From our Content Contributor Partner, ISS

Guest post by, Holly Borrego, Head of Cleaning Products and Performance, ISS Facility Services – Americas

As one of the fastest growing global industries, robotics is expected to gross a whopping $214.68 billion by 2030; but with such accelerated growth often comes apprehension, particularly as it relates to the notion of robotics in the workplace.

For many, robotics can be an intimidating subject from both a technological standpoint and because of the misconceptions of it threating livelihoods while also diminishing people’s sense of purpose and value. If fact, according to a Morning Consult poll, 48% of Americans fear that automation led by robotics will reduce the number of jobs.

But I’m here to dispel those misconceptions and tell you a different story, my story, and how I see the collaboration with robots playing a vital role in the facilities management cleaning industry.

I have worked in the commercial cleaning industry for 35 years and to the surprise of many, this incredibly rewarding career path began at a small firm where I was an overnight cleaner. I have been lucky to work for great organizations that have invested in my training and allowed me opportunities to grow and reach my current position as Head of Cleaning Products and Performance for ISS Facility Services, Americas.

My career path has afforded me the chance to see the industry through a variety of lenses, and what I’ve learned is that cleaning commercial properties is a laborious, strenuous job with a lot of repetitive, time-consuming work that can be offset with technology — immediately increasing efficiency while saving the cleaning staff’s valuable time for higher priority tasks.

I’ve also had the unique opportunity to work with engineers during the development process of cleaning cobots, offering information on the many nuances often overlooked — small refinements that someone in the field would recognize as essential for better efficiency and a critical piece to the overall solution — as technology should not only bring about cost savings but improved client experience and validation of cleaning as well.

This is where real-world experience intersects with the robotics revolution — specifically cleaning cobots — in the facilities services industry.

You might be asking yourself, what exactly is a “cobot”? Traditional robots work in isolation with no human interaction; cobots, or collaborative robots, are robots that work directly with humans within a shared space, or in proximity to people.

The key to successfully integrating cobots into the workplace requires meticulous mapping of the navigation system and education and training of the employees who are responsible for managing the technology.

Working closely with engineers and Cobotiq — an autonomous robot provider — ISS has successfully deployed autonomous cobots specifically designed to handle large-scale cleaning tasks such as nightly floor mopping and vacuuming throughout several client facilities.

These cobots are purpose built (instead of retrofitted) with a navigation system, or NAV stack. This allows for better mapping, less human interaction, and more accessibility in the spaces ISS cleans. Programed to auto launch at a set hour each night, the cobots leave their docking stations, mop and vacuum large floorplates ranging anywhere from 12,000 to 300,000 square feet, and promptly return to their docking stations once they’re done to recharge and await their next command. And because the cobots recycle water, they do not require any human interaction until the cleaning process is completed!

For the most part, today’s workforce has adapted to new technologies in the workplace, but asking people to work alongside a robot might seem more sci-fi than reality. It’s not — across asset types and industry sectors, robots are becoming a vital part of running efficient businesses.

But is this a threat, or opportunity for human workers?

From my personal experience working in facilities services cleaning, the benefits of integrating cleaning cobots into the workplace far outweigh any disadvantages, and in fact serve to create new, higher-value employment opportunities.

At ISS, our clients and their cleaning staff have gained new and never-imagined benefits from integrating cleaning cobots into their facilities for large-scale overnight cleaning tasks. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to see when leveraging cobot technology.

Client Benefits

Leveraging cobot technology for commercial cleaning services can help offset hiring challenges due to global labor shortages while also meeting the demand for greater efficiencies and operability across most sectors.

  • Offsetting global labor shortages: Recruiting talent for repetitive and ergonomically challenging jobs has always had its own unique set of obstacles, but combined with today’s growing labor shortage, the task has become that much harder. Implementing cleaning cobots into a workforce is an effective way to offset hiring challenges while maintaining, and in some cases, increasing productivity.
  • Reducing turnover rates and absenteeism: Turnover rates and absenteeism have been shown to decline as the physically challenging and repetitive tasks are replaced by technology, and cleaning staff are assigned higher-value work, such as managing the technology itself.
  • Operational optimization and cost effectiveness: What might take a person an hour or more to mop or vacuum a large commercial floorplate, will take a cobot half the time. Such efficiency not only optimizes workflow, cost effectiveness, and cleanliness, it frees up time for the cleaning staff to focus on the tasks that require more detailed attention, such as enhanced sanitization of high-touch areas.

Employee Well-being

As innovative technologies are introduced into the workplace, upskilling employees with the knowledge and skills to manage and maintain robotic applications will be required. This shift in skillset brings greater opportunity for individuals to take on higher-value work and creates more job enjoyment, purpose, as well as health and safety benefits.

  • Upskilling employees: A skilled workforce is necessary for robotics success in the workplace. New education initiatives, career paths, and opportunities will arise as a result of these required skillsets for working alongside technological counterparts in this new hybrid workforce.
  • High-value work: As cleaning cobots take on the repetitive and mundane jobs, employees will be given more freedom to focus on tasks that require innovation, creativity, and teamwork.
  • Health and safety benefits: With technology comes greater safety, well-being, and health benefits. Commercial cleaning can be a backbreaking job that puts the physical welfare of employees at risk. With cobots taking on the more laborious tasks, employees are spared the physically demanding workload.

Sustainability Benefits

The increasing need for companies to reduce their carbon footprints is becoming a key driver for many organizations, and commercial cleaning is no exception. The cleaning cobots ISS has deployed into client facilities are equipped with environmentally sound cleaning chemicals and recycle water throughout the cleaning process, reducing water consumption and saving the environment one clean floor at a time.

Within the commercial cleaning industry, cobots are driving operational excellence and making a positive business impact across a range of sectors.

But the technology is only as good as the people who manage it.

I am confident that welcoming robotics into the workplace will not only drive performance, productivity, and agility, but it will create new career opportunities for millions of people.