About a third of Singapore's workforce can now work in offices, factories and schools.
Companies in some sectors such as finance, telecommunications and manufacturing were allowed to resume operations in the first phase of the gradual reopening of the country.
In the past two months, many rooms were completely empty during the circuit breaker, while all employees who did not provide essential services could only work from home.
Unaffected, workplaces that are now reopening require thorough disinfection to ensure that their environment is safe and accessible to returning employees.
This, in turn, required massive mobilization of the cleaning industry. We contacted some cleaning companies to find out how to deal with the demand.
Back-to-back cleaning requests
Weeks before companies reopened, the number of requests and requests for cleaning services exploded.
One of the cleaning companies we spoke to, Home Cleanz, told us that they are fully booked every day until the end of June.
Photo credit: Home Cleanz
"We kindly had to refuse (everyone else) customers who asked for urgent cleaning," said Cheryl Chan, founder of Home Cleanz.
Although the full strength of their team is 60, some of them are stuck in Malaysia, while those who look after private customers are not allowed to work – and reduce them to 16 employees.
Similarly, Jasmine Ong of Amazing Clean said that her team invested extra hours at night and on weekends to meet their customers' needs.
Amazing Clean has 12 employees and hires a few more part-time workers to meet the growing demand.
HVAC Engineering, a company that had specialized in disinfection and decontamination for years prior to Covid-19, is currently sending its teams to 15 cleaning sessions per day.
Some larger facilities they work at may even need two or three sessions, said the company's environmental consultant, Anthony James.
In addition to the offices, they also offer their services to warehouses and factories, gyms, schools, retail centers and places of worship.
Photo credit: HVAC Engineering
Fight dust, mold and Covid-19
Since the offices have not been serviced for a long period of time, they are covered with dust and mold and mildew have been common.
In normal times, these may have been observed only in more extreme cases. However, the condition of the jobs after the circuit breaker requires cleaning companies to take out the big guns.
Our employees vacuum the blanket to remove cobwebs and wipe all furniture with disinfectant, focusing on areas with high contact. All accessible surfaces such as walls and blinds are cleaned with bleaching solution.
We will then vacuum the carpets and wipe the floors and thoroughly clean the toilets and pantries with disinfectant or bleach solution.
Cheryl Chan, founder of Home Cleanz
Photo credit: Home Cleanz
Some of them recommend shampooing carpets and upholstery, especially if mold has grown in these areas.
In addition to removing unwanted dirt and grime, the current priority is to improve disinfection to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
All cleaning companies we spoke to placed great emphasis on disinfecting areas with heavy contact and thoroughly disinfecting the premises by fogging or fogging.
Close-up of a person's hands disinfecting a doorknob.
HVAC Engineering goes one step further and offers its own self-disinfecting coating called Active Shield +.
After cleaning is complete, it is applied to surfaces such as door handles, switches, taps and lifting buttons to remove viruses for up to 90 days.
Address deep cleansing needs and supply issues
While Singapore's transition to Phase 1 triggered a large wave of cleaning requests, demand has been growing since the pandemic started.
Each of the four companies we surveyed said they had been called to disinfect locations that were suspected or confirmed to be infected.
For some of them it was a big leap to adapt to the level of cleaning required.
Among them was BUTLER, a property management and concierge startup that offers a range of services including cleaning.
Since the outbreak of the corona virus, they have revised their training procedures and raised the standards for the 50 employees in their cleaning department.
We upgraded our chemical cleaners and equipment, used relevant technologies to enable traceability, and placed great emphasis on minimizing human-to-human contact at work.
Our focus and our expectations of compliance with hygiene standards have definitely become stricter.
Poon Da Qian, founder and CEO of BUTLER
Others such as Amazing Clean and Home Cleanz have taken courses from the National Environmental Agency (NEA) to understand their policies and learn about the best equipment and chemicals.
In addition to adapting to deeper cleaning methods, they also said that it was difficult to get the supplies they needed to do their jobs.
Photo credit: Retail & Leisure International
The availability of surgical masks was one of the problems earlier when all of Singapore's inventory was quickly used up and retailers raised their prices.
In addition to personal protective equipment to protect cleaning agents, cleaning equipment and chemicals are also in great demand.
"Due to the widespread use of disinfectants, suppliers facing a lack of products will limit the (amount that we can buy)," added Jasmine.
To ensure what they needed, they were constantly turning to many different local and overseas suppliers to expand their supply chain.
Digital processes reduce physical contact
Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of digitization, and the cleaning industry is no exception.
More and more companies are recognizing that some manual processes online can offer their customers a pleasant experience.
It will also help reduce physical contact as people are more careful about hygiene now and after the pandemic.
BUTLER is already well versed in this area with its comprehensive management services.
The founder and CEO Poon Da Qian said that customers can access all information with their office management solution system and can easily procure services. This enables the team to efficiently plan operations based on customer requirements.
Home Cleanz also sees the value of a digital shift and is currently trying to launch programs that make transactions smoother.
Their goal is to make it easier for customers to order cleaning services with just a few clicks, to automatically create and send invoices, and to enable them to easily scan and pay.
Higher hygiene standards beyond Covid-19
Cleaning services are always needed, but the way people expect them to be delivered may be slightly different in our experience with Covid-19.
In line with a stronger emphasis on health and hygiene, people are more likely to hire professional cleaners and ask for more specialized services.
Compared to a simple routine cleaning that mainly involves general sweeping, wiping, and wiping, Cheryl believes "disinfectant cleaning is the way to go".
Photo credit: HVAC Engineering
When people come out of this outbreak and become more aware of the hygiene standards in their environment, regular disinfection and disinfection becomes the norm, especially in commercial buildings.
If customers want more frequent cleaning at higher levels, Jasmine suggests that cleaning costs could increase to help the aging workforce in the industry work longer hours.
On the other hand, Anthony also expects customers who are more familiar with cleaning methods to be happy to buy products that will enable them to safely clean their living and working spaces themselves.
Perhaps cleaner habits will remain if we learn to better protect our health during this pandemic.
Selected image source: HVAC Engineering, Home Cleanz