Wednesday 26 May 2021 6:40 am

Mitie: Covid and hybrid work prompted a makeover for cleaning tech - a mop and bucket won't cut it

The pandemic has given society the breathing space to redesign what a workplace should offer and in the age of the invisible virus, the humble mop and bucket won’t cut it.  

After a socially starved year, offices will likely become more collaborative and social in the future, adopting measures like ‘hot desking’. But these new work styles will require a whole new level of hygiene, managing director for business services at outsourcing giant Mitie, Jason Towse told City A.M.

“You have to deliver a very different level of assurance to the people that are coming back to work.”

To get that level of assurance, companies like Mitie, which clean Heathrow and Manchester airport, alongside Transport for London (TfL), have begun investing in smart cleaning technology which has become more technologically advanced over the last 12 months.

“Today, you can’t always see if somewhere is clean,” Towse said, as the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted to us all how invisible transmissible germs can be.  

“The demand from the individual has very much changed and I think there’s a huge responsibility on businesses to provide those minimum standards to their people. But you can’t do that by using the same methods that we did before – the mops, the buckets, the dusters.

“The acceleration of technology within the cleaning and hygiene sector has been hugely significant over the past 12 months…We’ve moved forward probably three to four years in our thinking.”

Data and analysis

Investing in technology to ‘compliment’ cleaning and hygiene for the workplace, Mitie utilises data and analysis to ensure that each ‘touch point’ is clean in the world of hybrid working.

The data lets Mitie know when spaces or desks have been used to create a ‘demand’ led hygiene routine, Towse said, adding that it avoids “flooding somewhere with cleaning operatives.”

“We’ll never move away from the traditional mop and bucket; it will always be needed. But the multi-laned approach compliments it for the future.”

The traditional image of a cleaner will also be reimagined as cleaning tech advances, Towse continued: “It’s no longer ‘just a cleaner’, these are cleaning operatives and they’re going to be skilled technicians in the future.”

The firm has been talking with ministers under the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) about the cleaning and hygiene sector for post-pandemic life.

“There’s a degree of science,” Towse said, adding that “It’s no longer frontline, blue collar, ‘wipe across the table’ service and that’s reflected in the APPG.”

The tech

Air cleaning tech like UVC cleaning systems and robotics have been deployed to many of the firm’s clients, which spans Lloyds bank and Co-op to the Home Office’s immigration detention centres.

“We have invested heavily in our office in The Shard, in this multi-laned approach, where we have a large number of UVC units fitted. For every square metre, we have a UVC air filtration unit which provides our employees that are returning to work with that level of assurance.”

Robotic vacuums have also been deployed in The Shard offices, which cut the level of pathogens on carpets by 60 per cent, according to Towse, who added that 10 machines can be fully charged in an hour using just 30 per cent the energy a Henry Hoover would after 30 minutes.

Mitie has recently invested in an upcoming product called Cithrox, which is going through applications with the biocide register, that controls pathogens.

Towse explained: “It will allow you to suspend the solution which will eradicate any germs and pathogens. Which will eliminate the need to apply multiple touchpoint cleaning every day because it will suspend the cleaning solution within the solution itself.”

Cleaning tech is only going to accelerate from this point onwards, Towse said, as he confirmed that the firm is collaborating with a not-yet-known UK university to develop cleaning robotics.

“Covid is a catalyst for this thinking, the pandemic is the catalyst. This is no longer about Covid, it is about beyond. This is about where the world of cleaning and hygiene goes to provide levels of confidence and reassurance for our people.”