Staffing Strategies for Your Cleaning and Maintenance Program

Imagine for a moment you’ve just won the lottery. With part of your winnings you’ve decided to buy that outrageously expensive car of your dreams, a custom-made beauty with everything you’ve always wanted. Can you picture it?

Now let’s imagine you’re in the factory watching as the car is built. To your horror, it doesn’t look anything like what you requested. The front door is sticking through the hood and the steering wheel is mounted on the back bumper. You demand an explanation from the manufacturer, who replies that he always works this way. The workers are assigned to build a car and he allows them to do it however they see fit.

That imaginary tale represents reality when it comes to the way many facilities perform cleaning. Just as you wouldn’t dream of spending money on a car that didn’t meet your specifications, managers shouldn’t waste their budgets on cleaning processes that don’t work.

Sadly, most operations are very loosely organized when it comes to staffing. An important part of an effective system is having the right number of people doing the job. Too few cleaning workers cause quality to suffer. Too many cleaning workers can result in costs rising unnecessarily. Confusion and security problems may also develop. The situation becomes even more complex when you consider how poorly many cleaning operations and/or contractors track their employees and performance.

Understanding the Cleaning

To determine how many cleaning workers are needed, you need to know how much area is being cleaned. A general rule is to take the total square footage of a building and use that to come up with the number of cleanable square feet. Some areas, such as closets and storage areas, simply won’t need cleaning on a regular basis. Furniture and other fixtures will cover a large amount of floor space, so the cleanable floor space is the exposed area workers will actually be able to reach.

Though it sounds simple, there are a surprising number of institutions with no idea how much cleanable space they actually have. Robbie Robinson, president of The Shine Company, which specializes in floor care, said,“We measure exactly how much floor we’re going to clean.” Robinson doesn’t rely on what managers think the number is. He takes a measuring wheel in on each new job so he can determine exact space. In most settings in which Robinson cleans, the amount of cleanable square feet is usually about 55 percent of the total square footage. In schools, healthcare, and hospitality venues, the amount of cleanable floor space varies according to the unique layout of the facility.

You could be cheating your cleaning program if you do not understand space requirements. Having more space than you estimated could result in not enough cleaning workers to do the job properly. Having less space than you thought might mean you’re overstaffed and paying too much for cleaning. It’s a good idea to measure the area at least once a year and ask yourself,“Have we done anything that has dramatically altered the amount of cleanable area?”

How Long Should It Take?

Now that you know exactly how much area you need cleaned, how do you determine how long it should take to do the job? Standard reference guides for cleaning times throughout the industry, published by such organizations as the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), provide time guidelines for hundreds of cleaning tasks. Such guides can help you determine if the time frames in which your cleaning staff works are reasonable as compared to industry-wide norms. If you outsource cleaning, they can also help in preparing bid requests for contractors.

Robinson said that in all his years in the cleaning business, only one company has specified during the bid process the products, machinery, and number of cleaning workers they expected to be present in the facility to complete the job. “They knew what they needed to make the [facility] meet a certain image level,” he said. Having those needs spelled out in the bid process made it much easier for the vendor to meet the client’s expectations.

Cleaning Systems

There are two basic types of cleaning systems: zone cleaning and team cleaning. With zone cleaning, each worker is assigned a certain zone or area and is responsible for performing all of the cleaning functions in the entire area.

In team cleaning, workers are trained to perform specific cleaning tasks.Typically, there are four specialty areas in team cleaning: light-duty specialist, vacuum specialist, restroom specialist, and utility specialist.

As a general rule, team cleaning provides greater efficiency. Most organizations using this system see a 10 to 20 percent budget benefit. That benefit may not necessarily be savings. Instead, it may mean that your current cleaning staff is able to do more cleaning or perform a higher level of cleaning.

The purpose of using team cleaning is to be able to do more with less labor, less waste, fewer complaints and less money. The goal is to obtain a higher-quality appearance level with less effort.

Measure and Improve

Regardless of the method you are using, you should have some method of tracking personnel and cleaning tasks. One particular team-cleaning system includes the use of job cards that tell each cleaning specialist exactly where he or she should be working, what time he or she should be in the area and, specifically, which tasks are to be performed. The card is carried with the cleaning worker throughout the shift, and the supervisor also has a record of each specialist’s activity.

Using the job card method, the supervisor will know if the cleaning worker is taking longer than anticipated. Perhaps a lack of training has resulted in uncertainty about how a cleaning task should be performed. Perhaps there are environmental factors that may be influencing the speed with which cleaning can be accomplished. Job cards can assist in pre-planning to alert the cleaning staff to any unusual circumstances. That way, staffing can be adjusted according to need or ability.

You should also be tracking complaints about the cleaning process. The first step in reducing complaints is tracking them. You or your contract service provider should have some type of logbook that records who made the complaint and the date, time, and nature of the complaint.

While some organizations try to hide them, complaints are actually very helpful in determining weak spots in the cleaning system. A logbook makes it easy to identify who is complaining and to take the appropriate action. Perhaps an employee will need to be re-trained. Perhaps additional help will be needed. It may be necessary for the contractor and client to re-evaluate the services included in their agreement.

Monitor Overtime

A Los Angeles building service contractor was recently the subject of a news article alleging illegal work practices. Like it or not, institutions will be held more accountable for what their subcontractors do. Make sure your cleaning contractor is willing to show you the books when it comes to your account. Ask how many employees are working and if overtime is being paid.

In a best-case scenario, your contractor should not have any overtime expenses. Not because those wages are being denied, but because there is simply no need to have any employee work overtime. Excessive overtime is a sign that the work is not being properly planned or executed. You should know exactly how many people are in your facility at all times and when work is being performed. In addition to spotting staffing problems, this can also help keep your company out of the courtroom.

Shine Sells

Organizations like Disney know “shine sells.” Disney has spent a significant amount of time and effort studying effective cleaning procedures and the effect of cleanliness on guests at Disneyland, Disney World, and The Disney Store locations across the country. Disney uses cleaning as a marketing tool.

Unfortunately, cleaning is often reactionary. An upcoming special event may inspire an all-out effort for extra cleaning. However, planning always improves any performance. A consistent, efficient, consistently implemented cleaning strategy will yield much better results than an occasional cleaning blitz. It will also stabilize staffing needs. If you can project and target how cleaning is going to complement other marketing strategies, you can minimize waste and maximize effectiveness.

Your marketing strategies may get customers in the door. Your cleaning program will make them want to keep coming back.

John P. Walker is president of Salt Lake City-based Managemen Consulting Services and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.

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