Understandably, many people across many industries have focused on the negative impact this past year-plus of COVID-19 has had. Most BSCAI members acknowledge the negatives. But many are also trumpeting the positives. And there have been benefits.
Blake Dozier, co-owner and operator of OnPoint Building Services, declares, “It’s made our industry more important than it’s ever been! People have thought about their cleaning company more than they ever have. For years, we were the silent service, the service that you didn’t see that comes in at night. A lot of people are now looking at, ‘What actually happens after hours [as far as building cleaning goes]?’ They care about it more than they ever have, and I don’t think they’re going to stop caring. Many are even asking, ‘What are we getting for the cleaning money we’re paying?’ They might even be willing to pay more for cleaning if it means even better service. I think the pandemic has caused a run to quality.”
Now that business operations are slowly but surely returning to normal with increased vaccinations, BSCs are making plans and looking to expand their businesses in the second half of 2021 and beyond. Among those is David Murphy, president and co-founder of Supreme Maintenance Organization. “I think there will be opportunities to expand as we come out of the pandemic,” he states. “Some customers may feel that their current janitorial service provider was not the ideal partner to help them navigate the pandemic and are now looking to upgrade services.”
Attracting and retaining top talent will be key, especially if business does indeed pick up in the third and fourth quarters as many expect. Chris Waldheim, owner of J’s Maintenance, says, “I think that the biggest challenge in the coming year will be recruitment. We are already experiencing difficulties finding employees. I think the next challenge will be to right-size the specifications to meet budget expectations for our clients. As more team members return to client sites, there will be a need to return to pre-pandemic cleaning levels with the possibility of adding hours for daytime cleaning and disinfecting. Keeping an open line of communication with our clients will be critical.”
Murphy concurs, adding, “With stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits, it will remain important to be creative in how we can find and keep team members. Things have changed and we must adapt to new methods of hiring and keeping team members engaged. This is especially important as new opportunities are created.”
For the three BSCAI professionals interviewed for this article, they all expressed confidence that they are up to meeting such challenges. After all, they’ve already weathered a year unlike any other in their careers. Waldheim recalls, “The biggest challenge during the pandemic was keeping our employees safe as we worked non-stop to stay on top of the changing regulations. In what felt like a ship being thrown about in a giant storm, we battened down the proverbial hatches, focused on educating and protecting our employees, provided generous sick time benefits, and made sure our customers had the coverage they needed. Figuring out how to secure sufficient [personal protective equipment, or PPE], supplies, and chemicals was a real challenge during the first half of the pandemic, but we were fortunate to have great partnerships with companies that could meet our needs.”
Some challenges that existed throughout the health crisis are expected to remain. Dozier pointed to the 24-hour news beast that has to be fed. And that often has resulted in mixed messages. “In our society,” he laments, “we’re getting so many different messages about COVID from the government, the CDC, the right, the left. It’s been so politicized. The messaging is all across the spectrum, and so are our customers as well.”
He continues, “You have people who are afraid, and then you have people who don’t even believe COVID is a thing. That it’s the flu. We are an essential service. We’re the tip of the spear, and we have had to bridge that information gap. You have to protect your employees and your customers while, at the same time, respect the customers who don’t think they really need to be protected. Training has never been more important. Fortunately, we were pushing teamwork, accountability, and communication with our customers before the pandemic.”
He and the others acknowledged that, just like certain challenges, some of the changes that have been implemented will become permanent ones as the “return to normal” gains steam. BSCs, as always, will have to adjust. For instance, remote work or telecommuting existed before the pandemic. Since March 2020, though, it has been embraced by more companies than ever before.
Murphy, who has served on several BSCAI committees over the years, comments, “The optimist in me wants to believe that employers will start to realize that working from home may create employees who are less engaged and perhaps less productive. I have seen firsthand in my own family that working from home makes it harder to turn work off and creates work fatigue, which may eventually lower productivity and employee engagement. But the realist in me knows that many businesses will be focused on the short-term financial benefits of maintaining less office space and may be looking to permanently downsize which may create less demand for cleaning services.”
Among the most challenged in navigating this seemingly positive, but uncertain near future will be smaller, independent BSCs. Each of the interviewees had words of wisdom for them. According to Waldheim, “2020 was a great reminder that we need to remain nimble and aware of what is going on around us. I would just remind anyone who is taking on new clients to watch their cash flow and make sure that they are adding clients who appreciate their services rather than clients who are just seeking the lowest cost in the market.”
Murphy agreed. “My best advice would be to be proactive and communicate with customers and potential customers on a regular basis,” he counsels. “Look for opportunities to offer additional services, technology, and products to customers to help them navigate the new normal.”
Dozier concludes, “Focus on quality, selling quality, and helping your customers understand why more man hours means more quality. At the end of the day, customers want to be able to see and recognize what they are paying for.”
Pictured (left to right):
Chris Waldheim, CFO, J’s Maintenance Service, Inc.
David Murphy, President, Supreme Maintenance Organization
Blake Dozier, Co-Owner/Operator, OnPoint Building Services