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Office Cleaning Is More Than Brushes And Brooms

Atalian February 13, 2019


An interview with Michaela Klesnarová, business and marketing manager at Atalian, one of the Czech Republic’s biggest players in facility management and operation. The Atalian Group, which does business in 33 countries worldwide, is striving to establish “integrated facility services” on the market.

What should we think of when we hear the words “integrated facility management system?”

No matter what industry sector is in question, an integrated system should always mean a set of processes and tools that work together to ensure results for some activity or activities. If I’m integrating something, we’re talking about a set of activities that have a common denominator within a certain scope.

For us as providers, integration means an opportunity to take advantage of synergistic effects, and for our clients it means clearly defined responsibility that’s taken on by one single party. We’re put in a position where we take over certain responsibilities for the client. But a partner contact should always remain at the client’s side – someone who determines the results of our work, not just its scope. On the Czech market, this is currently the largest pitfall in our field.

For what reason?

To a certain extent, it’s our own fault as service providers, because for a long time we pushed to have educated clients who determine the scope of provision for individual services.

It’s as if you were to walk into a car factory and start configuring how many times which worker should use the drill, how many screws to use, and how many workers should paint the body. Instead of “just” defining that your car should have this-and-that equipment.

So if we apply this principle to office cleaning and management, the client’s order should be that the companies X, Y, and Z are in this building, and your task is to keep them clean and keep their equipment working? That’s the end of the definition, and the rest is up to you?

Ideally somebody should come to us right at the start, before they construct the building, so that we can use the latest innovations and make the building a self-cleaning, self-operating smart building. So that we can work together to define: When do we need to have the light, heating, and AC turned on? How often will we be working with waste? How will we be working with water? So that the result is a building that’s made for the people who work and live there. What often happens at present is that a smart building is built, but we leave its inhabitants with their old habits.

What should a “correct” task definition from your clients look like?

My greatest wish is for a client to come up and say, for example: “I want to have satisfied ‘tenants’ here and I want to be eco-friendly.” That’s the moment where we, as an FM company, can offer a truly integrated system that will be effective and environmentally beneficial in future years.

When the assignment is “The office area is 700 m2 × 11 floors, and I’d like to ask you to use green dishcloths,” and the technology all comes from the partner, you have no room to think anything up. Then in the bidding, FM companies can only fight to offer the lowest price for each dishcloth and for post-warranty service. Which is, I believe, ultimately a shame for everyone.

You said that it would be good for you to be there at the start of a development project. Does that ever happen?

Very rarely. But I believe that the error is ours, because we don’t communicate enough with developers. We do too little to show how far we’ve come. We’re still perceived as “brush and broom,” or at best as “screwdriver and light bulb.” And yet we have lots of innovative projects and evolution behind us!

All the same, the real-estate field is conservative in its core, and it takes a long time to push new things through…

But by not pushing them through, we’re raising costs for buildings’ tenants. While today’s assignments are easy to assess in tables, as a final consequence they make our services several times more expensive. In opposition to this stand “output-based” contracts, in which only a service’s output is defined. To go back to the car-buying metaphor – you’re setting the final look and the expected benefits. This kind of partner dialogue is not happening enough today.

How, specifically, would it be better if you were “there” for a development project from its very start?

It’s about integrating our technologies into a building directly. In home-building projects, we frequently talk about e.g. whether the home should be passive, whether it should have integrated suction, and where to put the air filters. And during office-building projects? When I speak with our clients, 90% of their wives are using robots for cleaning at home. But come and look at our office clients – where are the robots? Almost nowhere. The reason isn’t that we, Atalian, don’t have robots; it’s that clients want to see someone who has come in to clean. We’ve learned to verify the performance and presence of people at the workplace, but not to verify results.

What is the client’s reaction when you offer them robots instead of human operators?

We don’t offer robots today in standard selection processes, with task definitions from the clients. There’s no room for them there, as I mentioned earlier.

We primarily offer them to our constant and long-time clients as a way to build upon our services – as a benefit, though one that naturally isn’t suitable for all spaces. It’s the same with software tools for managing buildings, FM requirement integration, and predicting technical status.

What all are your cleaning robots able to do by now?

Already today they can clean practically every type of surface, both in office buildings and in manufacturing halls. They can deal with a wide range of dirt and grime, although they naturally still need one of our people for their operation.

Photo by Jan Rasch