Staffing Challenges Facing Cleaning Departments

I’m often told that the cleaning industry is always innovating and progressing. The people trying to convince me are usually manufacturer sales people of chemicals, tools and machinery. But my eyes tend to gloss over when I hear it because the pitch is usually the same: “A miracle product will revolutionize the way buildings are cleaned.” “It’s going to make you more productive.” “It will cut costs.”

I always wonder to myself, do they not realize that supply/consumable budgets are fairly static and, if there is going to be a cost savings, it’s most likely going to impact labor budgets? Are they effectively selling you on a product that will reduce your head count?

Perhaps it’s because I’m on the wrong side of 40 and am becoming more impatient with the status-quo. I tire quickly of the product discussion because it doesn’t address our biggest headache — the service we provide. For better or worse, we are in the service industry.

This is why I was surprised when a friend passed along an article about Amazon piloting residential cleaning services in Seattle. While this concept is only impacting the residential market currently, it is by no means time to sit back and watch. The gig economy is evolving and on its way to the professional cleaning industry. Residential cleaning is an estimated $16 billion juggernaut, so it’s only a matter of time before the mainstream mindset catches on and demands similar services for the commercial demographic.

Modern gig labor is everywhere. Every time you request a ride from Uber or Lyft, you’re using gig labor. Recent studies show that the trend increased by 50 percent between 2005 and 2015. In fact, according to a recent economic study, it accounts for over 90 percent of overall job growth in the past decade.

We are at an important three-way fork in the road and we have to choose a route:


This is a big opportunity for professional cleaning managers to define the parameters of how we will be affected by the gig economy. The way I see it, it’s an opportunity to advance our profession.

It is also our chance to set the standard of service. What education and professional credentials should we expect? How is frequency determined? What price are we willing to pay, and what risk and liability are we willing to assume? If we proactively work to shape the space, we can be equal and active partners.

With the current bustling economy, many of my biggest in-house clients are dealing with an unbelievable rate of vacancies and have been forced to rely on temporary labor. The problem they frequently encounter, however, is the difficulty to find reliable labor. This is where the gig economy will step in.


Of course, we could do nothing and just accept this as the new normal. This service-oriented mindset of crowdsourced labor will ultimately be driven by ease of use. The decision to use one type of service will be driven not only by price, but by peace of mind.

When those come together, we will officially be competing with gig labor for our careers. Gig labor will be able to provide a quick, efficient, simplified service that competes with our burdened labor rate.

The smart workers who sense the shift will be the first to leave our departments to become freelanced independent labor. They’ll be enticed by flexible schedules and being able to pick and choose which jobs they take. It’ll also be difficult for those in charge of schedules and the financial people responsible for justifying line items in budgets. This will lead us to an eventual sad conclusion.


If we fail to adapt or migrate, the need for services we provide will eventually die off. With an aging workforce and a lack of incoming young talent, the gig economy will eventually take over.

This is our chance to make our work attractive to a younger demographic and work with them to implement change, instead of scaring them off. We have an opportunity to be innovative and prepare for a new status quo. 

Ben Walker is Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA’s best selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks.