Facility managers, in recent years, have raised the bar when it comes to how buildings look and perform. Cleaning, as part of the facility mission, is more important than ever and cleaning managers are being asked to “walk the walk” when it comes to these higher expectations. Not that the stakes haven’t always been high when it comes to cleaning — but the pressure to reach higher performance benchmarks seems to be getting greater and greater.

The pressure appears to be intense in four particular areas and the mantra is: “cleaner, greener, cheaper, faster”!

Research and resistance
“Whatever is asked, be proactive and research it,” says Brian Slocum, custodial supervisor at School District 67 Shana/Okanagan in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. “Become involved in the decision process and go back to management with informed research to back your claims.”

He continues, “Your argument might not be accepted, but at least you will have a say in the matter.”

If change is imminent, it is up to the housekeeping manager to successfully implement a new program. The most difficult part of doing so often comes once employees get involved. More likely than not, managers will receive resistance from their staff.

“Any time there is change, there will be some sort of feedback from the staff,” says John Noonan, building service manager at Milwaukee, Wis.-based Social Development Commission. “Usually one party likes the new program, and the other doesn’t.”

In situations like this, communication is key. Make sure employees understand the products they will be using and the direction the department is going in. Let them know that they will have help along the way and that any change is gradual.

Green cleaning
Green cleaning is a topic that ranks high on facility manager’s lists of expectations, and with good reason. Whether cleaning departments implement one or two green products, or certify their entire department, cleaning for the environment can also result in cleaning for health.

Custodial managers can implement green cleaning in a variety of ways and for a number of reasons. Industry experts stress that it is important for cleaning supervisors to start small and work their way up to a full program.

One of the easiest ways to implement green — according to sources — is to start by evaluating the chemical program. Talk to distributors about dispensing systems, equipment options, training, etc. But most importantly, determine what best fits the facility before implementing a full green program.

Slocum began his green cleaning program by simplifying his chemicals and switching to multi-functional cleaners. As a result, he has seen a positive change. Equipment and tools are kept cleaner, surfaces are noticeably brighter and his employees are excited to be part of such positive change.

Even facility managers who are more concerned with cleaning for health than cleaning for the environment can benefit from green.

Noonan, for instance, doesn’t focus on green, but has seen increased cases of asthma in his facilities and wanted to look at the impact his cleaning products had on it. He turned to his cleaning manager for answers on how disinfectants affect asthma and whether or not implementing microfiber programs would help improve the health among building occupants.

Indoor air quality is also especially important in Slocum’s schools. To offset the affects cleaning had on the quality of air, he was proactive and implemented a microfiber program and HEPPA vacuums, in addition to peroxide cleaners.

“Now, no one can say the custodial department is contributing to the poor air quality,” he says.

Cleaner facilities
According to custodial supervisors, more and more facility managers are focusing their attention on clean. Whether that means appearance or stricter sanitization and disinfection, custodial supervisors will have to adjust to meet these demands.

In previous years, the cleaning standards in Noonan’s facilities varied from room to room, and again by facility. This method often resulted in a less-than-ideal outcome — visually and in terms of building occupant health.

To help the custodial crew achieve his expectations, Noonan put his standards in writing. He evaluated each facility, and determined his expectations of clean. He then developed cleaning standards for each type of surface found in the buildings.

The standards included a timeline for everything from vacuuming carpets and sweeping and waxing floors, to sanitizing toilets and sinks.

“We spelled out our expectations and we expect these standards of clean to be followed,” Noonan says.

Facility managers stress the importance for cleaning supervisors to develop their own cleaning standards. Doing so will it provide a benchmark for the department and outline expectations of the staff.

Clean faster and cheaper
Industry experts argue that expecting workers to perform the same number of tasks in a shorter period of time is anything but a new demand of facility managers. What’s new is that these demands are even higher than before. After all, quicker cleaning times result in more work completed by fewer employees. That, in turn, can reduce costs.

“Timeliness is a big factor,” says Noonan. “It is important to provide the best results and reach staff satisfaction in a timely manner.”

Cleaning managers across the country have been working to reduce cleaning times for years, but their work is never done. Facility managers expect even more. That is why it is so important for cleaning supervisors to be familiar with every aspect of their program so, when asked, they are prepared to either plead their case as to why they can’t cut back, or implement change to meet expectations.

Slocum comments that his cleaning programs have become tighter and tighter as years go on. Work assignments and accurate scheduling affect workload capabilities, enabling him to reduce redundancy throughout the department.

“I do a lot of research on cleaning times,” he says. “Now we get to the root of cleaning problems and no one is being asked to do more than they should.”

Successful housekeeping managers see these expectations as opportunities. It is an opportunity to become more effective and create a department that is more efficient. Start looking at making positive changes, such as implementing time-saving equipment, chemical systems or employee training. Often, the initial cost will pay off with huge savings in the end.

Knowing your facility, your employee expectations and understanding the work necessary to maintain the building will also make implementing change easier on housekeeping departments.

For instance, if cuts are imminent, custodial supervisors recommend evaluating waste removal.

“Collect trash only two days a week and recycling the other two days,” says one manager. “On the fifth day, cleaners can spend their time wiping down surfaces throughout the facility.”

Reducing employee hours can also save departments a lot of money. Instead of eliminating a full-time employee, recommend cutting everyone’s hours from 40 to 37.5. Make the best out of a bad situation by presenting practical results.

“You have to have a track record and be prepared to present time-tested results to upper management,” says Slocum. “You have to be proactive.”

Talking to facility managers
It is important to always communicate with the facility managers about their cleaning expectations. Don’t be afraid to tell them the true consequences of their demands and the dollars involved.

At the same time, provide alternative plans that indicate other ways to get the job done. Become an expert on the facility and provide valuable feedback.

If a change needs to be made, evaluate various ways the cleaning department can successfully implement that change. Then, make sure to follow up with facility managers to let them know the progress.

Slocum comments that if custodial supervisors make every effort to meet expectations, upper management will see the added value to that commitment.

“Everyone wants immediate changes or fixes, but very rarely do they work without a lot of resistance,” Slocum says. “Make sure to demonstrate the need and benefits of a change to both the cleaning staff and upper management.”