To ease the strain of extended separation among staff, Baldwin says the NCSU Facilities Division developed a communication tool that allows staff members and supervisors to easily connect on a phone call, bridging the gap between onsite and remote employees. Managers have utilized the platform not just to reinforce protocols, but to check in on employees and keep morale up with a personal touch.

In addition to ongoing communication within the facilities staff, Baldwin says the university maintains its own consistent stream of announcements to keep students, faculty and staff informed.

"NCSU reaches out through social media, electronic newsletters, videos and more to encourage, support and engage the campus community," says Baldwin. "The older staff and employees prone to the virus are informed to stay at home and follow the weekly updates provided by the university."

Brewer says his custodial staff remains upbeat, albeit anxious to take on some larger projects pending approval from the Salt Lake City School District board. In the meantime, the board did extend a kind gesture to the frontline staff — approval of a $2 per hour bonus to all essential employees during pandemic time.

"We haven't announced it to them yet because morale is high anyway," says Brewer. "There were a few people concerned to be working, but then they realized they aren't around other people. They have the precautions and we've given them the education — as well as the ability and initiative to seek out their own clarifications."

Herman says the City of Austin's premium employees have been given time-and-a-half wages for the span of the pandemic — an investment that will be reimbursed by the federal government as it qualifies under COVID-19 task order relief. As an added touch, he says standout members of his staff are eligible for administrative leave (ARL) awards for an added incentive boost.

"They're given in four-hour increments to employees that I see going above and beyond," says Herman. "I'll also give them a certificate, gold-stamped with the ARL award and present it to them. It's a nice touch and they really appreciate it."

Future Implications

Once some resemblance of normalcy returns, Brewer believes the pandemic will further elevate the importance of professionally trained custodians that understand protocols entirely, from the rationale behind procedures to the impact of chemicals being used. Additionally, he believes more facilities will fully adopt the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) two-step cleaning-then-disinfecting process, especially for high-touch surfaces.

"We've already been doing the two-step process, but more facilities need to move away from the spray-and-wipe mentality because it's insufficient," says Brewer. "All of these disinfectants — especially the quaternary ones — require a dwell time and often a hefty one. When you spray and wipe right away, you're not doing anything other than wasting money. You need to clean before spraying something on a pile of dirt, otherwise you're just going to regrow infected areas."

Baldwin can't say with certainty if cleaning budgets will be expanded post-pandemic, but she believes custodial departments will have a stronger case when campaigning for improved cleaning equipment, and as an extension, more comprehensive cleaning procedures. She also expects students, faculty and staff to return with an elevated sense of ownership for their individual space — a mentality that can go a long way towards campus-wide health if broadly adopted.

For the time being, however, Baldwin says the focus is on the immediate future, and in particular, solidifying a plan for whenever the long-awaited reopening comes.

"There are still so many variables that are unknown, but we will continue to pin down areas of need where staffing will continue to be elevated, such as research labs and residence halls," says Baldwin. "Other pressing matters we need to finalize include the protocols for where the virus has been confirmed, and for deep cleaning student rooms post-quarantine."

While there's no definite end-date for shortages, digital training and elevated protocols, the ability for cleaning staff to maneuver this pandemic is certain. Departments should have all the confidence to come out of it stronger than ever — with some newfound respect to boot.

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Virtual Training And Procedural Shifts