There is a disconnection between facility design and housekeeping. Those involved in creating the design “vision” rarely consider possible cleaning challenges hidden in designs. Ironically, you won’t find too many examples of facility clients demanding cleaning-friendly buildings.

“I have asked many architects, ‘Has anyone ever asked you to build a [cleaning]-friendly building?’” says Steve Spencer, facilities specialist in cleaning and maintenance, State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Ill. “No one has ever said, ‘yes.’”

The consequences: Buildings are planned and constructed that present all kinds of cleaning problems for housekeeping managers. Once a building is complete, housekeepers are left with the challenge of maintaining hard-to-clean surfaces, and working in buildings without sufficient access to storage and supplies, among other problems.

“People get into trouble when [housekeepers] are not included in the [design] process,” says Bob Pratt, president, Pratt Design Studio, Chicago. “The plans are already made and then you have conflict. [Cleaning] people say, ‘What are you doing? I can’t maintain this!’”

The disconnection does not just make housekeepers’ jobs challenging, but it also affects operations budgets, productivity and the overall success of the housekeeping department.

Who has a say in design?
It would be ideal if there was a standard formula that spelled out exactly who in housekeeping operations should be included in the design “vision” — at what point and to what extent. With no specific guidelines, the housekeeping manager’s input on building projects is limited and random.

“The level of cleaning managers’ involvement changes from organization to organization because it depends on the interest and strength of the [housekeeping] leader,” says Mark Nichols, principal, Loebl, Scholossman & Hackl; Chicago.

Experienced cleaning managers with time under their belts in a commercial or institutional setting are going to be more conversant in building design. Similarly, a limited facilities I.Q. will impact how comfortable managers are evaluating design decisions.

Regardless of housekeeping managers’ design understanding or level of motivation in communicating concerns, other people of authority within the organization may not facilitate opportunities among staff members to comment on new construction or renovation projects.

“Sometimes [facility executives] are not very knowledgeable or aware that they should rely on the people who maintain and operate their buildings,” says Rod Erickson, partner, Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen (ATS&R); Minneapolis.

If facility executives or building owners are not familiar with the operations of facilities, they do not see a reason for cleaning managers to get involved.

Some facility managers are operations- and maintenance-oriented and some are not. Regardless, the critical feedback is going to have to come from someone knowledgeable at the very top or via the frontline facility managers.

The facility generalist, however, is often charged with making a number of calls when it comes to products used in design. The bigger the organization, the more likely that there will be specialists on board who can speak with some authority about the impact of design on operations. The opposite is true in smaller organizations. Regardless of organizational size, the issue usually boils down to whether or not there are strong lines of communication between the various facility players.

Getting involved
In many cases, housekeeping managers may be hesitant to offer design feedback in an informal manner. Others will feel housekeeping managers owe it to their mission to stay involved in design.

It is the responsibility of cleaning managers to identify and express their concerns, says Willy Suter, director of physical plant operations, American University, Washington, D.C.

It could be that architects, designers and facility executives do not realize that managers have expertise to offer, or that managers are interested in building projects. “Facilities management people need to make themselves available and known as a valuable resource,” Spencer says.

One good way for cleaning managers to get the attention of building planners is to find someone within the organization who is directly involved in the project or is connected to someone involved. Contacts could be facility managers, engineers or physical plant managers.

But before approaching architects or other facility executives, housekeeping managers should gather as much data as possible and have it at their fingertips. Those who come prepared will have good answers to questions and will provide these key contacts with a professional image of housekeeping operations. Taking notes on an ongoing basis, including location and frequency of spills, surface damage and time workers spend cleaning each area are just some examples of data that managers should have ready to present and translate into design dos and don’ts.

“Managers should document anytime a finish has cost an excessive amount of money,” Spencer says.

“They should know the number of hours spent maintaining hard-surface flooring. Then they can go to their bosses or designers and say, ‘here is what we have to spend to maintain it.’”

Sometimes all managers need to do is to offer their point of view. There are certain issues that only the housekeeping manager can provide insight into and it’s a matter of creating opportunities to communicate needs and concerns.

The cleaning perspective
Building plans for a four-story facility at Kutztown (Pa.) University included just one janitor’s closet for the whole building. Ron Yoder, the university’s associate director of facilities, got architects to incorporate one closet on every floor by sharing an everyday cleaning scenario.

He told architects and facility administrators that having one janitor’s closet on the first floor of a four-floor building would not be cost-effective. If a custodian was working on the fourth floor and ran out of a product, or if he or she forgot something in the closet on the first floor, they would have to go all the way back down to get it. “I told them even if we had to eke out a small space in the corner someplace, we had to have the closets,” Yoder says. “It helps to go at it from an efficiency standpoint.” He also had to compromise by giving up space in other areas of the building that were originally planned for storage and mechanical areas.

There are some unique bits of information that housekeeping managers can offer architects and designers that they may not be aware of, such as the “personality” of their facilities.

“[Cleaning managers] have a number of years of experience in their own facility and they know the personality of the place,” Pratt says. “They know that the staff uses carts with metal wheels. They know whether or not the staff is careful with carts. They say, ‘with our staff, this is what makes sense.’ You have to listen to that.”

Housekeeping managers really can make architects and designers aware of things they do not think about or know about regarding building operations. “We are always learning something,” says Jim Rydeen, consultant and former president of ATS&R, Minneapolis, Minn. “We might never have considered things like a window that goes all the way to the floor or a column in a strange location that you can’t get behind to clean. Architects can get carried away with certain designs.”

Cleaning managers should be prepared to answer questions about building operations, maintenance of a variety surfaces and traffic patterns.

“Any building has to be maintained and that is directly related to materials used to construct a building, including equipment and furniture,” says Erickson. “We have to ask: ‘What are the spaces and what’s going to happen in those spaces?’ We use [cleaning managers] as a sounding board. What is their experience with the materials? What are their minimum standards?”

In many cases, Erickson says ATS&R has developed literature that includes “standards” for particular facilities, especially those the firm has a track record working with.

Find a balance
Facility administrators might be focusing on how the facility is going to look and its impact on corporate image. Operations professionals, including housekeeping managers, are mostly concerned with the “cleanability” of facilities. The challenge is to maintain a harmonious connection between various facility stakeholders.

“Operational people need to be aware of the architectural issues and architects need to be aware of the operational issues,” Suter says. “When it works, the tension between design and operational considerations results in a facility that achieves the design and architectural goals of the project and identifies the associated operational tradeoffs of these decisions.”

Design Flaw Sampler/Housekeeping
  1. Installing doors and elevators that are too narrow to accommodate service equipment.
  2. Installing discontinued or obsolete equipment.
  3. Making entryways too small to handle foot traffic.
  4. Installing lighting that is impossible to service.
  5. A 3-foot-by-5-foot janitor closet with a 3-foot-wide door that opens in.
  6. Installing window systems that cannot be cleaned or serviced easily.
  7. Installing cheap paint that cannot be cleaned.
  8. Failure to install floor drains.
  9. Failure to install appropriate water and snow deflection systems at entrances.
  10. Installing carpet or flooring that shows dirt daily or blue carpet with an asphalt parking lot.

— Steve Spencer, Facilities Specialist in Cleaning and Maintenance State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Ill.