The restroom is the one part of your facility that nearly everyone will see. It plays an outsized role in how people perceive your building. Darin Squires, GP Pro’s general sales manager for commercial real state, and director of segment insights Abhijeet Jadhav discuss common restroom pain points, transformation tips and what to expect from the restroom of the future. Listen now >>
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Janelle Penny: Hi everyone. This is Janelle Penny, I’m the editor-in-chief of Buildings Media. Today, I’m joined by Darin Squires, who is the general sales manager of the commercial real estate for Georgia Pacific Professional. And Abhijeet Jadhav, who is the director of segment insights for GP Pro. And today, we’re going to be talking about the role of the restroom in an office building.
It’s that one part of your facility that just about everyone will see. And it’s so important to keep it clean and functional and refreshing. So, today, we’re going to be talking about how to do that.
This podcast was created in partnership with GP Pro, and I’m really happy to welcome you today. Hi guys.
Darin Squires: Hi there. Thanks for having us.
Janelle: So, let’s start with the basics. What role do you find that the restroom plays in today’s office space? Why does it matter so much?
Darin: Sure, yeah. I’ll start with that. Today’s office environment in general is commonly opened up or densified. And what that means is you’re putting more people in an office area and creating a situation where you need to keep up with more people using the restrooms as well as high capacity systems that will allow you to not run out of products, such as towel, tissue, skin care, soap and sanitizer.
So, it’s becoming more and more important as we put more people in the same space as well as considering hygiene is more and more important now because of the germ spread, having more people in an office space.
Abhijeet Jadhav: I totally agree with Darin. The office restroom is really important because it really shows how much your company cares about its employees. The employees’ perception of the company is totally based on overall the kind of experience or ambiance that they get in the office building and because employees spend time in the restroom, it becomes a very important part of the overall experience.
Janelle: Definitely. That kind of leads into my next question. Why is it so important to maintain the restroom as being clean and up to date? And why do you think that tenants and employees care about that so much?
Darin: Maintaining a clean and updated restroom is vital to a building, whether you are the owner of the building or the property management.
It really does have an impact on tenants as most of the complaints come from a restroom—whether you’re out of products, towel, tissue or skin care, or you have malodor or just an upkept restroom, it really sends a negative message or an impact to somebody visiting the building or an actual office or tenant in the building.
Janelle: I’m glad you mentioned that because I wanted to dive in a little bit deeper into some of these pain points that you’ve mentioned. Are there certain ones that you hear about more than others? Or things that maybe people complain about more often? Abhi, I think you’ve done some research on this area, right?
Abhi: Yes, we do a lot of research in this area. In fact, the recent research we did was among 700 office building employees. Some of the common themes and pain points that they referenced were around bad smells or malodor, lower quality of consumables, so be it the paper towel or toilet paper or the quality of the soap. That’s a big deal for a lot of the employees.
The third thing I would like to call out is automated systems. So, a lot of employees are agitated about the fact that they have to use manual systems, because manual systems mean more contact points within the restroom usage area.
“Maintaining a clean and updated restroom is vital to a building, whether you are the owner of the building or the property management.” - Darin Squires
So, you have to literally touch the paper towel dispenser or touch the manual soap dispenser. And those contact points can relate to hygiene issues and contamination. So, overall, having more automated systems in the restroom usage area is a big, big deal for employees.
Darin: Yeah. I would say, I know the No. 1 complaint is being out of a product in a washroom and a No. 2 is a bad smell or malodor. So, it’s important as we’re seeing more premium properties and we’re seeing more people in the same space as I mentioned earlier in office buildings, it’s important to keep all of these systems with larger capacity and as Abhi mentioned, mostly touch-free as often as you can.
Janelle: So, how does that apply to the building service contractor or the janitorial staff? What are the pain points that they’re looking at?
Darin: Just as Abhi mentioned where we did a survey with office workers, we do the same with custodians. You really realize some of their pain points are fairly simple.
One is just having one key for all the systems. GP Pro has moved to one key across our washroom bundle. You see a lot of keychains and having to find keys, losing keys, having to realize which key goes to which dispenser. So, that was something simple.
Also, we try to keep a lot of things in terms of loading, whether it’s several features or loading automated systems or towel and tissue and skin care. We try to keep it as simple as possible because time is of the essence when it comes to labor, and they really need to be efficient when they’re maintaining the washroom.
And then also, large capacity because you just don’t want that complaint that you’re out of towel, tissue or skin care product. So, if you’ve got large capacity systems, typically with lighting on the front of many of the systems, indicating when you’re running low or when you might be running out, or if there’s a problem such as batteries are out or there’s a jam in a towel dispenser, just at a glance, you can maintain the washroom without having to open and check for supplies.
There’s actually a stat on that, 77% of all dispensers that are opened, towel, tissue and skin care, are unnecessary because the custodian’s only doing that to determine if there’s product in the dispensers.
And so, if you’ve got either IoT, connected systems such as GP Pro’s KOLO system, which are alerts and notifications to smart devices, that eliminates the need to open dispensers just to see if they do need refilled. And/or, like I mentioned, there’s LED lights on our skin care systems and our towel systems, so you can simply just look around a washroom to see if something needs to be done to one of the dispensers.
Janelle: Awesome. You touched on this a little bit already, but what are the needs of a tenant and employee pertaining to the restrooms? So, they’re maybe not experiencing some of these pain points in the first place?
Abhi: More and more as employers think about the experience that they offer in different usage areas; they want to maintain the level of experience throughout. So, in years past, the bathroom design or the restroom area was often overlooked area of the overall office building.
But more and more, it is becoming an area where there is a lot of focus. So, some of the research that we’ve done among property managers has pointed towards the restroom. Used to be the last place potential tenants used to see when they did their office space tours.
But nowadays, the tour starts with some of the common areas like the lobbies and includes washrooms because the features and amenities and design of the washroom plays a big role. So, nowadays, a lot of office buildings try to mimic the experience that consumers get in hotels or in the lodging space. You see stone counters and floors; you see hotel style lighting and a bunch of really good quality products that raise the overall premium-ness for the whole office space.
So, it’s becoming more of a place by which the overall property value, and the experience that the office employer is being judged by.
Darin: Yeah. I would also add that a quality washroom really does reflect well in a company’s investment in people. And there’s a saying that the real test of an office space sits behind the bathroom doors. And I think that’s true, right? That’s really—if you consider the impression that a washroom gives on you when you visit even a restaurant, if it’s an unkept washroom, it reflects on how clean the kitchen is.
And I would say the same could correlate over to an office building. You can really create a nice ambiance and experience in the lobby, but the real impact on someone would be when you use a washroom, how well kept is that? What is the ambiance within the washroom itself?
Abhi: Yeah. So, you see a lot of the mainstream media and even organizations like the CDC picking up on the state of the office restrooms. So, here’s a quote that we have from the CDC, “The health and safety of the American workforce is vital to the US economy.”
The office restroom kind of plays a role in providing that and that level of experience and hygiene.
The other thing that is happening is a lot of the mainstream media, even major publications like the Wall Street Journal, they just released a piece of article which talked about how the office restroom is not the dark, dingy usage area, not an afterthought. It is becoming a way in which office buildings are differentiating themselves.
So, you see a lot of office restrooms being renovated or premiumized or finally getting a makeover, which was not the case in the past years.
Darin: Yeah. And I would say if you work for a company, like a single tenant occupied office building or campus, a quality washroom really reflects well on a company’s investments in their organization and their people as well.
Janelle: Now, what about the needs of a property manager or the cleaning staff or the building’s service contractor? I imagine some of their needs probably dovetail with some of the things that employees are looking for as far as premium appliances that are easy to maintain and use and things like that, right?
“We do a lot of research in this area. In fact, the recent research we did was among 700 office building employees. Some of the common themes and pain points that they referenced were around bad smells or malodor, lower quality of consumables, so be it the paper towel or toilet paper or the quality of the soap. That’s a big deal for a lot of the employees.” - Abhijeet Jadhav
Darin: Yeah. I would say, when you talk about premium buildings and premium products, we’re kind of seeing a blending of retail and commercial. So, people that work in a building are really expecting maybe to see a name brand product and we’re seeing more and more of that from GP Pro where we’re branding our products from retail over into commercial space.
And in terms of the BSCs, I mean they’re really looking for systems that are simple to maintain, that are reliable, not having issues with jamming or breakage. So, that keeps them efficient, keeps their day going better. And they get less tenant complaints, which at the end of the day, that’s their biggest concern, that they’re going to have an occupant or a tenant complain about something in a washroom.
And so, anything we can do from the manufacturer’s perspective to make that role as a custodian simpler and just run more smoothly through the day without complaints is of utmost importance.
Abhi: So, if you think about how systems are being used in office restrooms, there is a shift towards more proprietary dispensing systems. And the reason for that is these systems can help you reduce the usage and waste. That is a big deal, not only from a total cost of ownership perspective, but also from a sustainability perspective.
A lot of these employers do want to communicate their sustainability initiatives back to their employees, and the market and the community. So, any investment that helps them achieve usage and waste reduction is highly valued. And that’s what they’re asking their property manager or building service contractor to really adopt into their facility.
Janelle: Let’s explore that arena a little bit with people trying to get their needs met. What are some of the trends that are affecting the future of restrooms, looking specifically at office buildings? And what kinds of things are people asking their building managers for?
Darin: The No. 1 trend right now I would say is technology. There’s a lot of notifications and alerts that can help custodians with their upkeep of a facility, whether it’s in the washroom, which is obviously our space, so towel, tissue and skin care systems, you know when they’re going to run out, if they’re out, if there’s something that needs to be taken care of in a washroom.
But also, outside the washroom, you’re seeing a lot of technology evolve with smart fibers, notifying when a room needs to be vacuumed, by either a custodian or even a robot alert that can send a robot to clean an area.
There’s biometrics scanning when you walk up to a building, the glass knows that you work for that organization, you’re through security just by a biometric screen.
So, we’re seeing a lot of efficiencies through technology. And I would say the conferences that I visit for major property management groups, it’s the No. 1 focus. It seems to be what is out there for manufacturers or what is in the industry in terms of technology.
Currently, there’s over 2,500 IoT platforms that connect something to an office building and some of them I just mentioned. That seems to be the major trend. And Abhi, you’ve done a lot of research on this as well if you want to speak to it.
Abhi: Yeah. So, Darin, like you mentioned, we continuously do a lot of some of the trends that are happening in away from home restrooms. And not just in the US. We look at from the global standpoint and we truly understand markets that are ahead of us when it comes to a commercial restroom, so what’s going on in those areas.
So, the five trends that we have identified, Darin, you spoke to technology, that’s one of the biggest trends that is out there.
The second trend is around hygiene and I will give you a few examples of how that is coming to life. We have innovations that speak to sensor-stimulated doors and faucets. We have antibacterial door handles, digital flushing, all of that really makes the overall restroom experience much more hygienic and less prone to contamination.
Some of the other things around, we talked about sustainability a little bit. So, some of the innovations that we are seeing around biodegradable supplies, recycled materials, on-site recycling that you’ll see typically in colleges and universities. Darin, you mentioned KOLO, our IoT system, which kind of addresses some of the usage and waste and alert systems. But there’s also part of it is the sustainability angle as well.
Finally, when it comes to a lot of the custodial staff, they do care a lot about operational efficiency that can help them get more out of their labor.
So, you see especially in public toilets in like a park, you see self-cleaning automated public toilets, which have a retractable seat that goes into the wall, is cleansed, is made sure that it’s contamination free and it comes back.
So, a lot of the labor is deployed to kind of clean and maintain the restroom, just as the labor cost goes up in the US, you might see a lot more automation in the restroom.
And finally, the last one is sensorial experience. So, experience when it comes to—we talked about like malodor being one of the key pain points. A lot of innovation is happening in the area of providing a better overall sensorial experience in terms of aesthetics, odor, noise control as well. All of these things really help facilitate a better restroom experience for the average consumer.
Janelle: Now, Abhi, you touched on this a bit just now, but what does that restroom of the future look like if we’re talking about Class A buildings specifically? And do you see different things happening in the near term versus the medium or long term?
Abhi: Yeah. So, we spoke a little bit about the overall sensorial experience. So, what you are seeing actually in some other countries is apps, mobile apps that really drive sound masking. In certain cultures, it can be very embarrassing to be in the stall next to your co-worker and some of the sounds that just happen in the restroom—could be really uncomfortable and embarrassing.
So, there are apps right now that do the sound masking. In the near term, you might see just like we have white noise in office buildings that have an agile work environment and open floor, you might see some of that happening in the restrooms as well.
In terms of the design innovations, you see a lot of offices now have almost like a lounge area. So, that is kind of making it’s way into the restroom and you have almost, especially for women’s restrooms, you see there is, like, a lounge area where a woman can use her makeup, and it provides an overall better experience for them.
Janelle: So, what kinds of innovations do you foresee in the really futuristic restrooms if we’re talking about really innovative things that people are doing now, or even things that you think will be embraced more, longer term into the future?
Abhi: I think a lot of this, we have to look outside the US to see what’s happening. A lot of interesting technology is coming into play. We see some emerging business and service models out there, especially in countries like Japan and the UK.
A couple examples of that are digital revenue. So, a lot of the away from home restrooms, there is an opportunity to drive digital advertising to really monetize the captive audience that is in the restroom.
Some other things are also around vending revenue. So, it’s not just the typical products that are sold in commercial restrooms. Some of these vending machines are pretty high tech and they sell not only the basics, but premium products. And there’s gaming as well, which Darin can speak to.
Darin: Yeah. I know. And that sounds kind of out there, but it’s something we ran across on social media. There’s a company that put gaming stations in the men’s restrooms, like an Xbox or a Play Station. And they were quickly removed after a couple months due to, I suppose, a downturn in productivity. I think fellas were spending a little too much time in the washroom.
But really, if you consider the impact of a washroom on tenants and try to improve that experience, something that far out there, I would see down the road is probably being considered, how to make a washroom a place where maybe you want to visit.
Janelle: So, how does GP Pro stay on top of the changes that are happening with restrooms? I know you guys have done a lot of research and we’ve talked about some of it that Abhi has done. But how do you keep an eye on everything happening out there?
Darin: Abhi does a great job researching on behalf of GP Pro for the office buildings. I mean we also come out—through our innovation, we do a lot of market back innovation, so we realize what’s happening in the market and we look down the road of what’s going to happen.
And if you look at some of our newest innovations, such as enMotion Flex, so you really never run out of product because you have two rolls and when one expires, the next one automatically is dispensed when someone waves.
But we also look at form and function. So, if you look at some of our newest systems and our family of premium systems, they really are aesthetically pleasing. They’re sleek, they’re ADA compliant, and they’re very, very reliable. And so, we want things to appeal to a consumer, but we also want them to function appropriately.
Janelle: I think that’s a good place to touch on some of the more concrete strategies that people can use to renovate their own restrooms. What are some of the upgrade strategies that you’d recommend or that you’ve done with clients?
Darin: There’s quite a bit of that going on since we’re in a booming economy. There’s a lot of new builds or renovations of office space. And we really think that everyone should consider running power to the walls in the washroom as an example of an improvement. You’re going to eliminate the need for batteries as most of the market is moving to automated roll towel systems.
And so, you’re going to need some power in the walls, you’re also going to want to run power to the sink areas because you’re going to have automated soap systems.
As touched on earlier, consumers through our survey don’t want to touch manual soap dispensers. So, everything moving to automation, be aware of that. And it’s a simple add on just to run wiring to these areas and eliminate the long-term cost of batteries.
So, we focus quite a bit on that when we talk to an architect or design or even a general contractor. We keep ADA in mind and then we also keep, let’s power to wherever we need power in a washroom. And if you think about the connected devices that are happening, we’re going to more and more be concerned about not having to use batteries.
Abhi: And to add on to what Darin was talking about, we have to connect this back to some of the frequently mentioned pain points by office employees. So, we talked about how malodor is a big pain point. So, you see a lot of odor masking technology out there, which really helps address the malodor issues.
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We also know that sustainability is a key driver for a lot of the younger workforce. So, systems that are helping reduce the usage and waste, low-flow systems, some offices are also using solar panels and other renewable resources to power the restrooms. So, things like these really help in thinking about what kind of upgrades are really big for office buildings in restrooms.
Janelle: Let’s talk about prioritizing some of these strategies too, because not everyone can renovate the whole restroom at once. So, do you find there are certain upgrades that really provide the most bang for the buck if you need to start investing in the most higher priority stuff first?
Darin: Yeah. I would say in terms of improving a washroom, you can start with stainless steel and automation. It gives a very positive impact on the washroom without major expense. Also, if you consider you have to have reliable systems.
GP Pro really prides ourselves on reliability of our systems. So, large capacity, reliable, stainless steel, automation, those are kind of top of mind when we’re talking to an office building customer or property manager.
Janelle: Thank you to Darin and Abhi for joining me today. And thanks to all of you for listening. This has been Janelle Penny, editor-in-chief of Buildings Media and we’ll see you next time.
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