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Pass with flying colors

September 19, 2010
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The time is drawing near when the influx of new and returning students (and many of their parents) will hit your facility and the new school year will begin.

But before that happens, you’ve got some work to do.

You can be certain that you aren’t the first custodial or facilities manager who looked at the calendar at the end of the school year and noted that you only had about 13 weeks to complete projects that had to wait until most of the students had left campus.

Their break is your high-intensity work period.

“Cramming” for the cleaning tests ahead
There are many projects which simply cannot be done — or done as well or often — during the regular school year. Some of these projects include:

  • Window cleaning
  • Deep cleaning of residence hall carpets
  • Refinishing of floor surfaces
  • Detailed cleaning of specialty woodwork
  • Deep cleaning of stairwells and other high-traffic areas
  • Furniture rotation and repair
  • Mattress replacements

Many of these projects are still difficult to complete because of the many summer programs and activities that schools and college campuses have scheduled.

Summer classes, visiting professors, academic conferences, and a variety of band, journalism, theatre, and sports camps are just a few of the activities that a cleaning staff has to successfully accommodate as they prepare for the beginning of the new academic year.

Getting in gear
Juggling the cleaning needs of clients with the academic and social needs of students during the summer, facility managers need to strategize their cleaning operations, prioritize the most important cleaning projects to be completed, and educate themselves and their staff on proper equipment usage, efficiency, and the most productive ways to tackle cleaning’s challenges.

Here are some easy ways to improve your operation and get in gear for the upcoming school year:

1.) The value of “curb appeal”
James Sears, associate vice president for facilities planning and management, Wayne State University, Detroit, talks about the importance of a cleaning staff’s “curb appeal attitude” and relates it to the approach taken when selling a home.

When parents bring their children to school, or to a college campus, Sears stresses how imperative it is for a cleaning staff to present grounds that are neat and well-maintained.

A cleaning staff’s ability to create a fresh and inviting atmosphere through proper maintenance contributes to attracting and retaining the most important customers — students, faculty and staff.

To highlight the importance of curb appeal, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a study in the 1980s showing that of the freshmen students surveyed, about 62 percent made their college selection primarily based on the campus visit, appearance and perceived safety of the buildings and grounds.

2.) Consolidate and collaborate
An excellent way to reduce expenses and make more effective use of resources is to organize a consortium of departments for the purchase, storing and distribution of supplies and equipment.

Be sure that you carefully work out a service level agreement with all related departments so there are no surprises when it comes to purchasing, inventory, delivery/access, just-in-time supplies, training, and restocking.

3.) Do a custodial audit and staffing analysis
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” That simple phrase encompasses the essence of good management.

According to Kirk Campbell of Carleton College, Northfield, MN, a custodial audit is not only important for documenting current service levels (i.e., what is done and how often), but also for deciding whether the programmed quality of service is actually being accomplished.

Campbell said the first step in an audit involves developing and documenting the service levels that current labor is providing, including defining each custodial task, and noting the frequency in which each task is to be done. Once completed, a custodial audit can be used for individual custodial performance inspections, as well as helping a manager benchmark the overall effectiveness of the department.

4.) Look at the shared services option
Whether a facility is fully self-operated, completely outsourced, or has a blend of service options, educational facilities professionals should regularly assess the costs and benefits of outsourcing.

Consider the following stipulations when weighing your outsourcing options:

  • The facility’s staffing levels
  • Institutional culture
  • Customer service expectations
  • The cleaning operation’s role in supporting the mission of the facility

Cost should be one of the last reasons a facility manager decides to outsource or bring service back in-house.

Always ask yourself if outsourcing or a shared-services option is right for your institution: Is it a short-term bandage or a long-term solution, or the opposite? Would it help you support the mission and vision of your institution?

5.) Supervisory training is critical
The educational facilities workplace has been transformed in recent years by a variety of forces — intensified competition, advancing technology, changing values, and a global economy have created new possibilities, as well as vulnerabilities. This transformation is changing the nature of management and the roles of supervisors.

As a result, supervisors must develop a systematic approach toward organizing, managing, motivating, and meeting customer expectations.

The traditional role of the supervisor/manager is no longer adequate. And what happens to the relationship between former custodial coworkers when one of them is suddenly promoted to supervisor and now required to motivate and assess the work of the other?

Colleges, universities, and other educational facilities often want to offer supervisory training to their staff, but budget demands, lack of qualified staff to do the training, and time restraints often rule out proper development of promoted staff, according to Wally Glasscock, president of Richmond, VA-based Glasscock Development & Training.

Proper training is imperative, according to Glasscock. Untrained front-line supervisors create the opportunity for violations of federal, state, and campus laws, rules, and regulations.

The lack of trained front-line supervisors can result in high employee turnover, low employee morale, requests for transfers, and overall poor production of the shop, crew, or team, which can translate into additional monetary costs.

6.) Don’t forget your own professional development
It is almost easier to identify appropriate training and development for your staff than to take some needed time to reflect and determine what you might need yourself — but you must.

Whether it is completing an undergraduate or graduate degree, taking a certification course, or taking the time to attend custodial management programs, the benefits to you and the institution you represent will be immeasurable. It is always right to invest in training and professional development!

7.) Check out what others are doing
Do you live in a vacuum at your institution, letting month after month go by without having any real contact with or input from colleagues at other colleges or schools? It’s time to change that.

Study groups aren’t just for students: Learning about best practices from industry peers is one of the smartest moves a custodial manager can make.

Sometimes the best answers to cleaning questions are only a phone call away. Find out, if you don’t already know, the half dozen or so colleges or universities that your senior administration identifies as your peers; look up the names of your counterparts at those schools and pick up the phone and call them.

Chat about common problems, or ask about something specific that you’re trying to resolve — the move to uniforms for the first time, pros and cons of team cleaning, scheduling of custodial time during the summer months, etc.

We all need to expand our horizons. Taking the time to gather the best ideas from custodial and facilities professionals at other schools, as well as from non-educational facilities — such as your local public works department, manufacturing plant, or office building — can only improve your perspectives and ideas for managing your own day-to-day cleaning operation.

8.) Think sustainability
According to Walter Simpson, energy officer, State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, the most basic definition of sustainability involves the ability to continue on indefinitely.

Custodial staff can achieve sustainability in their cleaning by doing their part to eliminate unnecessary waste wherever apparent, whether it is the residence hall, research lab, or classroom for which a cleaner is responsible.

The facilities and custodial industries have made great strides and have proactively taken leadership roles toward a more healthy and safe environment.

Preventive maintenance and energy conservation have always been in this industry’s arsenal for improving facilities. Cleaners should continue their efforts and push even harder to assure that campuses and facilities are models of a sustainable future.

The benefit for society is through the stewardship and responsibility that cleaners teach students that spend time in these learning communities.

9.) Don’t forget the customer(s)
With the intense competition for students and quality staff at colleges and universities, every encounter should be looked upon as a service opportunity. There is simply too much at stake to think otherwise!

We must not allow our departments and our service to become stagnant, and we should always ask ourselves, “Is there a better way to do this job or serve this institution?”

10.) The final grade
Getting your facility ready for the upcoming school year will certainly be a test of your skills — but if you strategize, prioritize, and implement good cleaning practices well in advance of the arriving throng of students, teachers, and staff, you and your facility will have passed with flying colors.

The hope is that these suggestions, taken not only in the short term but also throughout the coming school year, will improve your custodial operation and the relationships both within the department and with your campus customers.

You and your staff may agree with Alan Bigger, director of building services, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, who stated that when students return to school, and all of the summer maintenance projects are completed, one can hear a collective sigh of relief that says — “Whew, the students have returned; things are back to normal!”


Steve Glazner is director of knowledge management and editor of Facilities Manager magazine for the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA), a nonprofit association serving the educational facilities professional and based in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at steve@appa.org.
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