Before State Farm Insurance switched its Los Angeles facility to day cleaning in 2000, the building held the distinction of having both the lowest cleaning costs and the worst cleaning record in the company.

“We were getting eight theft calls per day, and occupants rated the building as a one, on a scale of one to five, for cleanliness,” recalls Steve Spencer, State Farm’s facilities specialist in cleaning and interior maintenance based in Bloomington, Ill.

When the company sold the building six years after implementing day cleaning, it shut its doors with a far more impressive record. Occupants gave the building solid fives for cleanliness and theft calls and custodial turnover had all but disappeared.

“The top complaints received in this industry are that the restrooms aren’t clean enough, and the custodian missed a wastebasket or didn’t dust an area,” Spencer says. “With day cleaning, custodians pull trash and dust regularly, as well as clean the restrooms more often, and as a result complaints go down.”

The change saved money, too, adds Spencer, noting day cleaning at the Los Angeles facility reduced energy costs by approximately $100,000 a year and lessened employee expenses because they no longer required day porters to upkeep the facility during working hours.

That is how day cleaning is supposed to work. Day cleaning proponents call it a means to reduce energy costs by more than 30 percent. They say it also lessens turnover as custodians are recognized and appreciated for the job they do. Likewise, they maintain it beefs up security in the facility for custodians, who no longer have to work in an empty building after hours then leave for home after dark.

But it’s no panacea. Day cleaning isn’t a good fit for every facility, and even if it is, it still may not work if it is not properly executed.

“The challenge with day cleaning is not how to clean during the day but how to change the culture so that people accept it,” says Randy Burke, founder of DCS Daylight Cleaning Systems Inc., a North American consulting company in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

According to Burke, the three main stakeholders in day cleaning — the property managers, building service contractors and tenants — all must be on the same page. Not only must BSCs and their custodians master cleaning a building without disturbing tenants, but they must be willing and able to communicate the change and why it’s necessary.

Making it work

“In this economy, a wise BSC approaches their clients before their client approaches them on any and all new ideas — including day cleaning,” says Laurie Sewell, president of Servicon Systems Inc., Culver City, Calif.

Today’s troubled economy has more BSCs and facility managers looking at day cleaning as a means for companies to save money as well as be more environmentally friendly. For this reason, Sewell says, savvy BSCs discuss its pros and cons with clients to see if it might work for them.

“Even if you don’t necessarily believe it will work in their particular situation, you need to have a conversation about it,” she says. “They might have an idea of how to make it work.”

Because not every facility can, or should, make a go of day cleaning, Sewell says it’s important to fully understand the jobs performed by clients before initiating a program. In a facility conducting training on a daily basis the majority of the space might not be available to clean during the day. Government offices may have specialized privacy needs, making some areas off limits during set times of the day or week. BSCs will have to schedule around these requirements and cater to individual client needs.

Staggering custodial hours also proves effective, says Barbara Whitstone, senior vice president of business development and marketing for CleanPower, Milwaukee.

“If you’re cleaning full-time at night, you can shift some work to the daytime and shut the building down a bit earlier,” she says.

State Farm, for instance, starts several cleaning teams at 6 a.m. These early crews clean the main lobby, human resources, executive offices and other public areas. Another group sanitizes restrooms, so they may remain open during the day, while a team of floor care specialists uses riding sweepers to clean main corridors. Custodians spend the remainder of the day spot cleaning restrooms and glass, vacuuming secondary aisles, collecting trash and light cleaning office spaces. A Saturday crew addresses areas missed during the week and performs project work, such as floor stripping. A separate carpet-cleaning contractor maintains carpeting as needed, and those crews typically work on Friday nights.

Other challenges

Before jumping into day cleaning, BSCs should ensure that all janitors receive additional training.

BSCs need to train cleaners how to interface with occupants, be minimally invasive in their office space, and be empathetic and flexible when changes to the schedule occur, says Sewell. This includes training custodians to wait at the door to gain acknowledgement from someone who’s on the phone or making sure occupants see them before entering their space.

“You never want to barge in to an occupant’s office,” she says.

Cleaners also need to know how to handle the “wave-off,” a term coined by DCS to describe when an occupant asks cleaners to swing by later. This situation can be a problem if handled incorrectly, admits Burke. He recommends BSCs apprise occupants that when cleaners are sent away, they will return one more time, but if they cannot clean then, they will not come back. He adds that as the building culture adjusts, typically occupants adjust as well and begin utilizing the time when custodians are there to do things away from their offices.

With day cleaning, custodians are no longer nameless, faceless people who work after hours, and thus receive appropriate recognition for their work. However, this change builds friendships and camaraderie among custodians and occupants, which naysayers fear will lead to excessive socialization.

But according to Burke, productivity actually increases because custodians remain visible and therefore accountable throughout the day. In addition, custodians must stay on task to adhere to the schedule. Even so, advance training must include teaching custodians how to politely extricate themselves from situations where occupants take up too much of their time.

“We train them to say, ‘Excuse me, I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll see you tomorrow,’ ” he says.

Changing company culture

Effective day cleaning requires a culture change among occupants, so once schedules are set and custodians are trained, the next step becomes educating occupants. Whitstone emphasizes it’s as important to train occupants before the change as it is to train custodians. When occupants first hear about daytime programs, they often fear the worst.

“They envision some guy who can’t speak English coming into their office while they are on the phone,” says Burke. “That doesn’t happen, and they need to know that.”

Mitigating these fears requires BSCs to provide occupants with details about the system and emphasize that custodians will clean offices with respect to the work being performed there. They also can educate occupants on the benefits inherent in the switch. Occupants need to know the move will save money and keep the facility more secure and environmentally friendly. As the transition takes place, BSCs can inform occupants on what to expect and what’s expected of them, Burke says. This includes stressing that the custodian has a job to do and that they should not consume undue amounts of their time.

BSCs can utilize facilities’ private intranet, company newsletters, e-mail and bulletin boards to communicate the change.

With the right mechanisms in place, as State Farm found at its Los Angeles facility, day cleaning can be a win-win situation for both BSCs and their customers.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.