As building reopenings begin, what does post-COVID-19 cleaning look like?

Robert Rivadeneira has learned one key thing in the past few weeks when he has been working with clients who run office buildings, medical facilities, restaurants and schools on their cleaning and disinfecting needs: Every reopening strategy is different.

He combines that with the big lessons he has learned in his nearly two decades at York Building Services: People — the employees and the customers — are the key to every cleaning.

Rivadeneira, the CEO of the Moonachie-based second-generation family business, said he’s busy strategizing with a variety of clients as they think about reopening.

York Building Services
Robert Rivadeneira of York Building Services.

After he explains best practices — “the right disinfectants being used in the right way on the right surfaces” — Rivadeniera stresses getting the confidence back from members of the public or community to actually feel comfortable reentering these buildings is key.

Then there’s this: Human behavior will impact all cleaning going forward.

While the initial strategy for any space is doing a complete deep cleaning and getting a footprint for high-touch areas, the longer picture is how we can maintain this cleanliness,” he said. “While the peace of mind comes from the deep disinfection, the reality is, when you do a deep clean like that, as soon as somebody enters that space, it’s contaminated again. And you don’t know where that person was before and what they’re tracking in with shoes.

“So, the greatest concern is really how we can stay on top of best human practices to ensure safety for everybody.”

Rivadeneira talked with ROI-NJ about a variety of issues involving cleaning offices in what will be the new normal. The responses are edited and condensed for clarity.

ROI-NJ: Let’s talk about changes in the industry. In addition to being in higher demand, what else do you see?

Robert Rivadeneira: Typically, cleaning has been focused in appearance. Right now, the emphasis for everyone really needs to be cleaning for health and cleaning for safety. At the end of the day, a shiny floor is beautiful, but, given the choice, a disinfected doorknob is far more effective.

Cleaning companies now need to make sure their own staff is following CDC guidelines, knowing the proper protocol for PPE, and not touching their face. One course by the Global Virus Advisory Council had a great training program that focuses on cleaning for COVID-19.

ROI: That leads to best practices — and best products. Give us your thoughts on those two things?

RR: Thymol-based disinfectants are less abrasive and less toxic than others on the market. However, disinfectants in general are strong because, at the end of the day, they’re designed to deactivate and kill viruses. All disinfectants should be registered and listed by the EPA. Disinfectants on this list kill H1N1, HIV and more. While COVID-19 is a new virus, the disinfectants on this list are known to deactivate similar-structured viruses.

When cleaning, it’s important to let the disinfectant dwell on the surface after you apply it. This way, it can do its work to deactivate any pathogens or biocontaminents. After letting it dwell, wipe it down with a damp rap or cloth.

As far as human behavior, just constantly disinfecting things you constantly touch with an alcohol-based solution, and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth is important. I think a lot of building managers will be coming out with plans to stagger shifts and stagger lunch hours to limit the number of people in one area.

ROI: Let’s get to the big question: How much does this cost?

Rivadeneira: Typically, pricing is always done with a walk-through, which has been very challenging in these times. But it starts with an assessment. So, people interested in what we do would now contact us for an over-the-phone assessment. From there, we really try to understand their needs. Our goal is to customize our service to their needs, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all pricing guide.

For example, the same square footage with 100 tight cubicles versus an open space and furniture would have different cleaning needs. A typical small office interested in night cleaning and disinfecting three times a day could be on average from $2,500-$3,000 a month. However, that’s ballpark and, with the sight unseen, it’s very hard to quote because there’s a tremendous amount of variables.

ROI: Many companies will be increasing the cleaning spend post-COVID-19. But we’re guessing your costs are going up, too. Describe how COVID has impacted the business model?

RR: Increased cleaning frequencies bring increased costs. For cleaning contractors, just sourcing the disinfectants is challenging, now that the supply chain is disrupted. Of course, there is also the new cost of PPE, and making sure all your crew members have gloves and masks. If your crew is doing a four- or five-hour shift, they should probably change their mask at least twice during that shift.

One focal point for cleaning is limiting cross-contamination and changing gloves as you move from area to area; post-COVID-19 cleaning will only increase this demand for gloves. We’re looking at a budget increase of about 15% in supply costs.

For businesses hiring cleaning services, there will definitely be a budget increase to keep up with frequency demand. While businesses usually had night cleaning, many will now need to consider a day porter or day matron constantly disinfecting and cleaning common touch points. Another budget consideration is in touch-free fixtures and dispensers in bathrooms. The biggest challenge I’d say is sourcing that PPE, hand sanitizer and disinfectants in this high demand setting.

ROI: In a time when so many are out of work, it seems as if yours is a business that will be adding jobs. Talk about your company’s potential for growth?

RR: I think the demand for workers is going to be there, for sure, and it can be a great opportunity for people considering a new placement.

Once the government officially lets states reopen and everyone goes back to work, there’s going to be plenty of work for people that may have been displaced from their previous job. And that includes not just frontline cleaners and day porters, but also management roles in cleaning companies or team leadership. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity in the cleaning industry because everyone really needs a strong team during this time.

ROI: That team could include a variety of players. How can technology help you moving forward?

RR: One thing that may trend going forward is autonomous robots. It’s something we’re looking to incorporate ourselves. Their main responsibility would be to handle repetitive and mundane tasks, such as vacuuming large, open corridors, sweep/scrub/mopping open common areas, so that expensive labor and time-consuming tasks like the two-step disinfection wipe-downs can be maintained consistently through human labor.

Right now, these robots are pretty expensive, so, mostly big corporations like airports or Amazon warehouses use them. However, their ability to make other cleaning tasks more thorough and efficient is why we’re looking into them.

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