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Communication is vital to the survival of any business. Can changing internal communication really affect your cleaning operations?

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Cleaning industry expert, Ron Segura, breaks down how to change the vital role of internal communication to not just help a business survive COVID-19, but to also build a stronger business and team in the process. Ron is the president at Segura and Associates, a leading consulting company within the cleaning industry.

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Internal communication during a meeting

Podcast Transcription

Halie Morris  0:32  

Hello, everybody. Today for The Business of Cleaning. We have Ron Segura, the president of Segura and Associates. As you may remember, my name is Halie with Janitorial Manager and I host The Business of Cleaning. We’re gonna jump right in. Today we’re going to talk about changing internal communications within your company. So Ron, if you would like to tell us a bit more about yourself, we’ll start there.

Ron Segura  0:56  

Great. This is actually entering into my 55th year in the cleaning industry. So, in all my work history, it’s always been related to janitorial and I’ve worked in all segments of the industry. My company Segura and Associates was founded 19 years ago. The original premise was to help contractors, medium to smaller sized contractors, those who may need help and may have needed help in different aspects of their company but couldn’t afford to bring somebody that had the expertise on board. 

That’s the way it started and it really went a lot of other directions. So a lot of the things that I do, I deal with all the different segments of our industry. I could do some work for the manufacturers. I could do consulting works for contractors or for in house operations. Now what I’ve done is because of the direction of our industry, I get involved in a lot of the new technologies. So that when I go and I offer my service to a company, my services are to help them get to the next level to help them address issues that they may be having and always incorporating things that are new. 

A lot of what I do is educating the customer of a building service contractor. I can at one point be helping an organization in developing their RFP and hitting their RFP team from developing the scope of work all the way to advising them on the selection of the person or organization that they would award the contract to. 

Then I worked on the other side too. A lot of times I’ll work with contractors who maybe are putting together a proposal on a project that may feel a little bit bigger than they’re used to, and then they’ll call me in and I’ll help him do that. I work with manufacturers over the years. They may have a piece of technology that’s come out and I’m able to provide them with some feedback and maybe even put a pilot program together. So there isn’t any segment of the industry that I haven’t at one time or am currently working with. 

I started as a domestic consultant, but now I do a lot of international work. Then I try to get out as many articles as I can. During this COVID-19 virus, it’s been limited only because of time but I usually like to publish one or two articles a month in a variety of different trade magazines. Those things could be on subjects of the COVID-19 virus. They could be on how to improve productivity, how to really put together a good customer satisfaction program. It could be in sales and marketing. So a variety of different things. 

So over the years, I try to keep it tuned to everything in our industry that’s needed or anything that’s new. I like to keep up to date. So, in the 50 years or 55 years that I’ve been in this industry, I do have to say that this is the most exciting time because we’ve finally been able to reach a level of professionalism that we’ve deserved for a long time. We’re not just the people that come in and maintain a building, empty trash, and vacuum. 

Now, and particularly during this time of the COVID-19 virus, we’re really able to demonstrate how knowledgeable we are in the art of cleaning and how it impacts people who occupy the buildings that are cleaned. To be able to see all of the products that are now coming out that are geared towards disinfection. We’re able to explain to customers the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. It really shows that we are a professional industry. So anyway, that’s the 25 cent overview of Segura and Associates.

Halie  5:28  

That’s awesome. It’s great to hear that there’s so much positivity coming from this recognition that’s coming your way now. Also, there’s surely no better person to ask for advice and for tips and things within the cleaning industry. So, having you on in our first season is amazing. Thank you for being here.

Ron  5:50  

Well, I appreciate the invitation and I think that these types of resources for the industry are well needed and well-received.

Halie  6:00  

Yeah, we want to be able to provide that extra helping hand when it comes to knowledge and advice and helping spread it. So I’m very glad when we can get great guests like you on to speak. So, we’re gonna go ahead and jump a little bit more into the changing internal communication aspect and start to introduce this topic a little bit more. Obviously you’ve been around the industry a lot. You’ve seen all the ins and outs. 

One thing I know I’m interested in probably many of us right now as things are shifting and changing internal communication, not just the communication with the customers, but the communication we have with our own teams and our own employees. My question for you starting off is what ways have you seen companies previously and maybe even still handling their internal communication?

Ron  7:01  

With COVID-19, nobody really expected this to have the impact that it has, not only in our businesses but also in our lives. It’s a whole different way of life. So here are some of the things that because of this COVID-19 virus and how quickly it impacted our industry, sadly, there’s a lot of companies that are just barely surviving. It’s not because of bad work. It’s just because of companies shutting down and suspending service. 

If I can just regress a little bit before this hit, one of the biggest issues that a lot of contractors had, and they still have now but they had previous to this was they couldn’t find enough workers. It was hard to find employees. My suggestion always was to take care of the employees that you have and make them feel a part of the team. Employee retention is a big thing. Well, now you have COVID-19 and there were a number of layoffs in the industry. 

Some of the things that have taken place, for instance, in a negative way, if a company did not have some form of internal communication process, and when we talk about that we’re talking about how do you get out the message of the, for instance, direction that the company wants to go? Or how do you share those home runs that are hit by the company? How do you share them with the frontline people? 

Now, if you didn’t have that communication process in place before this, then it’s going to be very difficult to maintain a communication process. So that’s kind of the negative part. So I think one thing if we’ve learned something, is that companies need to re-examine how they communicate the message, the direction that the company is going. Some of the things that are very positive, because you remember, the frontline workers, most of them work at night, and there’s a disconnect. 

So we need to always make sure that they understand that the work that they’re doing enables the company to grow. When the company grows, it means more opportunities for them. But along that way, we need to give them those shots of enthusiasm and excitement about what the company is doing. 

The workers will respond to that, the frontline workers will, the supervision, they’ll respond to that. So that’s one thing that we really have learned that there’s value there. 

Communication with staff members using cell phone

So what are some of the things that companies are doing? I had, probably about a month ago, two months ago, I contacted some of my international people in my network and I asked them what some of the things that they were doing. It was interesting that they still have the same issues that contractors here have; how to get people and how to keep them. Some of the things that they recognize are that they really had to reinforce to the people that were working during this COVID-19 that number one, that the safety of these workers was of the uppermost importance to the company, to upper management, or to ownership. 

So what they were able they found that was very effective, is having training on their PPE that they were using, sitting down and talking to them about COVID-19 and what it meant as they perform their duties is cleaners. They really had to reinforce it to them, that the company was there to support them in any way that was possible, and to make their environment safe, and that they were not going to put them into an environment that was detrimental to their health. 

That took a little bit of work, but it was really good to see that companies were doing that. It’s not just the big companies that already have in place, the Communication Department. It was the mid-sized ones and even some of the smaller ones. 

Here in the United States, the same thing, that was one of the challenges that they had. A lot of the workers they heard COVID-19 and all of a sudden, “I can’t. There’s no way I’m going to go into work,” but some have found that by educating them that they felt a little bit better. Then the people, as I mentioned, that had to be laid off- and in our industry, a tremendous amount of people because of the shutdowns of many of the customers. 

So, we have the issue already that workers are hard to find. employee retention is a challenge always. Now we have to lay off people. As companies started to reoccupy their buildings, some companies found that now they had to go out and recruit a new workforce. But here was the advantage that some of the companies took during the time that people were laid off. If you’d like I can go into some of the positive things that companies did to keep in touch with their employees that they had laid off.

Halie  12:50  

Yeah, let’s jump into that because we want to see the positive sides too. We want to share where things went right.

Ron  12:58  

Sure. It’s interesting because some of the companies were very creative. For instance, there was one company and what they did initially, and on the surface, you would think it wasn’t a very big gesture, but what they did is they gave out some gift cards right away, not only to their employees that were working but those that had been laid off. And it wasn’t a large gesture, I mean, it wasn’t a lot of money. It was just the fact that they wanted to let their people know that they were concerned about them. 

Then one of the outstanding things that I really thought was an excellent way to keep in communication and to really demonstrate that the company cared for these people was that they put together a sheet and they listed all the governmental agencies that were offering assistance. They made sure that each of their laid-off employees got this information. So it wasn’t just put in the mail and that was it. It was really well organized. 

The way they did it was the executive management of this particular company, made a list of all the people and they made a list or they assigned these people to the supervisor or the direct supervisor that they had worked with while they were employed. It was their responsibility, the responsibility of the supervisor, to make a call, reach out to these individuals, and make sure, whether they had to hand-deliver them or whether they had to put it on a website or email it- They used a variety of those things. 

The response that they got was very positive and then what they did is they decided that they needed to keep in touch with these people. So again, the supervisors that they worked for, were assigned the responsibility of making contact with these people every other week at the beginning of this virus. Then, depending on the situation of the individuals, it may have just been, you know, maybe every three weeks or once a month, but if the individuals really needed that reinforcement, they reached out to them. Some people would say, well, that’s a lot of time. 

Well, it definitely was an investment, and the investment paid off because the people were ready to come back to work and when they were called, the attitude that they had towards the company was very positive because the company had demonstrated to them that they cared for them. The other ones were that they met with groups of people on the phone, some did it by zoom, and they just had a session where they just talked about some of the issues that they were facing during this COVID-19 crisis. 

So it was kind of like a group that could interchange their frustrations. They found out that some had solutions to some of the problems, there were some recommendations. It just helped the morale of those people. But that’s really a demonstration of the type of industry that we are. Because we always talk about that we’re in a people business. For many years, it was that frontline worker that enabled us to grow our companies, that were often overlooked, and I think that during this COVID-19 it really shocked a lot of people. 

They were able to pull together. That’s not saying everybody, but a good, a good number of companies here in the United States have demonstrated, and some are late coming into the game, but they recognize the value of that. That’s okay, too. So that’s how, keeping in touch with the people that have been laid off, the people that have been demoralized, because of the job, the people that don’t have a job, yet they have a family. 

At the very beginning, nobody really had any answers, but now, I think I’ve seen some companies that it has really been good, and they’ve been able to retain those people. So when jobs opened up, they didn’t necessarily take those jobs and then not have anything to do with the company that they had worked for. So, I thought those were very, very positive things. But I think it was the demonstration of management and ownership to the frontline worker that really is going to pay dividends as time goes on and we get through this COVID-19 virus.

Halie  18:20  

That’s amazing that it goes a long way to show that that sense that you belong in that community. So that definitely helps when you have such a catastrophe. For some people, it flipped their whole world upside down. When your company can sweep in and say, hey, it’s tough. I know, it’s tough, but we’re here for you. Just the resources probably enabled a lot of people to just financially get through it a lot more easily. So it’s incredible to know that there there are so many out there who have taken that approach or getting to that approach right now. 

Ron  19:00  

Yeah, you know, it’s a bad situation for everybody. But I think morale has a lot to do with it. If they know that they’re not by themselves out there. I give credit to all of those companies that implemented these programs for those people that they had to lay off. If you can- I always say if you could imagine that here we are in the middle of the beginning of a pandemic crisis, with a lot of questions with no answers, and yet, you’re an employer and you have to lay off these people. It’s not because of bad work. It’s because of the company’s customers suspending service because they’re vacating the building. So I don’t think we’ve had that type of training as an industry on “okay if this happens, this is what we’re going to do.” So I think we’ve learned a lot.

Halie  19:59  

Well, it’s impressive too, because you can’t train for something like this. I think the last time we had something of a scale was literally 100 years ago and the world was a completely different place then. I don’t know that we have too many people alive from 100 years ago who could say, “Hey, this is what we did.” So, to see such a good shift in such an unknown situation is incredible.

Ron  20:24  

Well, here’s, here’s something that’s interesting about several years ago, I would say six or seven years ago or pretty close to that, companies were asking contractors, what is your, your plan, in case of a pandemic. I worked with a lot of companies that were requesting those of their service providers, but then it kind of peaked, and then after a while, that went away. Nothing happened. Nobody really jumped on that and yet here we are. I mean, we never thought it would happen, but yet here we are. The good thing is that as an industry we’re adjusting.

Halie  21:15  

It’s amazing. It’s great to see. All right. So, getting into deeper into the communication aspects. What are some things that businesses can do specifically to take their internal communication to the next level, to enhance what they’re doing or to start doing something that will actually help them reach those frontline workers?

Ron  21:36  

Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. Again, people are being very creative, which is, which is good. But here’s some things that some companies are doing. So we’ve already talked about the people that were laid off, but what about the people that that are here working and they’ve never stopped working during this pandemic? Do we leave him alone? They’re doing okay. Well, that’s not the approach. Here are some things that companies are doing. 

Number one, they have some companies that have welfare checks on their people. What I mean by that is that somebody from upper management or middle management will reach out to the workers., “Hey, how are you doing? Appreciate the work you’re doing. Is everything okay? How’s the family?” really demonstrating a concern for them, because remember that they’re working. They still have the assigned work that they’re going to do. 

So by asking that, it really is a demonstration that the company does have a concern. When the frontline worker feels that concern that is given to them, that means a lot. Remember, we’re talking to still about employee retention. People want to work with those types of companies. So that’s one of the things that that people have done. Again, here’s some other unique things that I thought were pretty creative. 

So, one company, and now I see more and more as I talk to different companies, has put together a committee. They may want to call it a pandemic team, or whatever it is that they’re calling it. But the members of this committee are perhaps a vendor that they use, a representative of upper management, supervision, and in some cases, even a frontline worker or two. They meet, the ones that I have spoken to, are meeting either once a month and some in cases, it determined by the circumstances, meet on a weekly basis. 

What they talk about is an overview of all the different segments of the company. It could be the frontline worker, and he says, look, here are some of the things that we’re dealing with. People are asking about disinfection. It’s interesting that right now more than ever, if a building is occupied, and they see a janitor doing their work, that janitor is under the spotlight. If you can keep in mind that for a long time, people have been at home watching all the news channels. 

These people now are experts in disinfection. They’re experts in sanitation, electrostatic sprayers, or whatever it is because they saw it all on these news channels. So when they come to the work environment, they’re looking to make sure that where they work is going to be safe. 

So this feedback back from the janitors may be a very good look, people are asking about these particular touchpoints. How do we incorporate it? What do we do? If somebody says, “Did you disinfect this today? And if you didn’t, why don’t you?” So they bring that to this committee and then they’re able to address those problems with the customer, but it also gives those frontline workers a voice. 

Having a vendor on this group enables the company to be updated on all the latest technologies and all the latest equipment, the processes of disinfecting and cleaning, so they’re kept up to date. 

Having somebody from management enables management to inform the committee, “Here are some things that are being asked of us.” Here’s an interesting thing is that disinfection, it takes a little bit more time, logistically their issues, and the cost. So what we need to do and what a lot of companies are doing, and by means of this committee, they’re actually being able to talk about customers, certain customers, what do they want? What are they asking for? Are they willing to pay it? If not, what type? How can we adjust their cleaning schedules for them? 

So, with this group, you have all the shareholders there, and you’re able to come up with some good plans. It’s not just talking about negative. It’s talking about some of the things that are happening and in the accounts at night. What are some opportunities that these frontline people work here? Maybe somebody is having an issue in regards to dealing with people with some of the workers, some of the supervisors may be having some issues. Well, with this group you’re able to discuss those types of problems. So, what has that created? It creates more of a team atmosphere. It’s not just somebody dictating “This is what you need to do. Now just go out and get it done.”

So it’s a respect that’s given to that frontline worker also, that their feedback is important because they’re on the front lines. That’s been very beneficial for a lot of companies. The other thing that I mentioned earlier, but it’s an opportunity to really provide some training. A lot of companies, several companies now, are bringing in those ones that were laid off, and they’re running them through training sessions in regards to showing them the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. They run through training sessions on how to use the equipment that would be used in this disinfection. They run them through training programs on the proper use and removal of PPE. 

So they’re taking advantage of that. They’re being very creative in the things that they do. Ownership is really good when they’re able to come in and sit in on a meeting like this. This type of committee and it could be that like I said, the Pandemic Preparedness or the Disinfection Team, but that I found to be very beneficial. The workers like that, and it’s a forum to be able to discuss certain challenges that they’re having in the workplace.

Halie  28:53  

I like that idea. Again, it comes back to when you have people talking and when you have a diverse set of input, in this case, diverse positions having to do with the company or within the company, you’re going to have a higher quality of output, in this case, plans and advice and strategies coming out of this group.

Ron  29:15  

It’s making use, of your people and their experience. The owners of the company or management of the company, are dealing with the customers all the time. The customers want to know. For instance, if a building is going to be occupied, and it’s been vacant, well, they want to know, what are you going to do to maintain the safety of this building? 

So for me, I’ve sat in a lot of meetings of these companies, and now what I’m seeing more and more is there are more risk management people sitting in on the meeting, the safety people sitting in on the meeting. I’ve sat in meetings with those people and the contractor that is cleaning the building and I have to tell you that the knowledge that is being displayed by contractors is outstanding. I mean, they’ve really come to the plate and they’re able to actually be the experts. 

Pandemic Response Team Discussing Next Steps

That’s the opportunity that we have, that maybe we’ve never had before. Here’s how everybody ties it together with segments of a company, of a contractors company, is when they’re able to say, “This is what our people are able to do. This is what they’ve been trained on.” So when that janitor comes back, people are looking at them in a more positive way. They’re not that person that comes in and maintains or building or they’re not that invisible person that we never see, but we know they’ve been here because trashes empty. 

It’s a whole different perspective on that frontline worker, and that’s good to see. So we have an opportunity now to really demonstrate that we are the experts in cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Here’s what we’re doing. So all of the programs that are being, all the creativity, all the programs that are being put together now, if you’re interacting with your workers, and you’re getting feedback from them if you’re staying in contact with the people that you laid off- 

And here’s another area, some of these laid-off workers, now what companies are doing is they’re developing disinfecting teams. So a person that may have been laid off that was cleaning a facility, if they have the desire, they can be trained to be a part of this specialty team. That’s good because, in a lot of cases, they’ve been brought back to work earlier. 

It’s really a work in progress, but from my perspective, and not only domestically, but internationally, I see now that we’re really starting to make some good positive statements on the abilities that we have as building service contractors. That’s, that’s what’s good. Then I guess one other area to that I see a team effort and good and the changing internal communication is developing your disinfectant teams and then putting together a marketing process. 

If you have all of your representatives of the different parts of your company and you’re sitting there and you’re talking about, here’s what we do to disinfect a building. Here’s what makes us different. All of that now, if you go on websites, you have some pretty great displays of “this is what we do. This is our specialty.” 

So I think that’s really good and a lot of it is based on the feedback they get from their organization. So internal communication may not have been there in the past, but it’s vital now. This pandemic is really put us in a position where if you do not communicate with the people within your organization, you may be missing out on a lot. You’re missing out on a tremendous differentiator within your company and another. 

Halie  33:48  

I would agree. No, that is, it’s vital now, and now people can tell it’s the lifeblood of how a company succeeds or not. I think this is great. So, I think we can begin wrapping up here. I did want to say, do you have any other additional notes or advice that you would like to input that we didn’t touch on?

Ron  34:19  

Well. I think one of the biggest things is the attitude and the approach that we take to cleaning. If I was going to say anything is that too many organizations, and it doesn’t matter what size, think that things have to be done the way they’ve always been done. The process of cleaning, the way we communicate with our customers, we strive to provide good service, but that’s changing. 

The customer today is different. From a marketing, sales, and marketing standpoint, the way that the customer deals with prospective service providers is different. You have to have an online presence. 

The other thing is, you need to look at the new technologies that are available today because that’s vital. If you’re doing things the traditional way, you’re not going to survive. The other thing is the training of our people is important. The frontline, of course, but also our supervision and management. 

That’s important because the companies that provided that training, I really feel that they had an easier transition into this COVID-19 environment because they had some things in place already. Communication, we brag about how we communicate with our customers, but we want to brag about also how we communicate with that frontline worker. How are they able to be enthused by the direction of the company if they’re never told about the accomplishments that the company has made? 

So all of those together make a good solid team and will help a company to get through this COVID-19 pandemic. The other thing too is to listen to your customer. Don’t automatically think that the customer wants something for nothing. If the customer says I really need to have this disinfection program, and maybe they don’t have as much money as they need to get a full program. 

We’re the experts sit down with them and talk about their facility. Okay, instead of doing this on a daily basis, how about if we cut the frequency here, the time we spend, we save, we’ll put into a disinfectant program. That’s a true partner. So strive to be a partner, a true partner, one that’s looking out for your customer. It’s new for them too. 

The other thing and the last thing is they need us. I sit in a lot of meetings, and they’re asking questions that we, as a cleaning industry have the answers to. That’s where we want to be. We want to be experts. We don’t want to be just the people that are invisible. That would be what I would say to somebody trying to survive in this pandemic.

Halie  37:42  

Thank you. I think that’s a great note to end on too. Thank you for tuning into this Business of Cleaning episode with Ron Segura and I look forward to seeing you guys next episode!

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