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Cleaning Up

Are you cheating your cleaning program? Staffing strategies can make your operations run more smoothly.

Imagine for a moment that you have just won the lottery. With part of your winnings you decide to buy that outrageously expensive car of your dreams, a custom-made beauty with everything you have always wanted.

Now imagine you are in the factory watching the car being built. To your horror, it does not look anything like what you requested. The front door is sticking through the hood, and the steering wheel is mounted on the back bumper. You demand an explanation from the manufacturer, who replies he always works this way. The workers are assigned to build a car, and he allows them to do it however they see fit.

That imaginary tale represents reality when it comes to the way many facilities are cleaned. Just as you would not dream of spending money on a car that did not meet your specifications, managers should not waste their budgets on cleaning processes that do not work.

Most operations are organized very loosely when it comes to cleaning. An important part of an effective system is having the right number of people doing the job. Too few cleaning workers causes quality to suffer. Too many cleaning workers can result in costs rising unnecessarily. Confusion and security problems also may develop. The situation becomes even more complex when you consider how poorly many cleaning operations and contractors track their employees and performance.

Understanding the cleaning

To determine how many cleaning workers are needed, you need to know how much area is being cleaned. A general rule is to take the total square footage of a building and use that to come up with the number of cleanable square feet. Some areas, such as closets and storage areas, will not need cleaning on a regular basis. Furniture and other fixtures will cover a large amount of floor space, so the cleanable floor space is the exposed area workers will actually be able to reach.

Though that step sounds simple, there are a surprising number of institutions with no idea how much cleanable space they actually have.

In most settings, the amount of cleanable square feet is about 55 percent of the total square footage. In schools and universities, the amount of cleanable floor space varies according to the layout of the facility.

You could be cheating your cleaning program unless you understand space requirements. Having more space than you estimated could result in not enough cleaning workers to do the job properly. Having less space than you thought might mean you are overstaffed and paying too much for cleaning. It is a good idea to measure the area at least once a year and ask yourself, “Have we done anything that has dramatically altered the amount of cleanable area?”

Cleaning systems

There are two basic types of cleaning systems: zone cleaning and team cleaning. With zone cleaning, each worker is assigned a certain zone or area and is responsible for performing all of the cleaning functions in the entire area.

In team cleaning, workers are trained to perform specific cleaning tasks. Typically, team cleaning consists of four specialty areas: light-duty specialist, vacuum specialist, restroom specialist and utility specialist.

As a general rule, team cleaning provides greater efficiency. Most organizations using this system see a 10- to 20-percent budget benefit. That benefit may not necessarily be savings. Instead, it may mean that your current cleaning staff is able to do more cleaning or perform a higher level of cleaning than before.

The purpose of using team cleaning is to be able to do more with less labor, less waste, less complaints and less money, obtaining a higher-quality appearance level with less effort.

Regardless of the method you are using, you should have some method of tracking personnel and cleaning tasks. One particular team-cleaning system includes the use of job cards that tell each cleaning specialist exactly where he or she should be working, what time he or she should be in the area and, specifically, which tasks he or she should perform. The card is carried with the cleaning worker throughout the shift, and a supervisor also has a record of each specialist's activity.

Using the job-card method, a supervisor will know if the cleaning worker is taking longer than anticipated. Perhaps a lack of training has resulted in uncertainty about how a cleaning task should be performed. Perhaps environmental factors may be influencing the speed with which cleaning can be accomplished. Job cards can assist in pre-planning to alert the cleaning staff of any unusual circumstances. That way, staffing can be adjusted according to need or ability.

Complaints about the cleaning process should be recorded. The first step in reducing complaints is tracking them. Schools should have some type of logbook that records who made the complaint and the date, time and nature of the complaint.

Some organizations try to hide complaints, but complaints can be helpful in determining weak spots in the cleaning system. A logbook makes it easy to identify who is complaining and to take the appropriate action. It could be as simple as retraining an employee, or perhaps additional help will be needed. It may be necessary to re-evaluate the services included in your agreement with upper management.

Monitor overtime

A Los Angeles building service contractor recently was the subject of a news article alleging illegal work practices. Like it or not, education institutions will be held accountable for what their subcontractors do. If you outsource services, make sure your cleaning contractor is willing to show you the books when it comes to your account. Keep track of how many employees are working and if overtime is being paid.

In a best-case scenario, your contractor should not have any overtime expenses, not because those wages are being denied, but because there is simply no need to have any employee work overtime. Excessive overtime is a sign that the work is not being properly planned or executed. You should know exactly how many people are in your facility at all times and when work is being performed. In addition to spotting staffing problems, it also can help keep your institution out of the courtroom.

Shine sells

Many institutions use their facilities' cleanliness as a marketing tool and source of pride. Unfortunately, cleaning is often reactionary. An upcoming special event may inspire an all-out effort for extra cleaning. However, planning always improves any performance. An efficient, consistent cleaning strategy will yield much better results than an occasional cleaning blitz. It also will stabilize staffing needs. If you can project and target how cleaning is going to complement other marketing strategies, you can minimize waste and maximize effectiveness.



  • 2

    Number of basic types of cleaning: zone cleaning and team cleaning.

  • 4

    Number of specialty areas in team cleaning: light-duty, vacuum, restroom and utility.

  • 1

    Number of times per year a school should measure its cleanable space.

  • 55

    Average percentage of total square footage that should be considered when calculating cleanable space.

Sidebar: Time to Clean

Now that you know exactly how much area you need cleaned, how do you determine how long it should take to do the job?

Standard reference guides for cleaning times throughout the industry, published by such organizations as the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), provide time guidelines for hundreds of cleaning tasks. Such guides can help you determine if the timeframes in which your cleaning staff works are reasonable, compared to industry-wide norms.

If you outsource cleaning, it also can help in preparing bid requests for contractors.

Walker is president of Salt Lake City-based Managemen Consulting Services and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.

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