Being an essential worker in a pandemic

Frank and the team singing off at the end of the night

COVID-19 has impacted our work and personal lives in more than one way. While many people in the WISE community have been working from home, Clean Force has been at the forefront of COVID-19 related work. To find out what it’s like being an essential worker during a pandemic, Clean Force’s Leading Hand , Frank, invited us along for a shift during Victoria’s level 4 lockdown.

Frank started with Clean Force as a floater in April 2015, filling in where extra staff were required across Melbourne’s west, city and Richmond crews. Last year, Frank’s responsibilities increased when he was promoted to Leading Hand of the city crew. He’s now accountable for rostering his nine support staff, ensuring they have the correct hours of work per week. Along with this, the Leading Hands are trusted with keys to their client’s offices and have all completed high clearance security checks.

Frank works Monday to Friday, meeting the cleaning crew at the Preston office at 3:30 pm. Most of the team jump into the van and head to their first location, meeting the remainder of the team on site.

Photo supplied – leaving the office in Clean Force van.

COVID-19 has changed several operational factors for Clean Force. The first being the changes in transportation. Previously, there were five people to a van. However, to practice social distancing, they have reduced the number to four people.

Further safety precautions are taken onsite with temperature checks being conducted and recorded when entering the first office. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is also supplied for all staff and required when onsite. Masks, gloves and an optional plastic apron are changed whenever needed and between locations. Frank is always prepared, keeping spare masks and gloves in the glovebox.

Photo supplied – Frank in PPE gear

As a Leading Hand, Frank informs the staff of their tasks at each site, helps with any questions and ensures everyone is following social distancing requirements. Although they have always cleaned kitchens, toilets and foyers, there is now a big focus on main touchpoints like doors, switches and elevators.

Even though everyone is assigned a task, once someone finishes their job, they help other team members finish too. Frank helps out wherever he can too. If there’s time before the end of a shift, they complete any additional cleaning.

Photo supplied – Socially distanced cleaning of high touch points

Due to COVID-19 causing office closures, the city crew visit two or three offices a night. They’re very cautious to clean everything thoroughly, and Frank checks everything as they go.

“If you hire cleaners for your own home, you want them to clean it properly too,” says Frank.

Photo supplied – cleaning door handles
Photo supplied – cleaning kitchen sink

Although PPE gear can be annoying to wear, Frank knows it’s essential.

“The last thing you want to do is get ill. It’s [PPE] the one thing that’s saving us at the moment.”

Due to Victoria’s enforced 8 pm curfew, all team members have been provided with exemption permits for their rostered working days. These permits allow them an hour to get home after finishing their shifts at 7:30 pm. Frank says being out after 8 pm is a blast from the past.

“Being out after 8 pm, it’s like when I used to go to night clubs, and you’re on your way home at 4 am.”

He even wears his mask when driving home in case he needs to stop somewhere along the way like the service stations.

“It’s part of life now so we might as well get used to it.”

Clean Force has supported the staff the whole way through the pandemic.

“They’ve been very good. They supplied all the staff with PPE and made sure the information is out there to pass onto our support staff.”

Although COVID-19 has created new challenges, Frank can’t imagine working anywhere else. He enjoys learning from his staff and being part of a supportive environment.

“I love it! I think I’ll retire here and become part of the furniture.”

Photo supplied – Clean Force crew signing off at the end of the night

Natural leaders Rhonda and Nakoa find friendship and purpose at Clean Force

Rhonda and Nakoa stand in their Clean Force Uniforms in a meeting room.

Re-entering the workforce after a long absence can be daunting.

For Clean Force employees Rhonda and Nakoa, standing in front of the 33-story Paramatta Square building on their first day of work in 30 and 10 years respectively, this is exactly how they felt.

As natural caregivers, Rhonda and Nakoa have each taken significant breaks from employment to focus their time on supporting their families and community. Proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and members of the AIMES mentoring program, both women were introduced to Clean Force when NSW Operations Manager, Tony Daoud, was invited to speak to the group about the organisation and its unique hiring philosophy.

As a social enterprise with approximately 50% of employees diagnosed with a disability or disadvantaged, Tony highlighted that at Clean Force, the team are more interested in enthusiastic job seekers than prior work experience.

As Tony says, “If you show me you have a great attitude and appetite to work, I’ll give you a job”.

Inspired by Tony’s passion for the company, Rhonda reached out that very afternoon. Nakoa, who started that day unsure she even wanted to begin a new career, shortly followed.

Starting out as cleaners, Rhonda and Nakoa joined the team at Paramatta Square, keeping the environment clean and workable for the Department of Customer Service and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Within weeks, Tony had recognised their leadership qualities and promoted them to supervisors. Being out of the workforce for so long, both were surprised to advance in the organisation in such a short time period.

“I always wanted to be a leader, however I didn’t think that it would happen so quickly. I didn’t believe in myself before starting this role but being a supervisor has given me a lot more self-esteem. I now realise I’m intelligent, confident and outspoken,” explained Rhonda.

Through COVID-19, Rhonda and Nakoa have not only had to navigate leading a team for the first time but also adapting to stringent new workplace hygiene standards. Focused on keeping the government workers and their own team safe, Rhonda and Nakoa have had to step up their cleaning duties – including ongoing sanitisation of each level throughout the day.

Josylin Saunders, Senior Manager of Workplace Services at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, is extremely pleased with Rhonda and Nakoa’s work in the building. “Rhonda and Nakoa’s continued efforts during COVID-19 have provided peace of mind to all the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment employees at Parramatta Square, knowing that they are taking all measures to protect their health and safety.

“Nothing is ever too hard or is met with objection and they have both shown true dedication and support not only for our team but the Clean Force crew they lead on site” she said.

Coming from similar backgrounds and starting their roles around the same time, it was easy for Nakoa and Rhonda to form a strong professional relationship and friendship too. They’ve been able to support each other through the transition and are always ready for when a new challenge is thrown their way.

Nakoa says because of this, and their amazing team, coming to Paramatta Square doesn’t feel like work.

“I love everything about it! The building, staff and management are all really great. It’s lovely to come to work because the people are amazing. The staff see the great bond Rhonda and I have and it helps them know we’re approachable and always available when they need us.”

Tony has noticed the benefits of their friendship too. “Working together as a team so well, and with the whole cohort, they make my job a lot easier. They’re a real asset to the company.”

Lucie shines a light on living with OCD

While many people are experiencing stress around COVID-19, for some, this time is even harder. For Lucie, who battles with OCD, the constant hand-washing messaging has served as a challenge over the last few weeks.

Over the past 12 months, Lucie has experienced a flare up of constant handwashing, a common symptom of OCD. With the help of therapy and treatment, she has been making great strides to calm this compulsion.

Thankfully, her workplace understands the challenges that Lucie’s condition entails, and were able to put measures in place to make her more comfortable. Back in 2016, WISE helped Lucie secure work at Clean Force, a social enterprise with approximately 50% of employees diagnosed with a disability or disadvantaged.

Lucie works with Clean Force as an Administration Assistant – but they refer to her as the ‘The Gatekeeper’! Over the last four years, her responsibilities have included greeting people, answering phone calls and emails, data entry, invoicing and helping others with admin tasks.

Lucie loves her job, and the flexibility it offers with her health. She is proud that she has had far fewer sick days since embarking on her treatment, and is grateful that she can call her Manager and be honest about what she needs, however small.

Lucie’s employment consultant, Uliana, stays in touch with her regularly, and supports her if she has any issues. Lucie said “Uliana has helped me immensely over the years, she has a heart of gold and an empathetic listening ear. Without her, and WISE, I would have never accessed the treatment for my OCD”.

Recently, Uliana helped Lucie with some cotton gloves and moisturiser for under her latex gloves, to help her get through the day without over using hand sanitiser and handwashing excessively. She says the gloves have been a gamechanger for her hands over the past few weeks.

When COVID-19 hand washing messaging increased Lucie found it really exacerbated her compulsions. To help her get these under control Jim, her manager at Clean Force, offered Lucie a week off work. “We don’t have a problem offering time off if it helps our employees look after themselves – it’s part of the support we provide,” Jim explained.

Jim also ensures that the team do little things to make Lucie comfortable at work, like ensuring she can clean her own workspace.

His biggest piece of advice to other workplaces is to “make sure you and your team practice empathy, because that’s how you’re going to support employees with a disability”.

Lucie says her workplace is like a family, and they put a smile on her face every day. “Having a job means I can be independent, support myself and implement a healthy routine,” she says.

Although we’re not yet in the clear with COVID-19, Lucie is proud of the progress she has made in managing her condition. She is extremely grateful she can go to work each day knowing she has support from both Clean Force and WISE, especially during this challenging time.