Industry Leaders Forum: Matt Marsh, Managing Director, Sebastian Property Services

How did Sebastian Property Services adjust to the impact of the pandemic?

We knew early on that as a business we had to be agile and that we had to have the right attitude. We needed to be operationally ready for restarts by clients and be prepared for any other needs that our clients had during and post-lockdown.

We ensured that we had supply of products such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser, sanitising systems, and masks for our team members performing COVID-cleans as well as for our clients, if needed.

We also focused on supporting regional areas where some of our clients are based. There were a couple of instances in regional areas where we supplied products for our clients to sell. At one stage, some regional areas ran out of their supply of sanitiser and we were able to deliver that for them.

What will be the immediate focus for Sebastian Property Services in 2021?

We are focused on remaining a stable business environment for our people, on providing certainty for our people, and on solidifying some of the system and management changes in our business over the past 12 months. In 2020 we had the opportunity to diversify into R&D so we will also continue to develop some of the initiatives and opportunities in that space which we took up during COVID.

What challenges and opportunities do you expect to face over next 12 months?

The challenge is to remain agile for our clients. We still do not know the full economic fallout from COVID-19 and neither do our clients, but we have to be ready to respond.

Another challenge is the long-term mental health of our people from lockdown, particularly in Victoria. The mental health impact of the lockdowns that we have been through cannot be underestimated, and we have to look after our team members and our clients.

I think with our industry and services now under the spotlight, we have the opportunity to showcase our processes and the professionalism of our teams. There is also an opportunity for the industry to work with facility managers on trends, economic outcomes, and innovations born from COVID-19. When there is a major crisis or disruption like what we have been through, that is often when a lot of innovation does happen.

How will the pandemic impact industry expectations of service providers?

One of the most talked-about trends is the future of work and people working from home. I believe working from home will continue, to an extent, but we are social beings and I think more people will return to offices, more than what is being prescribed. There are a lot of businesses currently doing a lot to keep staff coming into the office.

Because of this, the expectation of cleaning versus facility hygiene and sanitisation will change because people have now become more educated on cleanliness and hygiene standards, but we also have the competing forces of economics versus enhanced services. The challenge is to get the right tipping point for the client.

There will be a larger emphasis on the visual aspect of our service and the work we are performing. Proof of service will also be vital. Clients will also want demonstrative evidence of the work being done, particularly in the sanitising space.

Cleaning companies will need to be efficient in their processes and the onus will be on them to train and educate staff, as well as clients, on the difference between cleaning and sanitising. Public awareness has already improved but there are still a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there.

However, as expectations increase and enhanced services are delivered, there will need to conversations on the costs associated with providing COVID-safe facilities and workplaces over the long term.

The reality is that there is a big impost on facilities and business which will flow through to contract expectations – are they going to expect more for the same? Or will they have an understanding that things will have to be different?

For example, there are discussions taking place now on the future of the workplace. While there are discussions around less staff in the workplace and organisations down-sizing their footprints, I think many businesses will need the same space in order for them to be COVID-safe with their staff. The design of the facility will change internally, which will then change what we do.

What is one issue the industry should urgently address in 2021?

The industry needs to establish itself as experts in conversation with government and drive the modernisation of government guidelines regarding infectious cleaning. What we are seeing are a range of guidelines which are not in-line with the product and technology advancements that are taking place in the industry.

Suppliers over the past few years have launched a range of innovations which have been suitable for the cleaning environment but conflict with government guidelines. As COVID continues around the world, we will continue to see new technologies being developed and generated and as an industry, need to be ready to adapt.

Industry terminology also needs to be standardised and this also needs to be developed with government. As an industry we shouldn’t have to go back to where we were pre-COVID – why can’t we do better moving forward?

What additional advice or guidance do you have for the cleaning community?

We’re now being watched by the community, government, and our clients as to how and what we deliver more than ever before, and if we are in a pandemic mode, that is going to continue.

This article first appeared in the January/February issue of INCLEAN magazine. 

Read the original article here.

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