Where are you most likely to find 11 players with different talents and responsibilities working together toward a common goal? Hint: They huddle together on a regular basis under the auspices of the Big Ten. If you guessed football field, close but no cigar.

You’ll find them manicuring a gridiron, perhaps, but also frequenting the physical plant department, the classroom, the laboratory and even the restroom — one of many public areas they concern themselves with.

They’re managers of the various building services departments supporting the Big Ten university system. For more than 45 years, these building services managers and staff have huddled together to share the cleaning and management problems common to academic building environments.

The Big Ten Building Services Administrators Conference location rotates every year from campus to campus. Engineering, physical maintenance and housekeeping challenges and solutions are shared in what one longtime attendee termed an experience exchange.

“It’s an experience exchange during which people share situations, programs, processes and problems,” says Gregory D. Fichter, assistant director of physical plant at Indiana University. “We ‘steal’ the best ideas from other schools and incorporate them into our operations. We also see trends that affect schools all over the country.”

The 2003 conference, hosted by the University of Iowa, focused on the key issues confronting facilities professionals, in general, and facilities operations management, in particular. Housekeeping Solutions recently talked to a number of conference attendees and came away with a microcosm of today’s salient housekeeping challenges, as well as a sense of the growing relevance of the housekeeping mission to the facility management mission — not to mention the manner in which housekeepers throughout the Big Ten system are being challenged to think outside the box.

1 Making a list, checking it twice

University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
28,705 students
240 custodians clean more than
7 million square feet
Dave Jackson, assistant director of cleaning (15 years)
Darlene Clausen, instructional designer and performance consultant
(in current position for four years; with the university 22 years)
Training is an essential but costly component for any organization. To make sure employees — and administration — was getting the most out of a new-employee training program, University of Iowa building services came up with a simple yet effective way to better train new recruits: custodial orientation checklists. New employees traditionally went through a general orientation delivered by supervisors, group leaders and administration members. But sometimes certain trainers would forget to cover a topic and often employees with procedural questions couldn’t remember whether to ask the group leader, the supervisor or administration a particular question.

“To make sure everything is covered, we made a checklist of what new people need to learn, listed by priority,” says Darlene Clausen, instructional designer and performance consultant for the university. “This way, we have a record of what they have been told.” Also, according to Clausen, group leaders, supervisors and administration each have their own checklists, so employees can trace procedural matters to the appropriate training source.

Custodians and the supervisor or group leader sign off on each list as it is completed. Then, after three months, the checklists are reviewed with custodians.

“A lot of Big Ten universities are working really hard to continue to improve operations and impact the bottom line,” says Dave Jackson, assistant director of cleaning. “This was a way to capitalize on the training process.”

Checklists are available for viewing at http://www.uiowa.edu/~fusfsg/admin/staffdev/custorient.htm.

2 Not your typical team-cleaning approach
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.
37,197 students
386 custodians clean nearly
13 million square feet
Nathan Norman, director of plant building services (10 years)
John Gleason, assistant manager of plant building services (23 years)
Team cleaning is a housekeeping approach higher education cleaning managers are intimately familiar with. To better serve customers and increase customer satisfaction, Nathan Norman, director of plant building services at the University of Michigan, developed his own version of team cleaning, which he describes as “self-directed, high-performance.” Custodial work teams are divided up by buildings. Norman says the teams take ownership in their buildings. The teams share the mission of cleaning a particular building or buildings and are empowered to come up with their own task assignments and cleaning strategies.

“Employees are empowered to use their knowledge and work with the customer,” says John Gleason, assistant manager of plant building services. “Also, customers feel free to grab any custodian in the building and ask for something to be done instead of waiting for ‘their custodian.’ There are no problems with custodians who say ‘that’s not my job.’”

Custodians take on many typical management tasks, such as ordering supplies and inspecting other custodians’ work. Supervisors oversee a large number of employees — at least 30 — and focus more on administrative work.

“High-performance teams are not for every institution,” says Norman. “You have to invest upfront before it’s profitable.”

Norman says employees go through a meticulous training program during which they learn how to think as a team and work together without hostility.

3 Cleaning with the competition
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
54,989 students
275 custodians clean
10.5 million square feet
Becky Hines, director of building services
(two years in position; with Ohio State for 30 years)
One thing that works at Ohio State University — for as long as Becky Hines can remember — is not a new concept for building services. Cleaning contractors make up nearly half — 45 percent — of the custodial staff.

“It’s always worked,” says Hines, director of building services. “It’s a nice, healthy mix.”

Hines says some customers prefer contractors and some prefer in-house custodians. Employees are broken up by building or by groups of buildings. In-house workers are not mixed with contractors. Contractors train their own staffs to clean, but Ohio State building services oversees the contractor.

She says the 45/55 staff division creates healthy competition for employees.

“Outsourcing is not a threat to [in-house] employees,” Hines says. “But [having contractors] creates an atmosphere where everyone works at their maximum potential and the customer benefits from that.”

4 Rubbing elbows with customers
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ind.
37,871 students
250 custodians clean
5.5 million square feet
Jay Schwartz, director of building services and grounds
(13 years at Purdue; in current position since May 2003)
When customers expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of cleaning provided by the Purdue building services night shift, the building services managers got together to come up with ways to address the problem. Many managers agreed with the theory that since the night shift employees were “invisible” to customers (custodians work from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.), customers might conclude that no cleaning is being done.

“The university is kind of like Disneyland,” says Jay Schwartz, director of building services and grounds. “People don’t see everything that goes into making it what it is.”

Managers thought that a change in night-shift hours to 3 a.m.-11:30 a.m., would make custodians visible to customers for the first four hours of the day and custodians would be also be accessible to their campus “customers.”

Also, Schwartz says, studies have shown that employees who work an early-morning shift versus a late-night shift experience fewer injuries and are more productive because they are more alert.

Last August, the building services department performed a 30-day test-run of the 3 a.m.-11:30 a.m. shift in four buildings on campus.

“Customers in one of the buildings said they did not want to see custodians in the building,” Schwartz says. “They didn’t want to see carts in the hallways. They said that just wasn’t the image they wanted for the building.”

But after 30 days, customers decided they liked the convenience of having a custodian in the building. If there was a spill or other cleaning-related problem, customers tell the custodian on duty rather than call for help and wait for someone to respond to the job.

With better customer/custodian interaction, building services received fewer customer complaints and custodian morale improved. Other benefits: reduced employee absenteeism, decreased employee turnover, less overtime hours and better supervisory coverage.

A drawback: Night custodians on the traditional 10:30 p.m.-7 a.m. shift often serve as an extra set of eyes for security staff and also are responsible for locking up the buildings. Schwartz says during the test-run about a dozen employees took care of locking the buildings.

5 Managing the front line
Indiana University
Bloomington, Ind.
36,000 students
250 custodians clean about
8 million square feet of academic space
Gregory D. Fichter, assistant director of physical plant (24 years)
In the cleaning profession, workers often are promoted to management positions without necessarily demonstrating the requisite management skills.

To address this issue, the building services division of the physical plant department at Indiana University developed its own leadership training program for employees interested in advancing within the department.

“[The program] is a way to make sure those in leadership roles have leadership skills,” says Gregory D. Fichter, assistant director of physical plant. “It is a tool that helps us establish and maintain a high-quality management team.”

Employees volunteer to enroll in the nine-month program. Anyone on staff can apply for the program, but they must compete for the three or four management training positions that are available each year.

“It’s like applying for any job,” Fichter says. “Applicants have to meet certain criteria. For example, they have to have about a year of benefit time built up and they have to demonstrate that they are consistently good employees with good communication skills and a desire to represent the management team in the proper manner.” An internal committee of senior management team members interviews and selects candidates.

Group leadership training includes written projects, training and coaching skills training, public speaking, expressing opinions on philosophies and issues, and acting as a group leader on the job. Once a candidate is chosen and successfully completes the program, they are the only people who are eligible to become group leaders for the organization.

Fichter says group leaders are critical because of the flexibility of their roles. They are responsible for conducting inspections and leading special project work. Many times, the group leader is the person setting the standard in the operation because the employees interact on a more regular basis with then than they do the supervisor.

“As with most service organizations, the ‘battle for an effective operation’ is won or lost on the front line,” Fichter says. “There is a direct correlation between the quality of the front-line management personnel and the level of productivity, employee morale and service provided by the work force. The more we prepare our leaders before they assume their roles, the better our operation will be.”

6 ‘Beautiful U Day’
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minn.
60,000 students
471 custodial employees clean
10.2 million square feet
Ruthann Manlet, facilities shift supervisor (20 years)
Recognizing that aesthetics play a large part in students’ choice of a university, the University of Minnesota in 1997 launched “Beautiful U Day,” an annual campaign that focuses on improving the aesthetic appearance of the university’s interior and exterior.

Each year, “Beautiful U Day” has a different focus such as grounds care or recycling. In 2003, custodians took the spotlight with the “Beautiful Classrooms Campaign.” Custodians were recognized for their role in creating a comfortable, clean and well-maintained classroom environment. The campaign also encouraged students to help keep classrooms clean.

As part of “Beautiful U Day” activities, the “Beautiful Classroom Campaign” included a student/custodial challenge. Following a brief explanation of custodial jobs, students participated in a chalkboard-cleaning competition. Students also inspected classrooms and filled out damage and deficiency reports.

“Students gained a better understanding of what custodians do,” says Ruthann Manlet, facilities shift supervisor. The activities also gave custodians a greater sense of pride, she says.

Custodians also were nominated by supervisors, colleagues and the Office of Classroom Management (OCM) for the “Classroom Achievement Award.” The traveling trophy will go from building to building with each year’s winners.
Two custodians responsible for cleaning the university’s science classroom building received the award in 2003 for their outstanding custodial work.

Facilities management has been working closely with the OCM for the past two years to improve classroom cleanliness and appearance.

In addition to regular supervisor inspections, 10-15 student “sweepers” employed by OCM carry a checklist, inspecting classrooms each day.

“OCM gave us a two-hour presentation on what they expect classrooms to look like,” Manlet says. “It’s a huge buy-in for us.”

7 Closing ranks for efficiency’s sake
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich.
43,159 students
285 custodians, including student custodians clean
11 million square feet
Gus Gosselin, director of building services department (15 years)
Up until last summer, custodial and maintenance departments operated independently at Michigan State University. Like two ships passing in the night, the two departments were pretty much oblivious of each other’s mission. Then, for the first time in 20 years, custodial and maintenance departments joined forces under the same director.

By creating one building services department, administrators hoped custodians and maintenance staff — working toward a common goal — could better respond to customers’ service requests.

“We want to focus on communication between maintenance and custodial departments,” says Gus Gosselin, former manager of maintenance services and now director of building services. “With cooperation and coordination of the two departments we can provide better, quicker service.” For example, custodians can report a broken restroom stall or burned-out lightbulb to the maintenance staff before the customer does.

“By being under one director we have eliminated one level of communications that needed to take place to get a problem resolved,” Gosselin says. “Custodians have a better sense of confidence that a malfunction they report will be repaired swiftly.”

8 Design with maintenance in mind
Penn State University
University Park, Pa.
40,571 students
custodial employees currently clean
10 million gross square feet; adding
1.6 million square feet within the next two years
Greg Andersen, manager of area services (13 years)
Many Big Ten universities are experiencing growth. Take Penn State, for example. The campus square feet will increase by 10 percent within the next two years. To meet the new cleaning requirement, Greg Andersen, manager of area services, has to be prepared to staff building and take on cleaning challenges related to new surfaces and areas. He says the building services department will hire approximately 50 custodians, not including supervisors.

“We are used to [dealing with] new construction, but not to this magnitude,” Andersen says. “Usually we are dealing with an addition to a building or one new building. This time the capital construction plan is ... large. We are getting 13 new buildings, including a new parking deck.”

“The new spaces are no longer typical institutional-type buildings with plain hallways and vinyl tile floors,” Andersen says. “We are dealing more and more with high-end finishes and plush interiors.”

The newest edition, the School of Information Science and Technology, opened in December. The building consists of high-tech classrooms and a cybertorium.

Andersen says architects sometimes consider suggestions from campus cleaning managers on surface options, but often maintainability is overshadowed by architectural design considerations.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of accepting ‘that’s the way it’s going to be,’” he says. “But we make sure we get cleaning recommendations from manufacturers of finishes.”

9 Breaking down language barriers
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wis.
41,219 students
354 custodians and lead workers clean approximately
2.2 or 2.3 million square feet
Phil Thornton, custodial programs supervisor (24 years)

The custodial staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison represents a large percentage of non-English-speaking employees. To ensure good communication with staff, the operations department offers an “English-as-a-Second-Language” program.

“You can’t guarantee safety if you can’t communicate,” says Phil Thornton, custodial programs supervisor.

During their work shifts, employees attend a class that focuses on cleaning-related terms.

“Having people in class reduces what we can do in a night’s time,” Thornton says. “We thought our English-speaking employees would feel resentful toward non-English-speaking employees for having to pick up the workload, but they weren’t. They are interested in communicating with [non-English-speaking employees].”

Thornton says employees who take the class often make friends or establish carpools with classmates.

The program is financed through the operations budget and a federal grant.

The department also subscribes to a 24-hour translation service through an 800 number and provides work rules in a number of languages.

10 Buying into discipline
University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign, Ill.
36,738 students
350 custodians and supervisors clean more than
10 million square feet
Carl Townsend, assistant superintendent of building services (19 years)
About five years ago, the University of Illinois building services administration toyed with ways to improve its employee discipline and suspension program.

“No employee has ever come back from disciplinary suspension without pay and said they love their job,” says Carl Townsend, assistant superintendent of building services. “They come back bitter and want to get back at their employer. We wanted to change that behavior.”

The program gives employees the chance to modify their behavior before dismissal. They receive a paid one-day suspension and a second chance.

Townsend says he wants employees to acknowledge the problem and have an opportunity to correct the problem without affecting the employee’s income.

For example, an employee who has a problem coming to work on time is assigned to a performance improvement discussion session.

If the employee continues to have a problem, a “personnel officer” gets involved. A meeting occurs with supervisors, the personnel officer and the employee. The employee gets a six-month work performance “reminder.”

“It’s like probation,” Townsend says. “After six months, it is removed from the person’s file. The employee gets the idea that this is serious.”

If the employee still comes to work late, another meeting is scheduled with the personnel officer. If the problem occurs within the six-month probation, the work performance reminder is extended to 12 months.

Finally, if the worker still is not making it to work on time, the next step is “decision-making leave.” The employee gets a one-day paid suspension. The employee is told to come back the next work day with the decision to either correct the problem and commit to the job or quit.

“About 50 percent of employees actually make changes in behavior,” Townsend says. “It empowers employees to make the decision.”

11 Great expectations
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.
7,400 students
122 custodians clean
240 acres
Michael Schwartz, manager of custodial services (13 years)
Northwestern University is the only private institution in the Big Ten.

“Being private has some advantages,” says Michael Schwartz, manager of custodial services. “Although we still have to bid and justify our decisions, we don’t have to take the bottom low [bid] on everything. We have a little more fluidity on getting services and products.”

Schwartz says he believes that Northwestern has higher cleaning standards than a lot of other universities, which can be a challenge for custodial staff.

“It’s not that we are better than other universities,” he says, “but because we are private, we have a stronger desire to attract people.”

While many universities have cut down on the number of times per week trash is picked up in office areas, for example, Northwestern still offers daily trash removal.

“Our faculty [members] are used to high standards,” he says. “One professor used to walk the buildings and called me about a candy bar wrapper on the third-floor stairwell.” Schwartz says that wrapper is tacked to his bulletin board.