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Walking the tightrope

September 19, 2010
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Are you facing budget pressures, unrealistic expectations, apathy and turnover in your professional cleaning operation?

Well, you are not alone.

Would you like satisfied customers and clean, healthy facilities — with both better morale and objective measurements?

Thankfully, work loading can help.

What is work loading?

Many years ago, most consultants and companies marketed their work loading as a time study, for the purpose of getting staff to mop faster, jog between cleaning restrooms, and take fewer breaks.

Take one for the team
In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, ProTeam marketed its Team Cleaning®. For a time, it seemed that everyone was moving their operations to the team concept developed by Larry Shiedler, president of ProTeam.

In general, the system allowed in-house cleaning operations an opportunity to compete with outside cleaning contractors, by focusing time on “cleaning tasks”. Over time, facilities realized the importance of their staffs’ “non-cleaning duties” in addition to their “cleaning duties” during their workday.

Cleaning operations started realizing they could enhance their productivity while still maintaining cleanliness standards that focus on the health of building occupants, customer service/satisfaction, and a more holistic approach to facility maintenance.

As the general population has become more aware of the green cleaning movement and the central role of professional custodial and maintenance operations in the indoor environment of buildings, task time has become less of a focus in the proper work loading of a building.

Get a hold of your workload
By expanding the definition of work loading to include all tasks and frequencies (including all non-cleaning jobs) required to maintain a facility at the highest level of safety and health within the budget, and not just how quickly it can be cleaned, work loading then becomes the foundation of your professional cleaning program.

It is a tool that allows you to manage proactively based on facts. The goal of your work loading is to determine factually what can or cannot be done with the resources you have.

Let’s look at restroom cleaning as an example. The ISSA’s 447 Cleaning Times tell us that each toilet, urinal or sink in a restroom requires three minutes to clean.

If you have a typical large restroom with two urinals, three toilets and three sinks, it would take a minimum of 24 minutes (eight fixtures times three minutes) to clean.

Multiply the 24 minutes for one restroom by 10 restrooms and we end up with four hours (240 minutes) of cleaning time per day for all 10 restrooms.

Through work loading, you get a very accurate estimate of what your staff can clean.

Work loading allows you to look at “what if” scenarios on paper before implementing them with your cleaning staff.

For example: You have four hours of time budgeted to clean those 10 restrooms, but then the hospital director tells you that because of the recent flu epidemic, you need to clean those same restrooms twice a day — with no budget increase for additional staffing.

Using your work loading analysis, you could easily justify the cost of a new, high-tech restroom cleaning machine that will clean those restrooms in half the time.

This gives the director the cleaning frequency he needs and your staff the proper tools to get the job done.

Lets you be specific
Work loading gives you the ability to delineate the variables of your cleaning program, whether in-house or outsourced.

Having a detailed task list that specifies tasks such as autoscrubbing the hallways — whether it’s five times a week, once a day, or 180 times a year — will help set exact standards for what you expect from your cleaning crew.

Your list of tasks and frequencies will vary based on budget dollars, staff training and the tools available to cleaning staff.

This information could also help you develop the proper specs for outsourcing by eliminating any variables.

Work loading will help you design, justify or modify based on budget requirements.

It can easily be applied to buildings, and will allow you to really take a look at how a change in process can affect the bottom line.

While reducing the timetable, it could lower your costs or increase your staff’s ability to deliver clean, safe and healthy environments.

Cost savings
Let’s look at a typical example.

The cleaning budget at the XYZ School System has been reduced by 25 percent.

The school employs 20 custodians who service the school district’s five buildings. Each custodian cleans eight hours a day, five days a week, for a total of 800 work hours a week.

Adding high-efficiency equipment such as autoscrubbers, backpack vacuums, restroom-cleaning machines, microfiber mops, etc., could shorten that cleaning time to less than five-and-a-half hours per night, per custodian.

At 20 custodians, at five-and-a-half hours per day, for five days a week or 550 man-hours a week, an optimized cleaning operation could save 250 hours a week or 13,000 hours a year.

If each individual worker has a cost with benefits of $18 per hour, those simple changes in process could save you $234,000 per year, while delivering a better clean.

That’s more than a 30 percent savings in labor — which can be even greater if your staff is incurring overtime at time and a half.

Healthy return of investment
What does it cost to automate? Using our example above:

Five ride-on autoscrubbers at $14,000 each
+ Five backpack vacuums at $550 each
+ Five restroom cleaning machines at $1,500 each
+ Five microfiber kits at $150 each
= Total supplies cost of $81,000

The $234,000 of labor savings minus $81,000 in supplies gives you a net savings of $153,000 in the first year, helping considerably to offset that 25 percent reduction in the budget that XYZ School System was facing.

Second-year savings are greater as the equipment costs are spread over the productive lifetime and use of the tools.

Often, it is assumed that increased productivity is tied exclusively to tighter management of the cleaning crew.

We have found that the highest producing staffs are the most motivated. They are self-managed and focused on performing at a very high level for the benefit of the operation and occupants of the facility.

Workload your buildings, increase your productivity, train your staff and give them the tools they need. You will be amazed at what happens.

George Dickerson is the director of Training & Technology for RoVic Inc. of Manchester, CT, and has been a work loading consultant for more than seven years. He can be reached at
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