washing hands with soap

Though immediate concerns about the lurking COVID pandemic are typically more of the long-range variety, the impact of the virus on the hygienic habits of the average worker cannot be understated. The experience of the initial outbreak shaped our response to health emergencies for decades to come. One of the most immediate impacts, certainly, is on the daily work environment. Thus, these new habits and expectations must be considered when it comes to product innovation and development, and particularly when it comes to soaps, sanitizers and other cleaning products designed for high-touch areas.  

One of the things taken for granted before the pandemic, and, not coincidentally, one of the more over-emphasized aspects of a “return to normal” workplace is the simple act of washing hands. For that, the bathroom is reliably stocked with soaps and sanitizers designed to make the average worker feel at home. To get a better idea of how the pandemic has affected the mindset and strategies of the soaps and sanitizers market, Facility Cleaning Decisions spoke with experts from a variety of companies, including SC Johnson Pro, Clorox, Kutol and more to see where things might be headed.  

One of longest-lasting legacies of COVID-19 will be the unprecedented awareness about how germs spread, with the result being new consumer expectations about how clean and disinfected a space should and could actually be — especially in shared offices and other environments. The upshot of this is that a new understanding began to emerge: simply maintaining visible cleanliness in spaces where people would gather would no longer be enough.  

It became clear, also, that the current educational and training programs that are in place likely aren’t adequate for the needs of a rapidly growing world — especially when considering how flawed many of the “cleaning practices” promoted in popular media were.  

According to Lori Strazdas at Clorox Pro, Pleasanton, California, there are some obvious takeaways that the cleaning industry needs to be mindful of.  

First, she ways, we need “a renewed focus on cleaning for health; which is the process of reducing the spread of germs and other unwanted matter from surfaces in the built environment, and not just for appearances.” 

The other takeaway is even more critical to securing a healthier future.  

We need, she continued, to focus on “the importance of high-quality education and training, in addition to providing effective products, to ensure that the work needed is done efficiently, effectively, and safely.”  

“Cleaning improperly can pollute an indoor environment,” says Strazdas. “This effective education and training are necessary to get it right.” 

Cleaning strategies — especially when it comes to office buildings and tenants that have been in place for decades — are constantly in the process of evolving and shifting to meet economic demands. Given the considerable challenges facing office space owners, cleaning philosophies have started to differ. Schedules are different, workers have new priorities, and many organizations are struggling to adapt to new arrangements.  

The effect has been widespread, and has even trickled down to product development. For example, researchers working on new product ideas must be attuned to the demands of the current reality — the need for new ready-to-use (RTU) products dwarfs the need for tasks requiring dilution and measurements; companies need to be in step with the needs of an evolving marketplace and meet the consumer where their needs are.  

In addition, the movement of employee empowerment has not just affected daily schedules and routines, but the processes by which companies are able to hire and train. The popularity of employee recruitment and retention programs is soaring through the roof at conferences and conventions around the country.  

Companies looking to stake a strong foothold in the current environment and get a leg up on future turns would be wise to invest in professional development for their employees. Offering stable employment in a field where their special knowledge is appreciated is a rare gift, and one companies should look to take advantage of.  

The shift in business and worker schedules and office needs has led to an increased focus on surface cleaning and disinfecting efficiency, as many organizations struggle to find enough staff to meet business and consumer expectations.  

Companies must also to continue thinking outside-the-box. The type of creative problem-solving that helped many groups navigate the early days of the pandemic will come in handy in years to come, as the markets continue to recover and react from a jarring interruption.  

In terms of visitor and occupant satisfaction, having strong, familiar name brands visible is one way to establish a sense of trust and security — the people in charge of this facility have an interest in occupant well-being. This gained confidence also reduces the need for the visual of in-person workers to make an impression with regards to the cleanliness of the facility. 

Along these lines, it is an enduring impact of the pandemic that visitors will absolutely pay more attention to the appearance and perception of cleanliness of essentially any place they visit. How can companies, facility operators and manufacturers work together to mitigate the fears of the public? Research indicates that professional cleaners are also feeling the pressure to prove disinfection and sanitation at higher rates than previously. However, the general public is struggling with this confidence, often left to ponder how clean the surface of their table really is?  

For the renewed interest in soaps and sanitizers to continue, companies must focus on educating the end user on hand hygiene best practices in a variety of ways — covering everything from how surfaces can look clean without being properly sanitized, to reducing the overall spread of germs. Signage encouraging visitors to wash their hands is helpful, but the opportunity to educate goes beyond simple instructions.  

Facility operators should also take advantage of the recent trend towards data collection in order to develop a profile of the typical visitor, subsequently adjusting purchasing habits to reflect the needs of the building: if sustainability is important, consider new eco-friendly products and packaging. If there are a lot of high touch areas in a given day, invest in wipes that have high rates of disinfection. The choice of products that building operators use sends a message to visitors and occupants about the priorities of the cleaning program.  

Most importantly, it is critical to remember that good products are only as good as quality on-the-job training allows them to be. Teaching frontline workers about not just how to use products effectively, but why, enables them to be a vessel of information to any building occupants they encounter.  

According to Strazdas, the training and education are among the most important priorities a facility can offer.  

“Staff that can clean effectively and confidently clean not only keeps the facility in good health, but provides additional confidence for occupants and visitors that now see an educated, skilled and confident workforce,” she says.  

At the end of the day, people and products combine to project a post-pandemic sense of cleaning confidence well into the future.  

Sidebar: Give Me A Sign 

The COVID outbreak, stretching back to 2020, left a mark on society that won’t soon fade away. Public awareness of cleaning standards, a healthy awareness of workplace health and safety protocols, and an increased focus on hand hygiene in particular are just a few of the many ways that the viral outbreak changed the attitudes and perspectives of typical building occupants and visitors.  

In an attempt to make facilities feel safer and cleaner, many buildings employed a variety of strategies aimed at encouraging visitors to take hand hygiene into their own, well, hands. An increased use of signage designed to communicate both the importance of healthy handwashing habits and highlight opportunities to conduct a thorough wash throughout facilities is just one of the ways building operators have tried to make visitors more comfortable around fellow occupants.  

For facilities that are seeking new signs and graphics to incorporate into their hand hygiene programs, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) has gathered an extensive collection of infographics, signage, illustrations and more that are optimized for all sorts of audiences. Via the “Clean Hands” initiative, the ACI provides free-of-charge resources that can be utilized in a classroom setting, office environment, retail outlet, and more. In addition to signage that encourages healthy habits, the Clean Hands initiative provides ready-to-print publications and pamphlets that help reinforce the “why?” behind handwashing importance, with educational content for kids of all ages.  

Visit the home of the institute here

Jackson Silvanik is the Managing Editor for Facility Cleaning Decisions, and lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky. He joined Trade Press Media in 2021 and also edits and writes for Contracting Profits, Sanitary Maintenance and CleanLink.com.