Heka's over one hundred in-house cleaners keep the buildings' common areas clean

Heka’s buildings are cleaned by Heka’s in-house cleaners for the most part. The best thing about being a cleaner is how each working day is different.

Written by Pi Mäkilä Photos by Ville Rinne

– Hello, nice to see you! Sirje Sepp greets a resident entering the stairwell on Osmontie in Käpylä as she wipes the glass doors clean. Sepp, who works as a cleaner at Heka, has been cleaning three different Heka buildings in Käpylä since the start of the year, and the residents have quickly adopted the cleaner as their own.

– They are like old friends, and I talk to many of them on a daily basis. At the start of my summer holiday, I got a bottle of bubbly from one and a pair of home-made wool socks from another. It was a wonderful surprise. It felt like the residents had made a huge effort just for me, Sepp says and continues to wipe the surfaces.

Sepp has received nothing but positive feedback on her work. This is easy to believe, because in addition to her happy, positive attitude, she says that she is passionate about cleaning.

– I really like my job. The work is demanding because there is plenty to clean, but when I plan my working day carefully, I have the time to perform my duties well and with care, Sepp says. The best thing about this is that every working day is totally different, she says.

Talosaunan pesuhuoneen siivousta.
Sirje Sepp, who cleans on Osmontie in Käpylä, says that as a cleaner you quickly learn to see which areas need cleaning

The basics in order

On the morning of the day of the interview, Sepp’s workday started at seven with the washing of cleaning cloths and mops. Once the washing machine is running, it is time to inspect the public facilities of the building.

– I always start the day by checking the condition of the facilities. If there is a big pile of mud or dog poo on the floor, for example, I clean those things first and am then able to schedule the rest of the day’s work accordingly.

The fact that the sites to be cleaned are always the same makes planning easier. Heka’s in-house cleaners have the freedom to choose the order in which they perform their tasks. This makes the work more interesting, according to Sepp.

– I know the buildings very well and can plan my work accordingly. Furthermore, the service description provided by Heka is clear, and following it leads to good results, Sepp says.

The result of the work speaks for itself: The walls of the Osmontie building are sparkling clean and there does not seem to be a single speck of dirt in the corridors, even though one would think that there would be at least a little mud in the hallway during rainy weather.

According to Sepp, the situation has not always been as easy. Sepp spent her first weeks at work on initial cleaning, scrubbing both the walls and the glass surfaces spotless in one fell swoop.

– I wanted to make this place look like my own, so to speak. Now that the basics are in order, it’s easy to take care of the facilities with maintenance cleaning. I’ve also had to train the residents a bit. For example, detergent residue was left on the doors of the washing machines in the laundry room at the beginning. I went and showed the residents using the laundry room how the machines need to be cleaned. Since then, the surfaces have been very clean, Sepp laughs.

Siivooja Sirje Sepp pyyhkii talopesulan koneet puhtaiksi.
Sirje Sepp says that she is happy to guide the buildings’ residents on how to keep the shared facilities clean. For example, washing machines should be kept clean of detergent residue. This improves living comfort and makes Sepp’s work easier at the same time.

According to Sepp, the instructions given by the cleaner have been taken into account well, and the residents themselves now like to keep the facilities clean.

– A note attached to the wall alone is not enough; the most effective way is to go and explain things directly to the residents. In the end, it makes my job easier, and the residents are probably more comfortable living here as well with everything staying clean, she says and quickly wipes over the washing machines in the laundry room with a mop.

Enough time to clean

Once the shared facilities of the building have been inspected, Sepp proceeds to clean up the stairwells. There are a total of ten stairwells to be cleaned, and with many floors, there is enough work for several hours.

– The rugs in the stairwells are vacuumed and other surfaces are mopped, and I also wipe surfaces with a cleaning cloth. Long corridors are cleaned with a combination machine, Sepp says, mops the floor clean and moves the equipment to the lift and again to the next floor.

It is easy to enjoy the work of a cleaner when the cleaning equipment is up to date.

Sepp, who has a further vocational qualification in cleaning and property services, has worked as a cleaner for years.

She has been very happy working at Heka, especially because there is enough time allowed for the work and the cleaning equipment is good.

– It’s really important for the cleaner that there are enough cleaning agents and that the cleaning equipment is up to date, says Jaana Lindqvist, cleaning director and Sepp’s supervisor.

Lindqvist pops by weekly to Sepp’s workplace to replenish cleaning agents and ask how things are going. Acute matters are agreed upon over the phone, and Lindqvist’s entire team meets monthly at a team meeting.

– We go through current issues, but the meetings are also important because the work of a cleaner is often quite lonely, and these meetings provide an opportunity to talk about your feelings, Lindqvist says.

Siivoustyönjohtaja Jaana Lindqvist ja siivooja Sirje Sepp keskustelevat porraskäytävässä.
Cleaning director Jaana Lindqvist occasionally pops by at Sepp’s workplace to ask how things are going and bring more cleaning agents.

Lindqvist’s team currently includes five cleaners, but the team is constantly growing. In addition to Heka’s in-house cleaners, she takes care of the sites using purchased cleaning services and the cooperation with them.

– In total, we currently have about 50 properties of our own. We have hired a lot of new people. It is not always easy because we are looking for long-term employees, Lindqvist says.

So far, the goals have been met successfully, as the turnover of Heka’s cleaners is very low.

– We strive to provide all employees with suitable working environments. For example, Sirje wanted a site with as few stairwells as possible and lifts in the stairwells. Another employee likes a site with no lifts at all. In addition to this, we offer our cleaners training opportunities, and many study for a further vocational qualification in cleaning and property services alongside their work, she says.

As a cleaner you need to know the building inside out

The stairwell is looking clean, so Sepp heads to clean the sauna. The walls, benches and floors are washed and wiped, and lastly the bathroom taps are wiped with a cleaning cloth. Although the sauna already looks clean upon visual inspection, Sepp knows where the cleaner is needed.

– A cleaner develops a special eye for this; you have to know how to see dirt and where to look for it, Sepp says.

The cleaner also needs to be aware of the special characteristics of different buildings.

Around noon, Sepp packs up the cleaning equipment into buckets and heads across the road to the next stairwells. Before that, Sepp has had her lunch break in a small break room arranged separately for her.

– We do have break rooms at our office as well, but there is no point in the cleaner going across the city in the middle of the workday just to have a break, Jaana Lindqvist explains.

A cleaner has to know how to see dirt and where to look for it.

The sites Sepp cleans in the afternoon are two smaller buildings. Nevertheless, there is plenty to clean in them as well.

– These buildings are a bit older, so you can’t get them to look quite the same as the Osmontie building. However, it’s nice that all the sites are right next to each other. Travelling between sites doesn’t take time, and the entire neighbourhood becomes familiar at the same time. The work also involves helping the residents a lot. Many ask for help with their walkers, and of course I open doors for them as needed, Sepp says.

The sites of Heka’s cleaners are not always this close to each other. Sometimes the distance from one building to another can even be a couple of kilometres.

– However, many find moving from one destination to another a welcome respite in the middle of the workday. The travel time counts as work time, so the cleaner does not have to rush. A cleaning work schedule has been calculated for all sites, according to which the buildings and facilities are cleaned, Lindqvist adds.

However, the cleaners themselves know the characteristics of each building and which areas need additional cleaning.

– That’s why it’s really great that we have been given the freedom to work in our own style, at our own pace. Of course, that also comes with a lot of responsibility, Sepp says. 

Sirje Sepp moppaa kerrostalon rappukäytävän lattiaa.
The stairwells are carefully vacuumed and mopped weekly. Each building and stairwell has its own special features that must be taken into account.

Cleaning is now even more important than before

This year, the coronavirus has completely transformed the jobs of many Finns. However, according to Sepp, the work of a cleaner has not changed at all during the year. The guidelines were revised in the spring, and the cleanliness of surfaces and a good level of hygiene are even better taken care of.

Sepp’s cleaning cloth moves at a fast pace even without her noticing when she moves inside the building. The door handles, railings and lift buttons are cleaned whenever Sepp passes by them.

– The coronavirus has really highlighted the importance of well-executed cleaning. It’s really good that these things are being talked about and the appreciation for cleaning is increasing, Lindqvist points out.

As the time starts to near three o’clock, Sepp’s work is almost done. Heka’s cleaners have flexible working hours, but Sepp prefers to start her day no later than seven in the morning to have the day end early as well. At the end of the day, she hurries back to Osmontie, wipes a few door handles along the way and picks up trash – and finally cleans her equipment. Mops and cleaning cloths are put in the washing machine to wait for the next morning and for the machine to start again.

Over a hundred cleaning professionals at Heka

Heka currently employs approximately 110 in-house cleaners and 11 cleaning directors.

– The use of in-house cleaners is of great importance to resident satisfaction. It is also easier to direct the cleaning work when the cleaners are Heka’s own personnel, says HR Manager Satu Junninen.

– The cleaners’ work community is very diverse and consists of a wide variety of backgrounds. They are satisfied with their job, and many find the work meaningful. I’m sure the reason for this is the fact that well-being at work is taken into account in the pacing of the work. We don’t make schedules too tight and we strive to be able to modify the content of work tasks as needed, Junninen continues.

Siivousmoppeja kuivumassa.

Heka also encourages cleaners to train and develop in their work.

– The cleaning team also includes supervisors who support learning alongside work.

If necessary, Heka buys external cleaning services.

– We’ve had in-house cleaners from the beginning. The external workforce complements them well when we need long-term substitutes or when we do heavier basic cleaning, for example, Junninen adds.

Junninen points out that personnel is an important resource for Heka and cleaners are one important group of personnel.

– At Heka, we always celebrate International Cleaners Day on 15 June with cake and coffee, she says.