The only official magazine of The Cleaning Show

How will you be working in 2020?

Published 8th May, 2015 by Neil Nixon

How will you be working in 2020?

The last five years have seen sweeping changes in the workplace, but where are they leading, and what will our industry look like five years from now? Mitie's cleaning business describes the momentous changes gathering pace. Mitie was the Platinum Sponsor of The Cleaning Show 2015, held at the ExCeL Centre in London, and this paper is based on the widely-acclaimed Keynote Address delivered at the show. The Keynote Address focused on the impact of agile working and mobile technology on the property market and the changes that will result.

Certainly if you read the predictions in the popular press or believe the publicity, you could be forgiven for fearing that your job will have been replaced by an ultra-clever automated cleaning device that has not only managed to work out how to clean into corners, but also how to jump off the floor and clean desks, ledges, window sills, and the tops of doors.

The reality is that technology is driving huge changes in the commercial cleaning space by reshaping the workplace. Tablets, smartphones and omnipresent Wi-Fi continue to have a major impact on our working lives. As the workplace evolves, so too must the cleaning industry, and one of the first ways to facilitate that is for everyone to work smarter.

How SMART are your toilets?

Early in 2015, a major global bank started a trial of SMART hot air hand dryers. There's nothing particularly innovative about the hand dryer itself, except it has a 4G chip, a 4-inch LED screen and a counter. This means that every time it's used the counter adds another '1' to the total. After it reaches 100, the chip sends a message through the cellular network to the cleaning supervisor to get someone round to spruce up the washroom. It certainly looks very impressive and the LED screen plans to run 15-second adverts in front of what is guaranteed to be a captive audience. All very remarkable. But here's the truly clever bit. By implementing these dryers, they have changed the process from sending someone in every hour to check the washrooms, to making as few as one visit a day for some, while others see as many as twelve, depending on how many people are using that washroom. Over the entire estate, the bank expect to see a more efficient use of resources, leading to better cleaned washrooms exactly when they are needed. This trial shows how the clever use of technology can help companies reduce cleaning costs through being more agile and intelligent in the way they use data to drive cleaning services, while actually improving service.

It's fair to expect that by 2020 operational decisions will be almost entirely driven by data, rather than intuition, which is a reflection of what is happening throughout the entire working world as all kind of working practices become more agile. Agile working is a widely-used term now and sometimes gets confused with flexible working. Perhaps it's a good time to explain what most property experts mean when they bring 'agility' into the boardroom.

Paul Allsopp, the founder of the Agile Organisation, a leading consultancy in this area, has defined agile working as follows and his definition is used extensively by organisations all over the country: Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).

You can read his full article here:

Building an agile future

Since the beginning of 2013, Mitie has been running a high-level business intelligence programme that has brought us face to face with around 200 senior property and facilities directors. We've been building an understanding of how they see the future of their businesses, and particularly how they use property.

Some of the findings are startling; here are a few examples of how property directors see their world in 2020:

• The need for commercial office space in the UK will be half that of 2010

• Just 40% of office workers will have their 'own' desk

• 62% of the UK's commercial space will be in London and the South East

• 55% of UK businesses will have merged FM, Property, HR & IT functions

• 60% of staff will spend more time working out of the office than in it

The last time there was this much change in the workplace was at the start of the Industrial Revolution, which took a whole century. The Information Revolution has happened in less than a decade, which highlights the dramatic pace of change. And it's not just in commercial offices that agile working is happening. In February 2015 it was reported by the BBC and national newspapers that the British justice system is now rolling out an online pleading system for minor court cases like speeding. Now, hundreds of thousands of motorists will be able to enter a plea online instead of going to court. This will mean a change in the way the buildings are cleaned and maintained.

To survive in such a dynamic business environment means that contracts will need to be much more flexible and based on a much closer understanding of the client business and the way it is likely to evolve.

Where lies the future?

So if businesses are going to occupy a lot less property, what does all this mean for the cleaning industry?

It's clear that there's going to be a lot more competition. On the other hand, with many customers already expecting contracts to be squeezed even further, no one will be able to make a profit by cutting cost even further.

In a competitive market like cleaning, the only answer to growing business is to increase market share. That means being innovative, which in turn means changing the way we look at the business and understanding how property is being used.

Where's everybody gone?

A recent phenomenon in the property sector is 'Ghost ship Friday.' It's that odd sensation when you find yourself walking around a building, and notice that hardly anyone's there. Our clients tell us that it's worst after lunch.

No one has yet worked out where everyone goes, but with the explosion of agile working, where people don't need to be in an office to be productive, it's becoming more widespread.

While some companies worry about it, others are using the opportunity to redesign the way they use their buildings. Now, instead of opening the whole building on a Friday, they close complete floors, or parts of the campus. This creates a window for maintenance and deep cleaning – after all, what better time is there to wet clean the carpets, or touch up paint, than when no one is in and you have a whole weekend for them to dry out?

Living the client values

The same companies are looking at the fact that their buildings are often packed from Tuesday to Thursday, as everyone comes in for meetings, presentations and collaboration. On those days they want to see more cleaners to make sure that the heavier traffic doesn't cause the building to be presented any less perfectly just because it is being heavily used.

This brings us to another aspect of the changing face of cleaning: that of being seen. During 2012, when the UK was brought to a standstill by torrential rain, our Account Director at a major international airport in the UK realised that the flood of people stuck there due to the bad weather meant the cleaning team would be hard stretched.

So, in true Mitie style, she put on a tabard, grabbed a trolley, and pitched in. Afterwards she commented, “If you ever want to disappear in a crowd, just become a cleaner – no one sees you.”

That's a sad reflection on our industry, but the good news is that increasingly people do see you. People want to see their cleaners on a day-to-day basis and in turn the cleaning operatives enjoy being recognised for the contribution they make.

Some have taken it to the ultimate extreme and totally changed the model. For example, at one broadcaster the entire Mitie team aren't called 'cleaners' or 'maintenance staff', but are known to everyone as 'The Presentation Team'.

As their Head of Property comments: “Our property represents our brand, so it is important to us that the people who are responsible for making sure we always look our best are recognised for their efforts. We have a lot of different people working here, both staff and visitors, who range from international programme buyers, to people coming to see a TV programme being made, and of course the on-screen talent. The Presentation Team plays a key role in showing that we care.”

From invisibility to customer ambassador

Increasingly, organisations that deal with the public are moving towards the same philosophy, albeit for a different reason. One of the big societal changes in the UK over the last fifteen years has been the growth of out-of-town shopping centres. Many of these have become destination venues, home to all sorts of catering venues, cinemas, crèches and events, as well as providing retail therapy. We've also seen massive growth in the use of public transport, with more people using railways and airports now than at any time in history.

It's an inevitable fact of life that as people pass through these buildings, they will leave their mark, whether that is wet footprints, rotting leaf- fall or random sweet wrappers. This means you need to put more cleaning operatives on the ground, and they need to be there at the same time as the visiting public.

It's also true that when they see somebody in a uniform, people are going to ask them for help, mostly for directions to a specific shop, or a platform for a train, or their departure gate.

This is a challenge for the industry, because it means that by 2020 cleaning will no longer be something of the night, but a visible, customer-facing activity that calls for an extra set of interpersonal skills, many of which will need to be learned. This in turn means the industry is going to have to increase its focus on training.

We've already recognised this trend within Mitie, which has led to the setting up of the Mitie Academy and to our Stars programme, which allows for clients and members of the public to recognise the work our teams do.

Changing the metric

Another interesting aspect of working with customer-facing organisations is seeing that their own performance isn't measured by the number of times KPIs are met, but by the way their customers rate the experience of dealing with them.

For some of our clients this is a move that is beginning to be reflected in the way they are looking to evaluate the performance of their service providers. Rather than counting how often the washrooms are cleaned, they want to know what the people using the facilities actually think of them. In short they are looking to measure quality rather than quantity.

This is a move that is gaining currency across many organisations, so even where the 'customers' are the company's own people, their satisfaction is playing an increasing role in determining the effectiveness of the service.

Recent research from PWC revealed that the top priority for UK CEOs is attracting and retaining talent. [18th Annual Global CEO Survey,]. As the quality of work experience and the ambience of the workplace as key factors, taking into account staff opinion is a very valid metric.

So what about 2020?

It's probably fair to say that in 2020 much will have changed, but the cleaning industry will still be recognisable, and will be in a better place.

We'll all be working smarter, making more use of data to drive decisions, and the importance of what we do to keep our clients working in clean and pleasant environments will be much more widely recognised.

What won't have changed is that cleaning will still be a profoundly people industry, which means we will only be as good as our weakest member. That places an onus on us, and our peers, to keep driving up standards through training and quality management. Mitie has already made some great strides in those areas with the introduction of the industry's only Lean Six Sigma accredited cleaning management process, and the continuing success of our training and apprenticeship programmes.

It's certainly going to be an interesting time, so watch this smarter, modern working space.


March 2015

This white paper is based on the widely-acclaimed Keynote Address delivered by Paul Castle, Solutions Director of Mitie's cleaning business and Peter Smith, Practice Leader of the Marketing Doctors, at The Cleaning Show 2015 held in March and delivered over three consecutive days to the cleaning industry.

Mitie is a facilities management company that has operated in the cleaning industry since its founding in 1987. Its award-winning cleaning business is divided into six operating sectors, comprising commercial and education, retail, transport, healthcare, leisure and manufacturing. Mitie's cleaning team consists of over 33,000 employees who operate out of over 15 offices around the country. Mitie has gained seven Gold ROSPA Awards in a row since 2008 for excellence in health and safety and the business is a prime supporter of the Business Services Association's Responsible Cleaner Scheme. Mitie is the first-ever Platinum Sponsor of The Cleaning Show.

For more information on anything in this article, or to contact Mitie please email us at:

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