Undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge in the 17th century were expected to write exercises on topics that were considered impossible to prove. The exercises were called prolusions. A popular topic for a prolusion was, “day is more excellent than night.” When the prolusion was finished, the student would then be assigned to write on the topic “night is more excellent than day.”

A similar debate has been underway in the cleaning industry for many years. When is the more excellent time to clean?

The driving forces
Some industry experts say rising energy costs and a labor shortage will combine to make the practice of cleaning at night untenable. Several articles and presentations in the past few months have evangelized the notion that day cleaning is the only way to face the future.

The day-cleaning discussion seems to be based on a couple of false premises, i.e. everybody is cleaning at night. Many, if not most, organizations are already day cleaning and have been from day one. Nearly all K-12 schools are day-cleaned. Generally speaking, universities do most cleaning on first and second shifts. Same with health care, churches and the military.

So should custodial departments convince their building occupants to change all cleaning to day shifts? I’d be conservative and watch the day-cleaning concept develop.

Proponents of the switch to day cleaning argue lower energy and labor costs. In most of the in-house cleaned environments, putting energy and cleaning labor ahead of the function of the organization make for an upside-down economy. Is it cost effective to lose productivity of highly paid office workers in buildings while they wait for the restroom to reopen or slip and fall on a recently mopped floor?

Businesses serve customers. Employees enable the business to serve customers. Cleaning workers are there to support and help the business function, not the other way around.

Hidden costs
Day cleaning might help reduce some energy costs by turning lights off. But the building’s financial management, not custodial, will most likely see those lower costs. While hiring cleaners to work during the daylight hours might be easier and help to keep employees longer, operations could lose some of their good employees who use the night shift as a second job.

When considering the costs of switching to day cleaning, custodial operations need to think about buying new, quieter equipment as well as how working around customers will impact productivity.

But the biggest drawback may be what it does to the dynamics of your relationships with occupants. Proponents of day cleaning cite that if the day worker doesn’t do the job properly, the building occupants will get them to do the job right. You think your supervisor’s job is tough now? Wait until every occupant in the building is empowered to send your cleaners on errands.

Decisions, decisions
Deciding which cleaning time works best for you and your customer hinges on several factors. For example, how much will cleaning disrupt the workflow of building occupants?

The best solution may be flexibility. Early morning shifts work well for some facilities, as do late afternoon and early evening crews. Certain types of businesses with minimal traffic may adapt perfectly to day-cleaning strategies.

Other facilities with heavy traffic, designated rush hours, and lots of hard-floor surface areas will be less flexible in cleaning hours.

Winning strategies
Combining day and night schedules may give cleaning managers the best of both worlds. Many operations effectively use the porter position to give the impression of personal service without putting the entire cleaning staff within easy reach of other building occupants.

Wise energy use, day or night, will save you money.

Most important, work when it’s safest for janitors and building occupants. Wet floors, equipment noise, chemical exposure and even a trailing machine cord can be hazards.

Remember, the cost of cleaning is a small part of your building’s total cost of doing business. Whether you argue for day or night cleaning, make sure the schedule complements, not complicates, how your building occupants conduct business.

John P.Walker is the owner of ManageMen consulting services in Salt Lake City. He also is the founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.