An account of the last few months from our Director – Edward Clayton
It’s Wednesday the 13th of May and after around 8 weeks of lockdown, it looks like Australia is beginning to get ahead of the virus that has changed the year of 2020 beyond what anyone could have imagined. Back in February, I remember leaving Australia for an overseas holiday and while COVID-19 had very much been in the news at the start of the year, the general sentiment was still very nonchalant. In the two and a half weeks that I was away, things really started to escalate, and I was lucky to arrive back in Australia on the brink of the announcement of the national emergency. Since then, life has been very different for us all.
My first day back in the office was due to be on Monday 16th March, however I had touched down on the same day that it was announced that all travellers needed to isolate for 14 days. In the days preceding this I had been corresponding with my management team and we had already put in place a number of precautions, including that any cleaning team who had been overseas would need to have 14 days off work before resuming with us. It was great to see the management team were already getting ahead of the situation and taking precautions even before the government went on to recommend them. While I was keen to see my team in the flesh and inspire some confidence about the potentially ominous time ahead of us, it only made sense that I too stay home for 14 days. Little did I know that I would be home for 8 weeks and counting…
What I remember so clearly about this period was how quickly things were changing. It was on Saturday 7th of March, while I sat in Kuala Lumpur airport on the way to Cambodia, that I first had the daunting realization that perhaps this COVID-19 situation was more than just a passing media phase. For the next week during my holiday I found myself checking the news more and more frequently every day. By the following week, on Saturday 14th March, I recall talking with my friends via WhatsApp, with one of them was saying that he thought all businesses that could send their staff home (including Maid to Clean), should. When I first read this, I remember thinking it was pretty absurd. By the end of the next day, I was considering it. And by the following day, the Monday that I was working at home on my first day back, I found myself instructing my team to pick up their office equipment and start working at home as of the next business day. Victoria’s state of emergency was announced the following week and the government was requesting businesses have staff work at home who can. At least we had gotten one step ahead.
Fortunately for us, the transition from working in the office to working at home was relatively smooth. Throughout the set-up and growing of Maid to Clean, I have always tried to focus on keeping the business transparent. This applies not only to the relationship we nurture with our customers and contractors, but also within our office staff too. All our systems are cloud-based and with the help of our shared inbox software, Front, staff can all work remotely while easily collaborating and maintaining fluid communication. We use a number of other pieces of software which can all be accessed remotely, so provided our staff have access to a PC and a headset for making/receiving phone calls, they are able to easily get to work and keep the business running.
The first few weeks of working at home during the crisis definitely felt somewhat… Unnatural. We immediately identified the importance of video conferencing and maintaining as much verbal and visual conversation as possible. We continued all regular meetings and like thousands of businesses this year, discovered the beauty of Zoom. I also stressed to the team the importance of the phrase “assume positive intent”. From my experience of managing staff who work remotely, I was aware how common it is for people to misinterpret the tone of messages and allow this to cause friction between team members. In reality, 99% of messages are meant in a positive and friendly manner. It is therefore extremely important to always “assume positive intent” even if it is not clearly shown in messages.
For me – the first few weeks flew by. I found myself spending around half my working day ensuring I was up to date with the most recent global and national updates, discussing, creating and updating new policies almost daily regarding how our business would run during this time and also then communicating these updates across our many different platforms in an appropriate format for our assortment of different audiences. Everyday felt like it was going so quickly, but in the same way, the days were blurring together and all feeling the same. And yet, when I looked back at say a week earlier, it felt like a month had passed by. It really felt quite surreal. The most important thing for me was to be present and supportive of my staff, my cleaners and my customers. Maid to Clean is built on very solid foundations and this is clear when you look at our consistent growth over the last 6 years. I was confident we would grow through this period and I was determined to ensure everyone involved in the business knew that too. I made a point of providing regular updates to everyone as frequently and as clearly as possible and it was great to see how well this was received. It really was an incredibly unusual few weeks and I think everyone will agree it took some time to get used to.
Maid to Clean was lucky in that we were able to continue working through the crisis provided we implemented strict health and safety precautions. We naturally saw a huge drop in clients after the state of emergency was announced due to several reasons. Many people, understandably, did not want to risk anyone coming into their home due to the chance of spreading the virus, even it was a cleaning service. On top of this, a lot of people were now working at home or had children at home. We have found that a large majority of our customers prefer to not have their cleaning service unless they can have the house empty, so this really made a big impact too. Finally, we made a point of postponing all services for customers who could have fallen into the governments “high risk” category as we agreed it was better to be safe than sorry. With all this considered, we ended up operating at around 50% capacity for much of April and we are just starting to re-build in May. While this has been extremely difficult, the fact that we have been able to continue operating at this level in combination with the government subsidies has meant that we have avoided laying off staff and we are now poised and ready to re-build. The graph above shows the growth of Maid to Clean since we launched in 2014 and just how much COVID-19 affected us.
With restrictions now being set to ease over the next 12 weeks, everyone here at Maid to Clean is extremely optimistic about the future. During the quiet period of the last two months we have learned a lot about ourselves and strengthened relationships within our team. We have implemented new systems for both our office and our contractors including re-branding and the release of our mobile app to our contractors. We have new branded clothing on the way as well as Maid to Clean hand sanitizers for our next round of gifts to our beloved customers. We are excited and ready for the return of our regular customers who had to put their cleans on hold, and for the beginning of new relationships with new customers.
And so the journey back to normality begins. For many, I think the transition back to our old lives is going to be almost as challenging as the one into isolation. It is far easier, after all, to stop doing things rather than start. And maybe there are parts of our old lives that we do not want to invite back… I know for one, all the office staff at Maid to Clean would love to continue avoiding the morning traffic through working at home and are keen for this to be a permanent new norm. Something for me to consider over the next few weeks! Isolation has definitely caused many of us to slow down a little and perhaps to realize how easy it is to enjoy ourselves while not dashing around and living such a busy life. I hope after all this is said and done, we keep this in mind, and remember how enjoyable it can be to live the simple life.
Thanks for reading and stay safe.
Maid to Clean