Chances are, Bill Garland doesn’t know a biocide from a disinfectant, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help you with your mission
statement. Garland and other key industry observers are in the catbird’s seat because of their experiences as leaders of any one of a number of industry associations or interest groups.

Name a discipline — real estate, property management, construction and design, facility administration, health, safety and security, to name just a few — and chances are you’ll quickly come up with a corresponding association.

Housekeeping’s no exception, and housekeeping professionals, from time to time, might benefit from tapping into some other facility management disciplines for a perspective that’s constructive and helpful, but perhaps unique to their own corner of the facility world.

Garland, for example, is a former top official with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), and speaking from the building owner’s perspective sees housekeeping as the first line of defense for not only keeping buildings healthy, but safeguarding the health of its occupants. Makes sense when you appreciate that the average BOMA member is consumed with issues like sick building syndrome, indoor air quality, mold remediation and the quality of the environment.

“Building managers and school administrators are beginning to recognize the importance of housekeeping operations overall,” says Beth Risinger, CEO and executive director of the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA). “They have come to realize that if they don’t keep railings, door, elevators, etc. clean, they will have to shut the property down.”

And while housekeeping associations might share a common cleaning goal, vocabularies can vary. Depending on the mission you support, you might be a housekeeper, an executive housekeeper or an environmental specialist, and belong to an association that best matches your vertical mission.

According to Patty Costello, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES), the mission of the environmental services departments in a hospital setting, for example, is very similar to the ASHES mission itself: “Set the standard for excellence and provide a clean and safe healthcare environment,” she says.

How do members of the various industry green movements view the housekeeping mission? “The primary function of a housekeeping department is to create a healthy and high-performing department that maximizes the performance within the building,” says Steve Ashkin, founder of the Ashkin Group and a consultant for the Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments.

Market-specific issues
Green cleaning:
Commercial and facility cleaning departments have become more tuned in to various environmental objectives. For housekeeping, this means using sustainable products that not only get the job done, but also facilitate a safe working environment.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) drives green cleaning initiatives through its “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) program. “Housekeeping is a vital part of the green building initiative and the entire green building system,” says Taryn Holowka, communications manager at USGBC. LEED–EB (existing buildings) specifically deals with on-going operations and maintenance practices.

By meeting specific cleaning-related goals, departments can earn 13 or more points towards certification (32 total points are required for the minimum certification). Because green cleaning is vital to businesses working towards certification there has been an increase in green certified product lines. These products, as well as those currently going through the certification process, are expected to drive future initiatives.

When considering green initiatives, “it is best to get everyone involved in the program at the table when laying out the plan to become LEED certified,” says Holowka. “The result will be an overall reduction in utilities, happier and more effective employees and good public relations for the company and the entire community.”

Staffing and employee turnover: There is no question that this is one topic that is always at the top of both housekeeping and facility management lists.

Ashkin says that the reasons it is difficult to retain quality employees is simple: “Employers often don’t pay the cleaning staff enough,” he says. “The hours or environment aren’t ideal, proper training isn’t provided, workloads aren’t balanced properly, or often it is because the employer doesn’t respect its cleaning staff.”

Garland says BOMA members are struggling with turnover. “Many organizations are going from full- to part-time employees who all work on day cleaning. Although this allows employers to keep an eye on their staff, worker’s shifts have dropped from eight to five hours.” This trend, according to Garland, has forced quality employees to search for jobs that provide more hours per week.

Budgets and the threat of outsourcing: Environmental services and housekeeping departments are being asked to do more with less. Budget restrictions have resulted in reduced staffing and new equipment purchases are often put on hold. The result: employees are working longer and harder to get the job done.

“Forty-one percent of our members saw a budget increase for housekeeping departments between 2004 and 2005,” according to IEHA’s Risinger. “This showed that even though administrators are better equipping workers with materials and chemicals, they aren’t increasing their staffing levels.”

Contractors have been more than happy to fill the manpower void and have stepped up marketing efforts to emphasize the extent to which they can get a job done quicker, and better. Many in-house cleaning operations aren’t equipped to tackle tasks like infection control. Ditto for green cleaning, but for different reasons. Again, many contractors have embraced both issues as a “cause celebre” and a way of recruiting new customers.

“Contractors really get on top of these issues and preach them to management in an effort to take over the jobs,” says Risinger.

Holowka adds, “They have started promoting themselves as green contractors and it is forcing in-house departments to get on board or risk losing out.”

Even though contractors are often seen as an anathema by in-house departments, the two should consider working together when possible to maintain a safe and healthy environment. Because there has been a trend toward even tighter budgets and staffing levels, in-house departments may have trouble completing certain tasks. Industry professionals recommend that departments manage the day-to-day work and outsource specific or infrequent tasks.

It is important to “do what is in the best interest of your department. You are all members of the same team with a common goal,” says Costello.

“You need to do the best job you can and make sure that you are viewed as the subject management expert in your facility.”

Disaster readiness: As a result of recent terror attacks and natural disasters, housekeeping and environmental service departments are re-evaluating departmental procedures.

“Departments need data and accurate information in order to establish best practices and clinical standards for the work they have to do,” says Costello.

“ASHES is also focusing tremendous effort in the development of recommended practices prior to the next hurricane season.”

Product trends: In recent months, the industry has been bombarded with “green” products. The USGBC is one association that offers information on its Web site dedicated to green cleaning and the types of products that should be used.

“The drive for environmentally friendly products is becoming more mainstream,” says Holowka. “It is in the forefront of peoples’ thinking and we are seeing more green strategies coming out. So much so that we are looking at changing the certification system to continue challenging the industry.”

Many manufacturers are also improving existing products to make cleaning tasks safe, healthy, fast and even more efficient.

Products such as microfiber, quieter vacuum cleaners, battery-powered carpet sweepers and odorless chemicals are just a few examples of product research and development.

“We have seen more changes in the last five years than we have seen in the last 25 years,” Garland says. “Twenty years ago you wouldn’t see people looking at ergonomic products, for example, but it has really taken off in recent years.”

Analyzing the trends among a variety of facility management disciplines may help shape a housekeeping mission. As trends become harder and harder to keep on top of — let alone, analyze — industry associations may prove to be a good partner in managing the information flow and sorting out the most important issues.

In addition to staying close to the key issues being addressed by relevant industry associations, don’t forget about your cleaning “customers.” What internal customer issues drive the way you manage and implement cleaning?

“Sounding boards,” in general, can also be invaluable to the decision-making process. When it comes to shaping your mission — the more the merrier.