Janitor pushing cart

Contributed By BSCAI

As the response to COVID-19 becomes more serious, many building service contractors are seeing a unique change in their business. Some customers — like health care facilities and buildings that have had a positive case of COVID-19 — are asking for additional cleaning, causing pressure for BSCs already strapped for labor. While others are seeing their customers shutter their buildings, leaving no immediate need for janitorial staff.

At a recent BSCAI town hall, building service contractors came together to discuss the challenges they're facing with labor and what solutions others can look to during this challenging time.

When Work Increases, Create Employee Incentives

Fear and anxiety around COVID-19 are high right now. Janitors on the frontlines might feel really on alert. BSCs say if you are in a situation where you're increasing your workload (or keeping it the same), it might be wise to offer incentives.

Terell Weg, CBSE, is the president of MSNW Group, LLC, Ferndale, Washington. Being in the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, Weg says they've seen a significant increase in business, including areas where there was a known case of COVID-19. For her employees going out on jobs — and especially those with confirmed cases — she's been offering premium pay.

"We're at ground zero for the COVID-19 outbreak, so we've been dealing with this for weeks," says Weg. "We're paying premium pages to entice our employees to come out and do the cleaning."

Beyond monetary incentives, communicating to your workers how they're helping on the frontlines can be a morale boost to keep them going.

"Our attendance numbers have never been better," says Greg Buchner, CBSE, president and CEO of CleanOffice, Herndon, Virginia. "Our cleaners feel like they're part of something valuable."

Be Diligent In Safety Procedures

Eric Luke, president of Varsity Facility Services, says it's important to consider how employees are being protected. BSCs should provide personal protective equipment (PPE) when available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cleaning staff should wear disposable gloves and gowns. If they are cleaning an area where an infected person has been, the CDC recommends cleaning staff change their gloves immediately after cleaning.

As for masks, the CDC does not recommend healthy people use them (as of print time), however when dealing with an area exposed to known cases, it can add an extra layer of protection. Weg says she provides masks for cleaners if they're cleaning a space with a confirmed case. When using gowns and gloves, she follows the CDC recommendations. Along with that, she's been using videos to help her cleaners understand proper techniques on removing gloves, gowns, etc. According to Harvard University, a recent study shows the virus can live in the air for up to three hours. Knowing this, Luke says it's a good idea for cleaners without masks to enter a building beyond the three-hour window. He recommends a 24-hour wait for spaces with known infections.

If Short On Workers, Consider Hiring Those Laid Off In Other Industries

Bradley Klein, CBSE, president of the Building Professionals of Texas Family of Companies, Houston, says his company has been in contact with restaurants and bars to see if they can temporarily hire their staff. Weg says she posted an open position on the Internet and received more than 140 applications in less than twelve hours.

Consider Reaching Out To Other Industries To Share The Work

Buchner says, while his company is getting more requests for work, there are some services they just can't perform because of capacity. In response, he's reached out to restoration companies with some cleaning experience to help with the load. Establishing these partnerships helps in the interim, but it might also help in the future. Especially in times like these where fear and anxiety are high, customer trust is extremely important.

"We're letting our customers know, 'Hey, we're ready to do this, but if we can't in the future, we have a trusted partner,'" says Buchner. "We don't care who does the work, we just want our customers to feel safe and that their spaces were sanitized."

If There's A Decrease In Work, Reassign Staff When Possible

Jason Dinverno, managing partner and CEO at Prestige Maintenance USA, Plano, Texas, says he's been working with his staff to see who can be reassigned to the high-volume areas. Reassigning people avoids asking people to take time off and can aid in labor shortages.

Work With HR To Discuss Your Options For Potential Layoffs

Dinverno says if you have to temporarily lay off workers, it's important to discuss your options with your HR team. There are many state and federal laws that can dictate what happens when temporarily laying off (or firing) employees.

Luke says it's also important to know what resources are available to laid off employees. He recommends telling them about assistance programs they might qualify for, including unemployment.

"There's going to be a feeling of guilt or concern about employees because you can't pay them," says Luke. "There is some assistance for people — not enough, but at least some."

Weg recommends allowing people to use their PTO during this time. She says her company will allow people who are laid off in the case of a slowdown to preemptively use their PTO for 2021. Depending on how these next few weeks shake out in terms of contracts, Weg says they're also considering wiping the slate clean for those workers, should they use the preemptive PTO allowance.

Be Communicative About Your Services With Your Clients

Todd Hopkins, president and CEO of Office Pride, Inc., Palm Harbor, Florida and current BSCAI president, says many clients will want to completely stop service during this time. A slowdown in service makes sense — especially for buildings that are vacated — but this is a good time to explain the importance of deep cleans and specialized services that can be done before they open back up.

"Rather than not allow any cleaning service to come in, we designate those hours to do the detailing, to help prepare their facility in the best way possible for when the workers do return," says Hopkins. "We know the workers will appreciate that they've made the investment. And it's remarkable how many of them are saying, 'Wow, that's a good idea.'"

He said being good stewards of cleanliness is extremely important during this time, and while regular cleanings might be off the table, this is a great chance to show clients the slew of services available.