Ben Walker Headshot

In 2023, I will check off an exciting milestone — my 20th year of working in the cleaning industry. Naturally, this anniversary has me reflecting on where we've been, especially as we look ahead to the upcoming year's prospects.   

Metaphorically speaking, I've spent most of the past 20 years climbing, crawling and sometimes clawing my way up to my current vantage point. With the vigor of youth escaping my grasp, I've come to a necessary fork in the road. I realize that my role is no longer to keep climbing but to help others find the path and mark the trail for future adventure seekers. That path includes these consistent markers:  

Team Cleaning   

It's no secret that I've long advocated for this engineering cleaning approach. When departments ask how they can improve, I always start with team cleaning. In my experience, it is the foundation of every high-performing cleaning operation. I've learned over the years that it also works well with operations of all sizes.   

Team cleaning enables custodial operations to standardize the workload into a balanced set of functions. Rather than assigning a rate to every cleaning task that may be required annually in a facility — all of which have unique speeds per square foot — team cleaning breaks things down into four manageable specialties.   

In less verbose terms, it is a process scalable to needs rather than beholden to headcount — a benefit often overlooked. When implemented and managed correctly, it becomes an anchor for operational consistency. This leads to the next marker.  


I tend to beat this drum frequently. It's an issue that most cleaning operations are passionate about, yet many struggle to define and implement.   

Standardization affects the delivery of a consistent level of service and set-up. A relatable example that I like to use is that of McDonald's. Whether you enjoy their food, business ethics or brand, everyone knows what to expect from the fast-food burger chain. I can order a Big Mac in Salt Lake City or Venice, Italy, and it will taste the same, the restaurant will look the same, and it will come in the same packaging.  

Magically pulling together the tens of thousands of variables: the building, the grill, the fryers, the soda machine, the menu, the employees, the training, the business plan, and the materials to put it all together in a way so customers consistently have the same experience. That’s what standardization brings to the table.  


Finally, there's sustainability, which has become an overarching term that includes everything from “greening” your operation to evaluating the impact of your process in reducing its effects. They're all accurate, and all play an essential role in preserving our precious environments and reducing our global impact.   

When you think about it, cleaning in its most pristine definition is sustainability. Reducing the impact of what comes into our built environment, in harmony with the impact of what goes out, is the essential loop to close in our lifetime.   

Maintaining the longevity of our facilities not only defines who we are as a species, but also gives future generations a model to follow forward. We tend to live in a throwaway culture, especially regarding our buildings. Cleaning plays a significant role in sustaining culture, history, progress and, most importantly, our health.   

I often lament the noise surrounding the industry. With so many shiny objects to continually chase, it's important to remember the foundations of our work. Every time I feel like I've gotten lost in the wilderness, these are the cairns that I look for when reclaiming the path.