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Declare your independence

September 19, 2010
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From a facilities manager''s viewpoint, some harsh realities are facing professionals that maintain facilities in the United States.

In the April 2004 issue of American School and University, the 23rd Annual M&O Cost Study for schools indicated that school districts continued to spend a smaller percentage of their budgets on maintaining and operating schools, with amounts hovering around historic lows.

Shrinking school district budgets and spending less money on building maintenance is becoming an increasing threat to the stability of maintenance and operations at facilities throughout the U.S.

Facility managers have been forced to scour the horizon of management options to determine if there are ways to narrow the gap that is created by an ever-increasing number of buildings to maintain with an ever-decreasing pool of maintenance and operational dollars.

This is complicated by the fact that buildings are becoming more expensive to maintain and clean.

In this bleak landscape, one of the options that may be entertained is the outsourcing of services currently provided by an in-house staff.

The concept of outsourcing is not new, but what is new seems to be the intensity and drive behind the current outsourcing economic model, where things that used to be perceived as being immune to outsourcing are now being contracted out with increasing frequency.

According to one industry article, 90 percent of facility managers who are members of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) say they are responsible for housekeeping services, but only one in five perform those functions with in-house staff.

Housekeeping is the most outsourced facility-related service in most commercial organizations.

Outsourcing is both a daily reality and a challenge that in-house cleaning professionals must face head-on, each day.

In order for in-house operations to survive the decreases in operational budgets and the buying power of those budgets, or to bring services that have been outsourced back in-house, the facility manager needs to concentrate on these key areas.

Remember customer service

The services that we provide should be customer driven.

Far too often, in-house cleaning operations tell the customer what services they are going to get, with no room for negotiation.

Service should be driven from the customer down to the service provider, and the customer''s specific cleaning needs should be of paramount importance to an in-house staff.

In short, the customer should be treated like royalty — our jobs depend upon it.

Better work through benchmarking

The cleaning department should have performance indicators for each major business element and these should be measured or benchmarked against available industry performance indicators.

Such elements could include:

  • Cost per square foot to clean
  • Cost of supplies per square foot
  • Custodial productivity (how many square feet a custodian cleans per day)
  • On-the-job injury (OJI) rates
  • Lost time rates
  • Employee turnover rates
  • Indicators of quality as rated by customers, etc.

These performance indicators should be shared with managers, administrators and most importantly, the front-line employees.

In-house operations should perform in the same manner as any competitor, be fully cognizant of how the organization is operating, and be able to validate that the organization is working at peak efficiency.

The performance indicators should meet or exceed established industry standards so that their operation is on a competitive footing with the industry.

Best practices an ally

The cleaning department should always be looking for best practices, but surprisingly, some best practices may not always come from the same business that we are in.

For instance, one integrated pest management service provider uses hang tags on doors to indicate that a room has been treated.

We learned from their hang tag system and adapted it to our jobs so the customer knows what task we have performed.

The hang tag can then be dropped in campus mail with comments from the customer, rating the quality of the service provided.

This best practice from the pest remediation industry is now being used in the cleaning industry.

Hone those computer skills

Computer management systems (CMS) are here to stay and there is no excuse for organizations that do not use some of the incredibly powerful staffing analysis programs that are available.

The hardware and software prices are now manageable for every department budget.

Cleaning professionals should be able to track productivity indicators, quality assurance indicators, cost factors, etc., all at the press of a button.

We currently use a software program to track a variety of elements including quality assurance.

Each supervisor is provided a personal data assistant (PDA) and inspects work areas and enters the results into the hand-held device.

The PDA information is then downloaded and feedback is provided to employees.

Periodically, summary data reports are generated and we compare the QAs (what the supervisors see) versus any complaints that customers may have made from the same area (what the customer sees) and then try to narrow the gap.

This program also assists us to highlight the problem areas; solutions to the problem areas are integrated into our monthly training sessions.

Embrace change, flexibility

What was good yesterday may not be acceptable for today and should be revitalized for tomorrow.

Too often, in-house organizations become more self-serving than customer serving, focusing on doing things the way they used to be done instead of the way they should be done.

Cleaners need to be less rigid in the delivery of our services and should strive to diversify the types of services that we provide and add value to those services.

Empower your staff

The effective facilities manager recognizes that empowering people to perform is the best element in the development of any productive facilities program.

How can this be done?

  • Involve persons in the decision making process. For instance, if purchasing a new piece of equipment or a product, have the people that will use the equipment or product most test the product and listen to their feedback.
  • Provide realistic and meaningful training. If we are to expect more of our staff, it is critical to provide more training to assist staff in being more productive and effective in the cleaning process.
  • Provide the highest quality equipment. Provide the best and most productive equipment available and then provide meaningful training on how to use the equipment. The equipment provided should allow for the custodian to clean the greatest amount of area in the minimum amount of time and in an effective manner.
  • Recognize people for a job well done. This can be in the form of official recognition programs, safety programs, a positive note written to the person, a pat on the back, or just informally thanking a person. Recognition needs to be timely and meaningful, not months after the fact.
  • Set the example for others to follow. If you expect much of others, put your words into action and expect to demonstrate more of yourself. Demonstration is one of the most effective learning tools and it also indicates that we care.
Broaden your horizons

Today, the facilities manager can provide many services that vastly increase the value-added component of in-house operations. Facilities managers can learn from the marketplace!

I remember reading a magazine directed at contract cleaners; it counseled its readers on ways to get their foot inside the door of an operation that is cleaned in-house.

The magazine advised contract cleaners to determine what was not done in-house and to provide that service, enabling the contract cleaner to get access to more cleaning or service opportunities.

What services do contract cleaners or cleaning specialists provide that we can incorporate into our arsenal of cleaning tasks in the war against dirt?

Here''s a brief list of value-added services — and the equipment needed to get the job done right:

Window cleaning

The offices may look clean, the restrooms may be impeccable, but if the entryway glass and windows are dirty, all the hard work done to maintain the interior may be negated by the dirt on the exterior.

Adding a window cleaning element to an operation can add worth and value. Gone is the day when we can say "we don''t do windows!"

Blind cleaning

Mini-blinds seem to be the "in" thing and dusting the blinds is time consuming and removes only surface dirt.

An efficient way to clean dozens of blinds a day is to use an ultrasonic blind cleaning machine that can deep clean many blinds a day.

The machine is also great for cleaning air vents and light diffusers.

If mounted on a vehicle, the machine can be brought to the buildings in which the blinds are located, thus facilitating a quick turnaround time — usually the same day.

Super-heated vapor technology

Ever had to clean greasy air filters or filters over stoves in a greasy kitchen? Has it ever been said that in-house cleaners cannot provide this service? Now they can!

Super-heated, portable vapor equipment is easy-to-use and will efficiently clean greasy and dirty areas, with minimal or no use of chemicals.

Deep cleaning restrooms and locker rooms

Restrooms are hard to clean, time consuming, and invariably the source of numerous complaints — throw out the mops, buckets, wringers and brushes and start using the innovative restroom cleaning machines now available,

These machines allow an operator to clean a restroom in less time, with better results and without ever touching a surface.

Some of these self-contained machines include a pressure washer, a vacuum pick-up for the solution that has been sprayed on the surfaces, and a blower to help dry the surfaces,

All of this is included in one easy to use and maneuver cart.

Banish odors and customer complaints

Odor control equipment can offer in-house managers the sweet smell of success: Today, ozone technology is available that will effectively eliminate hard-to-control odors,

Ozone generators are small and easy to utilize and when used in accordance with the manufacturer''s directions, this small piece of equipment can eliminate big odors permanently.

Truck-mounted carpet cleaning equipment

If you have large areas of carpet to maintain, truckmounts can be used to clean tens of thousands of square feet of carpet per night.

With appropriate attachments, truckmouts can be used to clean upholstery and even be used as a heavy-duty flood pump.

This piece of equipment deep cleans carpet and leaves minimal moisture behind — carpets dry faster and the area can be used sooner.

Portable power washing

Graffiti can often be a problem at educational institutions.

What''s the easiest way to remove the graffiti? Use a power washer to remove graffiti, clean sidewalks, exterior steps, and certain types of equipment.

Removing graffiti is time consuming and hard to do. However, this piece of equipment can remove most graffiti in minimal time with pressurized water, and if necessary, appropriate chemicals.

Emergency clean-up

Busted pipes, sprinklers gone awry or heavy rains can cause flooding; fires cause smoke damage.

Is it time to call in an emergency service? No!

This is an opportunity for the facility manager and the cleaning staff to respond.

Store a representative sample of your cleaning equipment on a portable cart or a vehicle so that the equipment is readily available for immediate response in case of an emergency. Remember to include emergency lights, a generator, and a floor pump (both electrically operated and gas operated, in case power is a problem).

Why call in an outside service when this is your opportunity to excel?

The challenges ahead

The challenges faced by in-house facility managers include doing more with less and stretching their resources further now than ever before, while meeting the demands of customers for quality service.

The outsourcing of operations has taught in-house facility managers much, and if we apply the lessons learned from those painful experiences (i.e., why an operation was outsourced in the first place), it will enable cleaners to move forward to bringing operations back in-house, or enable us to avoid other operations being outsourced in the future.

Life after outsourcing begins by offering more cost-effective, efficient, diverse and value-added services than ever before.

Alan B. Bigger, B.S., M.A., R.E.H., is director, Building Services, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. Linda S. Bigger, B.A., B.S., is a freelance editor.

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