Connecting the dots is a process that must be followed precisely in order to achieve accurate results. If a person doesn't factor in each dot in order, the image won't come together correctly.

Just like connecting the dots, there is a process to cleaning. It is a series of steps that when done exactly the same every time will provide a guaranteed result. Unfortunately, in many departments, cleaning techniques change from one shift to the next and often from cleaner to cleaner.

"We had 450 custodians on staff and 450 different ways of cleaning," said Rex Morrison, facilities management specialist at Washoe County School District, Reno, Nev. "How can you manage a department like that?"

To make a change, Morrison analyzed how time and motion worked into existing cleaning processes and how workers could cover more square footage without having to work faster or harder. By incorporating the zone cleaning approach with the workloading and specialization principals of team cleaning, and adding in to the best practices identified by custodians working in his district, Morrison developed Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools.

"I am not a genius in cleaning," he says. "I just had more teachers than anybody else. That's been my success. I stop and listen to the smallest of ideas from my staff, then I add it to the program, or change it in a way that makes things easier and faster for the average custodian."

The end result has not only been a success for Washoe County, but neighboring counties have also adopted the program with great results. In fact, word of the program's success is quickly spreading to districts across the country.

"Whether they adopt it or not, other districts should look at Process Cleaning as an option," says Jack Marriott, custodial supervisor at Lyon County School District, Yerlington, Nev.

What Is Process Cleaning?

"Most custodians clean in circles and this is a program that will straighten them out," says Morrison. "It takes out the kinks and curves of cleaning by creating an easier and less time consuming way to do the job."

In Process Cleaning, workers are assigned to a specific zone within the facility and are responsible for all the cleaning necessary in that area. To capitalize on efficiencies, cleaning tasks are divided into four parts (same as those for team cleaning) — primary cleaning, vacuuming, restroom sanitation and deep cleaning. Workers start with part one (primary cleaning) and move throughout their entire zone before moving on to part two (vacuuming).

"There is no starting or stopping," says Morrison. "Every time workers start and stop something new, you lose time, motivation and concentration. We want to eliminate that."

Cleaning in a classroom using Process Cleaning is very systematic and requires workers to follow the steps precisely. Workers enter the room — locking the door behind them so there are no interruptions — and begin cleaning the door glass, then disinfect the door handle, light switch and phone. Cleaners then move on to disinfect the desktops and any sinks and counters in the classroom. At this point, workers will also make a note of any soap and paper that needs to be restocked (restocking these items occurs in step three).

Once finished disinfecting, workers empty the trash and pencil sharpeners and remove large debris from floors that can't be lifted by vacuuming. Finally, workers will clean the chalk/white boards and move on to the next room, doing the exact same thing.

"When you follow a process, it becomes a reflective part of the job," says Morrison. "You've eliminated the frustration of thinking of every step and second guessing whether you completed a task. It becomes routine."

Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain, Inc., Boise, Idaho, and supporter of the program, agrees, stating that when cleaning tasks become habit, speed will follow.

"It has been proven that you can develop processes that don't make workers work harder, but keep them in a state of flow," he says. "If you can create a state of flow, workers get in the grove and complete tasks quicker."

When finished cleaning the entire zone, workers move on to part two: vacuuming. Using backpack vacuums, Morrison instructs cleaners to divide classrooms into rows.

"Split the rows in half," says Morrison. "If right-handed, clean the left half all the way down the row, turn around and come back doing the other side so that it's comfortable."

The concept is based on ergonomics — right-handed workers are most comfortable pushing vacuums left and left-handed workers push right.

The process prevents stopping and starting, resulting in a continuous flow with the vacuum looping throughout the entire classroom.

Once vacuuming is finished, cleaners move on to restrooms where Process Cleaning incorporates touchless cleaning machines, squeegees and microfiber. Workers are instructed to clean from top to bottom while adhering to proper dwell times. This process has proven to remove germs and bacteria from fixtures and various surfaces quickly and effectively.

During this step, cleaners also restock soap and paper dispensers in restrooms and any classrooms.

Step number four is deep cleaning and tasks will vary based on the day of the week. None of these jobs require daily attention, but should be done on a weekly basis, for example vacuuming exhaust fans or scouring sinks, urinals and toilets.

For deep cleaning, workers zones are mapped into five parts, each corresponding to a different day of the week.

"Workers only do deep cleaning for one small area of the map each day," says Morrison. "When done, they've completed a little bit of the deep cleaning required for the week."

Although Lyon County is just beginning to implement the program, Marriott stands behind the four-step process.

"I have seen it work," says Marriott. "I have seen one lady clean 20 rooms and she is done in six hours, with time to do other things. Cleaners use their time more efficiently with this program."

Why Do It?

The steps to Process Cleaning are relatively straightforward, but some managers might question the benefits to such a simple concept. In reality, though, Process Cleaning is successful at addressing two primary challenges in schools — reduced budgets and cleaning for health.

According to Morrison, all school districts are struggling to maintain cleaning times and expectations on reduced budgets. In most departments, reaching the industry recommended 22,000 square feet of cleaned space per worker is challenging. But, with Process Cleaning, each worker can cover a reported 27,000 to 30,000 square feet, without having to work quicker or harder.

This additional productivity means that a department that previously ran on nine employees can now maintain the same level of cleaning with only seven and a half workers. If each employee is paid an average of $38,000 a year, the school could save roughly $57,000 in salaries alone. Apply that across a district and the simple switch in cleaning processes can reap large benefits.

"We have saved over $200,000 on custodial personnel [after one year on the program], and that is with adding a supervisor position," said Bill Blumenthal, custodial supervisor at Douglas County School District, Minden, Nev. "That doesn't even include the savings I find on a daily basis with price comparisons."

This reality raises fears that implementing Process Cleaning with result in layoffs, but Morrison has yet to see a single displaced worker as a result of implementing the program. Instead, most departments have capitalized on attrition.

For instance, Lyon County School District, Yerlington, Nev., has recently added a new middle school and will be able to fully staff it without hiring a single person. Instead, the school will be staffed by excess workers from other schools throughout the district.

But no matter the budget or the number of cleaners working, schools are required to maintain standards and promote healthy environments for children occupying the facility. Process Cleaning has proven to remove germ threats by incorporating microfiber and cleaning surfaces more frequently.

"Adopting Process Cleaning has raised the level of cleanliness in our schools," says Blumenthal. "We went from trash, vacuuming and sometimes on breaks hitting the desk tops, to hitting them every night, as well as sharpeners, boards, light fixtures, etc. We've increased areas, saved money and improved the overall health."

The program has proved to be successful for Morrison as well. He comments that in just three years after implementing Process Cleaning, studies revealed an increase in daily student attendance by roughly 6.5 percent. With the increase, schools have also reported higher standardized test scores.

"Custodial workers traditionally don't see a lot of pats on the back, but these statistics show that the staff has contributed to the education of the students," says Morrison. "We are proud of that fact."

Blumenthal believes that districts have the talent they need right in their own departments, but they just need to become more organized. This is a system that provides direction and organization resulting in cleaning efficiencies.

"There is so much potential beyond what is being done in the industry to create a concept that is descriptive and specific in how to do certain tasks," says Rathey. "Process Cleaning develops steps that explain exactly how something should be done every single time to guarantee success."