More than two years since the COVID-19 pandemic made Zoom calls a reality and daily commutes infrequent, employers are still juggling their return-to-work options among fully remote, fully in-person, hybrid, flex space, and shared space approaches. And now, it’s a dual effort on the part of both HR managers and facility managers to retain current employees and attract new ones.
For those who have returned—or who will return in some capacity in 2022—the “workplace experience” is key.
In a CNBC survey of executives at major U.S. companies, 84% said employee health and wellness was very important to work plans in a post-pandemic work model, exceeding employee productivity (72%). Our firm partnered with marketing consultant Brand Federation on a survey that found that 82% of American consumers are more aware of cleanliness when it comes to public spaces. And taking it one important step further, Stratus Building Solutions found that 86% of Americans said they want proof that workplaces and businesses are following a regular cleaning and sanitation process.
It’s clear, our psychology of clean has changed, and that psychology is a centerpiece at the table of the workplace experience.
Before the pandemic, property managers and facility managers had plenty of responsibilities. Almost overnight, those same professionals were expected to become experts in all things clean. Now, in the new pandemic world, facility managers are finding themselves working more closely with HR professionals than ever before.
New responsibilities (and opportunities) for both are embracing expanded expectations of clean, enhanced cleaning protocols, knowledge of chemistry and epidemiology, and how to position all of them in the workplace experience strategy. Critically, they also must communicate this newfound knowledge like a seasoned PR professional. In short, it goes way beyond positioning hand sanitizers throughout the facility.
The New Expectations of Clean
In addition to the 86% of Americans who want proof of regular cleaning in the workplace, Stratus Building Solutions found that 90% said that even after vaccination, they are concerned with businesses they visit and want those businesses to make sanitation a priority. So, it goes beyond the workplace.
In another study, the Center for Active Design found in its “A New Investor Consensus: The Rising Demand for Healthy Buildings” study that 92% believe demand for healthy buildings will grow in the next three years.
People want to see clean. They want to know that their employers—and by extension the property managers, facility managers, and HR managers—not only have their health and safety in mind, but also that their health and safety are prioritized. With all the other stresses they’ve encountered during the pandemic, they don’t want to worry about their safety at work.
For that reason, don’t be afraid to start a conversation and listen to employee concerns. It will go a long way for better understanding the expectations.
Embracing Lofty Expectations
The first step to meeting these new expectations of clean is to embrace them. The pandemic has changed the way we look at cleanliness and hygiene forever.
Next is getting as smart as possible about the latest technologies and cleaning products that are available, ranging from disinfectants and self-cleaning surfaces to air cleaners and HVAC filters. Part of that includes learning about the chemistry and epidemiology of the products you’re using—too much of certain cleaning agents, cleaning too often, mixing products, or improper disposal can lead to minor to severe health issues.
In a pre-pandemic world, your leadership team or tenants likely trusted you to make the best decisions without feedback. And you may have felt that as long as it looks clean, that was good enough. That’s no longer the case: Your employees and customers want to know their health is a priority.
Proving That Cleanliness Is Paramount
Once you’ve recommitted to cleanliness and hygiene, you’ll need to prove it.
Think back to an old axiom for writing an essay: tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.
It is essential to communicate about the efforts you’re making.
Regular updates via email about what you’re doing can show that cleanliness is no longer out of sight and out of mind. Posters and other signage can remind employees their safety is a priority. Use social media to your advantage to promote new changes. Create a brief communications calendar to inform employees what’s coming and then remind them over and over about what you’ve done. Remember that optics matter, so it’s important to be visible with your cleaning regimen by providing cues people can see —this can range from using visible self-cleaning surfaces that are always on and present to consistent cleaning throughout the workday rather than only after hours when employees have gone home for the day.
While the workplace may never return to the way it once was, there’s still going to be a place—or several of them—where people regularly work together. For the foreseeable future, many businesses and employees will put that workplace under the microscope. Is my workspace clean? When were the bathrooms last cleaned? What chemicals are being used and how often? What’s being done with the high-traffic and high-touch areas? Does my employer show it cares about clean? Is clean visible throughout the day?
Taking a proactive and intentional approach to cleanliness and hygiene not only will increase the odds of a smooth return to work for everyone involved, but also can be a competitive advantage for those embracing employee well-being and safety in their workplace experience strategy–which, in turn, leads to retaining current employees and attracting new ones.
Dennis Hackemeyer is a co-founder of Nanotouch, a Virginia-based company founded in 2012 that manufactures a line of self-cleaning surfaces used in facilities ranging from Fortune 200 companies and healthcare facilities to hotels and all levels of government. A former Marine whose background combines advanced print technologies and Marine Corps training in nuclear, biological, and chemical disciplines, he helped oversee Nanotouch’s launch through research, antimicrobial testing, product development and fabrication process and continues to lead the firm’s business development and partnership initiatives.