Starting Over
Forced to do more with less, one housekeeping executive goes back to the drawing board to increase efficiency

In these tough times, many organizations are learning to work around shrinking budgets. Smaller staffs, aging equipment and nonexistent pay raises are some challenges housekeeping departments face in their goals to keep facilities clean and customers satisfied.

“We were required to reduce our budget substantially,” says Larry Armstrong, director of general services for Carnegie Museums in Pittsburg, which has almost 650,000 square feet of in-house-cleaned space.

As a result, Armstrong began reorganizing the museums’ entire general services department about a year ago, including the custodial staff and procedures. He started by taking a look at the number of custodians on staff, the areas to be cleaned and the cleaning strategies used. What he found was that each custodian cleaned differently.

“Someone might use paper towels while someone else might use rags for the same task,” Armstrong says.

He wanted to come up with one general cleaning standard. A lot of questions needed answers — what are the best methods for cleaning, how long should it take, what areas should be cleaned when, what products and equipment work best, what is the most efficient, and so on.

Armstrong contacts other museums and area universities to compare notes. He even took bids from contractors and asked them about their cleaning operations. What Armstrong found was that most other organizations cleaned at night, including the contractors, while his staff cleaned during the day. He realized visitors and museum staff would be disrupted less if custodians did more cleaning at night.

Having many long-term employees — most have been on staff for 20-30 years — he wanted to try working with the staff he had. Shuffling staff schedules, positions and job duties is not easy at any level, but Armstrong said he had few problems walking his custodians through the changes.

“I talked to the staff and found out that a number of people actually wanted to work at night,” he says.

Armstrong then took a look at some of the custodians’ daytime responsibilities — such as landscaping, snow removal and restrooms — to figure out how many custodians had to work during the day. He went through the seniority process to then come up with a schedule.

The custodial staff has slimmed down from 35 to 30 since the start of the reorganization process. Four of the five workers were lost through attrition and one was offered early retirement.

In a final step to do more with less, he recently hired a consultant to help him evaluate the organization’s cleaning products and equipment, and its cleaning strategies, as well as start a formal training program.

Armstrong says some employees do not understand why he is changing things and it is going to take a while for them to adjust.

“Improvements take time when you’re working with people who have done things a certain way for 20-30 years,” he says. “We try to work with them, see their logic and often have discussions about [the changes].”

For example, Armstrong says he’ll stop custodians in the hallway to talk with them and verify what they’re hearing about the changes. He assures them things will improve over time.

“It’s a constant working process," he says. "We’ve made changes, and we’ve made major strides.”