knowledge, and tirelessly working together to achieve a shared vision with defined outputs.

There are numerous benefits to a collaborative approach, including:

• Creating a neutral platform for mutual benefit with business partners
• Defining roles and responsibilities to improve decision-making processes
• Sharing costs, risks, resources and responsibilities
• Providing staff with wider training opportunities
• Building better relationships that lead to improved results.

The nature of the FM industry means that we are very well positioned to collaborate across a wide number of teams. In particular, cleaning teams have a vital role to play.

Collaboration in cleaning

Cleaning touches on all locations and additional services of a site, such as catering, grounds and security. Cleaners have visibility of those services and interact with all of those other teams.
They also have regular contact with building users, especially now that more cleaning is being done during the day to give visual reassurance to occupants.

In TFM models, client sites can often include hundreds of buildings, some of them quite small. Cleaners are sometimes the only regular presence so can feed back, when relevant, about issues they might have noticed, such as a maintenance repair.

As such, cleaners lend themselves to being a focal point. Strategic collaboration is not simply a nice-to-have – as FM providers, we are doing our clients a disservice if we don’t prioritise and embed collaboration.

The art of the possible

A key building block towards successful collaboration is empowering staff through training opportunities and personal development. Upskilling cleaning staff can truly enhance a service offering, leading to increased efficiencies and reduced costs. For example, say a cleaner notices an overflowing toilet. With the right training, that cleaner can fix the problem themselves rather than waiting for another member of the team. On large sites with multiple buildings, that job could take days for maintenance to address.

Cleaners can also be trained in other handyman services; to support security officers with certain tasks; to act as fire marshals; to provide first aid; or can be supported with soft skill development to provide customer service.

This creates business resilience and enables a company to run more smoothly. For cleaners, it makes the role a much more desirable career as it expands their skills.

We create a personal development plan for all our cleaning staff. Not all necessarily want to go down the avenue of broadening their skills beyond cleaning, but plenty do have that aspiration and it’s important for an employer to support that as best as possible.

In addition to adding resilience for clients, providing a clear career path for cleaners helps with staff attraction and retention. Stable teams operate better to the benefit of clients and the employer. We’ve found that when you give cleaners the tools and training to succeed, client satisfaction reaches new levels.

Digital tools

One of the tools that can be used to support collaboration is technology. We’re in the process of equipping all cleaning staff with a work mobile phone that comes with a scheduling app. Managers can schedule jobs and cleaning staff can easily view their schedule and mark jobs as complete in real time. They can also perform audits when needed and the data captured is readily available for any user to view.

An internal chat app is also on the phones that ensures cleaners are kept updated with company news, as some won’t have access to or regularly check emails.

Tech can also be utilised to support with training. It isn’t always easy to get everyone to a physical training session, so being able to deliver courses online helps to ensure that all staff have the same opportunities to learn.

Capitalising on pandemic support

It’s no secret cleaning was front and centre during the height of the pandemic. As a result, cleaning staff had the ears of senior business leaders as they advised on best practices for health and hygiene.

Though the worst of it has seemingly passed, Covid is still very much prevalent and a key consideration for businesses. Cleaners still have a very important role in keeping buildings safe and demonstrating that to occupants.

It’s up to us as service providers to ensure we retain the same level of support from our clients now and in the years ahead. We can achieve that through a collaborative approach which encompasses everything from shared reporting to ongoing risk assessments of high touchpoint areas.

There’s a new appreciation of the skills that cleaners possess, so let’s use that to our advantage to develop stronger partnerships with our clients.

It might go without saying, but it’s essential to have consistent communication with all stakeholders for a collaborative approach to become embedded and successful.

Engage your stakeholders

Take upskilling cleaners as an example - clients may see the benefits but there can be nervousness around the competency of a cleaner to carry out a specific maintenance task. It’s recommended to train all staff in advance so they are fully prepared at the outset of a contract. It can also be very beneficial to provide examples from other clients of how cleaners have used their skills to good effect.

Once a contract is underway, consider bringing cleaners to monthly client meetings. They are the eyes and ears around a site, and who better to report back than the people carrying out the work? It’s also a great way to make cleaning teams feel part of the overall team.

Above all else, you want to explain the ‘why’ to your stakeholders. Tell them why you believe in a collaborative approach and why it will benefit them if they commit to it.

From our experience of pursuing a collaborative approach in our cleaning contracts, the benefits have been instantaneous and long-lasting. So, there is no time like the present to start devising your own collaboration strategy.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited