Cleaning organizations must perform at a higher level of efficiency if they are to compete in today’s ever-changing business environment. The design of daily cleaning systems and staffing comprise the largest percentage of a facility’s annual cleaning dollars. The housekeeping department also represents 20 to 40 percent of the total maintenance and operations budget, and administrators look to this line item when reducing costs and balancing the overall budget.

This creates many challenges for cleaning managers, who are expected to deliver consistent appearance levels and healthy buildings at the lowest possible cost.

There are many different system models that managers can design to accommodate the diverse factors in cleaning a building. No single model fits every building or cleaning staff. Different occupants can generate different soil loads, and individuals have their own definitions of cleanliness. Some occupants are very particular, whereas others never complain. Some facilities, such as hospitals, come with their own set of legal standards. When designing a cleaning plan, keep the facility and its occupants in mind.

Making a change in your cleaning system involves great care and planning. The wrong approach to change will injure morale and could disrupt the entire department. The people who do the work are the people who must help change the work.

There are many factors to consider before designing a cleaning architecture. The objective is to select standards, processes, task sequences and best cleaning practices that will deliver quality results and efficiencies.

Always begin this selection process with a meeting that includes your immediate manager and/or upper management to discuss their expectations, concerns and goals. It is critical to document the desired appearance levels and align your objectives in writing. You may have to reduce the task frequency in some areas of your schedule and increase it in others to get the desired outcome. Take notes and be prepared to answer difficult questions. Don’t be apprehensive; management knows the important role your department plays in the operations of their facility.

Information is powerful
To begin this journey, you must know the details of your facility. Many managers develop survey forms to define the number and types of rooms. It is a good idea to use fire exit maps or reduced copies of blueprints for your building. This will give you a bird’s eye view of your facility layout. The building engineers also could help you with computer-generated drawings and additional information that will be useful and save you hours of time.

Document even small details. Count the restroom fixtures, entrance mats, windows, doors, trash cans, light fixtures, cubicles, desks, stairways, landings, blinds, file cabinets, lockers, beds, chairs, miscellaneous furniture and any other items that are your responsibility. Differentiate between hard and soft floor coverings as well as any special surface with unique cleaning requirements specified by the manufacturer to avoid damaging the product or voiding its warranty. Make a list of all of the dispensers you service. Photocopy the keys, log key numbers and identify the manufacturers of each dispenser.

In addition, inventory all cleaning tools, equipment, chemicals, paper products and other items that are part of your current system. Many of these products and machines may be the cause of lower productivity or performance. Some of these tools are better matched for other areas or buildings where they can increase productivity and improve appearance levels. Many cleaning tools sit idle because of worker preference or unsuitable applications.

Some in-house organizations are responsible for non-cleaning activities. Although these are important, many times they take your workers away from necessary routine and project work. Such activities may include setting up and breaking down rooms for activities, grounds maintenance, building repair, cafeteria duties and other important functions that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of other departments. These activities typically represent 10 percent or more of your time and, therefore, also must be documented, measured and added to your system design.

Also, it may help to obtain “cleaning times” — meaningful statistics for worker productivity that are organized by segment, activity, zone or route. Many industry associations offer these statistics based on members’ or consultants’ research. Not all of these times will be applicable to your facility, but they provide a benchmark and a starting point for discussion and evaluation.

All of this information gathering will take time, but once you have this data, you will be able to speak confidently about your facility and begin the design process.

Is it working?
With the data in hand, it’s time to evaluate your current system. Review all current schedules. Evaluate each worker’s job description. What time does the cleaning worker come to work? What is the worker’s area of responsibility, and how long does it take to complete a zone or cleaning route? What is the square footage of the area to be cleaned, and is the workload in that area smaller, larger or equal to other areas? Talk to your more productive workers about their buildings and any issues that keep them from higher levels of performance. Cleaning workers and supervisors have a wealth of knowledge that should be used in the design process.

There are many defined systems for cleaning a building — zone-, team-, skip-, gang-, day-, blended-, speed-, systematic-, station-, collaborative-, seasonal- and project-cleaning structures all have their places. Some managers may combine two or more of these systems to accomplish their goals. Focus on a cleaning system that performs well in the majority of your facility, and isolate any minor areas that require special considerations.

No matter what system you select for your department, sequences of cleaning tasks should be defined. Determine which cleaning activity is executed first, second, third and so on. These activities should be prioritized to accommodate days when staff levels are down to insure that critical areas get attention.

However, to attract better workers you may have to be flexible with start and stop times to accommodate primary jobs or family schedules. As an example, day cleaning systems may attract workers that prefer early morning hours or parents who can work a four-hour shift after dropping their children off at school. These schedules may seem unusual, but they help us to address the individual needs of workers as well as the unique needs of our buildings.

Standardize and simplify
When training these workers, focus on best practices and tools that capture soil and contaminants. Poor procedures and inadequate tools cause operator fatigue, which reduces productivity and affects the appearance of your facility. Soil that is redistributed adds an additional labor cost because it reintroduces itself as project work that must be performed later to bring the area up to maintainable standards. Keeping up is less expensive than catching up.

Standardize all products so that each category contains a single manufacturer and system. Less is better. Having multiples of similar products and equipment can complicate your training and management programs. Select products based on quality, low cost of ownership, ease of use, ergonomics and educational tools. Choose a reliable local supplier who provides distribution services and solutions.

Managers want cleaning systems that are worker friendly and deliver results. The best systems begin with careful documentation, research, collaboration and planning. Be sure to include your best people in the design phase and explain why the changes are being made so everyone works together to improve the image of the building and the cleaning department.

David Frank owns Knowledgeworx consulting firm and has more than 25 years experience in the cleaning industry.

To learn more about cleaning systems and their impact on your facility, attend Frank’s seminar, Healthy Buildings: A Simple Approach for Custodial Managers, Oct. 16. at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN show in Las Vegas.