The future of cleaning

Predicting the trends and technologies of the future is very difficult. Anyone remember Michael J Fox flying around on the famous hover board in the 1980s ‘Back to the Future’ movie trilogy?

In 1907, the US National Association of Teachers believed “students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a penknife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”

Then in 1950, US Federal Teachers warned that ballpoint pens would be the ruin of education.

“Students use these devices and just throw them away. The values of thrift and frugality were being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.” (Father Stanley Bezuska Windows on the Future, 2001, Jukes and McCain).

Over the past three or four decades, few people could have predicted the pace and scope of change across the globe.

Could anyone guess we would rely so completely on the internet, email, smartphones, and other wireless devices any better than teachers could have predicted the future of pencils and ballpoint pens?

When it comes to imagining the way we might work, move or use technology in the future, anything is possible!

Every industry is facing rapid change, and the cleaning and hygiene industry is no different.

Embracing change, whether in the form of new technology, changing social expectations or business practices, is a challenge in itself, but a necessary part of the industry’s evolution.

While predictions are never precise, there are several emerging trends that will become more significant in the future for the cleaning and environmental management sector.

Technology and digitisation

For a sector largely reliant on manual labour and physical tasks, automation technology will be a disrupter, paving the way for greater productivity and workforce management.

The use of smart tablets (such as iPads) will be a key feature in the future cleaning operations. Housekeeping staff will use devices to track and optimise productivity as they clean.

In a hospital or residential aged care facility, environmental service teams will rely on devices that show real-time tracking of patient room cleaning and completion.

This will be invaluable in infection control management, staff workflow and resourcing and will give residents and patients more peace-of-mind and confidence during their stay.

Safety and user comfort

Cleaning is physically-demanding work and injuries can be severe and costly. Our aging population means workforces are aging too, especially the cleaning and hygiene industry.

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) regulation and practices demand continuous improvement in work practices.

New product innovations will bring solutions to market designed so employees can safely perform tasks such as cleaning floors for a full shift without sustaining a repetitive or acute injury.

Technology advancements such as wring-free microfibre mops and ultra-absorbent spill pad mops are disrupting the traditional wet mop processes.

Safety and usability will place the employee at the centre of innovation and new product design.

When it comes to commercial cleaning technologies, it is crucial to understand a human body’s biomechanics and range of movement to create products that respond naturally and ergonomically to various users’ height, build and strength.

Commercial cleaning products will be more focused on connecting the way people move, think and work.

New products will be intuitively matched to the user’s cognitive abilities, physical abilities, to meet their present and future needs.

As a result we will see a shift to more ergonomic, less physically-demanding cleaning technology and practices so the sector continues to be provide opportunities for older workers.

Sustainability – Balancing environmental and financial costs

The challenge for the industry will continue to strike the right balance between environmental and financial costs. Many businesses find it difficult to support environmental initiatives if the costs are prohibitive.

Cost-saving options are often preferred. The best commercial cleaning and waste management solutions will address all of these concerns – by providing solutions that address economic, social and environmental sustainability issues.

Businesses will make the connections between reducing chemical and water use with lower operating costs, not just less environmental impact. Reducing waste through recycling and reuse will be prioritised.

The social impact of reducing chemicals and water use will also be better understood and long-term health and safety benefits will be realised.

Governments may look to provide business with incentives to ensure their sustainability agenda is offset in some way to encourage decision-makers to prioritise environmental and social performance in the same way they look at financial ROI.

The Australian government may follow the US, and make it a mandatory practice for all commercial businesses to have a recycling solution or face fines.

Warren Burke is regional sales manager at Rubbermaid Commercial Products Australia

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