Cleaning Cobots in the Workplace

Part 1: Bridging Real-world Experience with the Robotics Revolution

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 threatening 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 (FM) 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 of 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!

From my personal experience, managing that much cleaning in a single shift can be incredibly overwhelming and taxing on the body — not to mention all the other fine touch tasks required of overnight cleaners, such as dusting, glass cleaning, and disinfecting the washrooms, to name just a few.

Across a variety of industry sectors, building types, and workspaces, our clients, and their cleaning staff, have gained new and never-imagined benefits because of cobot collaboration in the workplace.

In part two of this blog series, we unpack specific client and employee benefits of cleaning cobots in the workplace and what that means for human workers in the future.

About the Author

Holly Borrego

Head of Cleaning Products and Performance, ISS Facility Services - Americas