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May 2013 Maintenance Matters

Optimizing Facility Cleaning Operations to Reduce Labor Costs

Understanding how short-term savings can have long-term impacts.

May 13, 2013
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It’s common industry knowledge that maintenance costs are largely tied to labor.

Labor is a big expense, but many organizations continue to focus their attention on lowering costs within the small percent of their budget dedicated to custodial products.

While that is important, lower product pricing alone will not solve a facility’s biggest challenge today — driving increased efficiency and productivity from the people in charge of cleaning buildings.

With limited resources and budgets to fund labor, facility managers need to explore strategies focusing on both sides of the cost equation: product and worker productivity. 

Purchasing the cheapest tissue, paper towels and liners may offer short-term, seemingly immediate savings.

But, what is often misunderstood is that those decisions can directly impact facility maintenance processes (and unwanted results) that may actually increase labor costs and decrease worker productivity.

Often tied to cheaper products are increased costs in the extra time and attention those cut-rate products may require.

To reduce the cost of labor, the focus should be on implementing the right products and processes to increase efficiencies and productivity.

It may seem challenging to visualize how to approach a total evaluation of a building’s current operations, so here’s a step-by-step process to walk you through reducing labor costs by optimizing facility cleaning operations.

Understanding Your Space

Knowing how many hours it should take to clean and maintain a building can be tricky and often underestimated in importance.

However, if you haven’t taken the time to analyze true cleaning times, it’s difficult to know what numbers of full-time equivalents (FTEs) are appropriate and where time and money are potentially being wasted.

To begin the process of reducing labor costs, it’s important to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of a building and cleaning program to get a clear total picture of the labor involved.

The evaluation should include the following:

  • Priority areas: There are many different areas within a facility. Some areas encounter more traffic and soil than others and some areas may have a different level of cleanliness expectation so it’s important to identify the requirements of each area and categorize accordingly.
  • Cleanable square space: Cleanable square space is usually about 10-15 percent less than gross square footage. This allows managers to accurately assign FTEs.
  • Scope of work: Create a list of cleaning tasks to be performed as well as an objective level of clean for each area, while defining what constitutes an area as “clean.”
  • Frequency minimums: Develop a risk assessment of the areas to be cleaned. Some areas, such as an entryway, breakroom or restroom, carry a high risk; other areas, such as office cubicles, carry a lower risk and may allow for reduced frequency depending on the desired level of clean.
  • Applying production rates: Industry production rate standards are available to establish acceptable cleaning rates for achieving a desired result so use them. Try standards such as ISSA’s 447 Cleaning Times, ISSA’s Info Clean or APPA‘s estimates of clean to determine the necessary FTEs to effectively clean every area in the facility.

Procedure Improvement

There are ways to reduce the time cleaning tasks require with process and procedure improvements.

By analyzing and altering a few common practices that many facilities currently implement, it is possible to dramatically reduce consumption and costs associated with everyday money wasters.

While you may think that lower cost product options are saving you money, it’s important to consider the overall labor costs associated when dealing with that particular product.

Here are a few examples of common issues facilities face that significantly impact the hours spent cleaning and maintaining a building, along with overall appearance and wellness, with products that may seem like money savers:

  • Folded towels may seem less expensive than other towel systems, but "controlled" roll towel systems reduce outages and complaints as well as reduce refill times. The more time spent on reacting to outage complaints and refills means added work and increased labor costs. With a controlled roll towel system, you can have more hand dries in an efficient dispenser with a stub roll transfer system, eliminating product waste and reducing complaints as well.
  • Jumbo roll toilet tissue is often used in an effort to increase capacity, reduce outages and lower costs. However, these jumbo products are not user friendly and result in tremendous waste and user dissatisfaction, which means more occupant complaints. The extra waste in the stalls created by the jumbo roll tissue requires more hours cleaning and replacing the rolls and, therefore, higher labor costs. There are several coreless systems available that not only allow for a more user friendly experience, but also reduce mess and waste.
  • Seemingly inexpensive, low priced trash liners are often well under the worker's desired specifications and inappropriate for the application. The workers then compensate for the poor performance by using a larger, more costly bag — or the dreaded double bagging approach. Both result in more consumption and waste.

Product Consolidation

Did you know that most facilities can be cleaned daily with as few as two to four cleaning products?

Consolidating your products reduces the need to acquire, manage, train, distribute and store duplicate cleaners and provides the opportunity to eliminate potentially unsafe, unsustainable and unnecessary products.

Replacing duplicates with more efficient, multi-purpose products can also reduce the amount of time spent training workers, help supply required personal protective equipment, ease ordering and receiving shipments and decrease the need for multiple vendors.

Innovative Products and Tools

With the cost of labor accounting for such a large part of an operation's budget, it’s important to pay careful attention to areas that can lessen your staff’s workload.

As mentioned earlier, organizations try to cut corners with a lower priced product, which can lead to an increase in labor costs.

In addition to cleaning products, this also means choosing the right equipment and cleaning tools.

For example, consider backpack vacuums; they can allow workers to effectively clean more than twice the area, while minimizing the long-term negative health effects caused by often inefficient “cheap” uprights and the repetitive motions of traditional vacuums.

Other seemingly simple, but effective innovations include quality microfiber cleaning tools, high productivity stripping pads and bucketless mop systems that dramatically increase efficiencies and allow managers to accomplish more cleaning with fewer workers.

Training Programs

Once you’ve decided to implement new processes, procedures and products, you need to educate your staff.

An efficient and effective cleaning program cannot be achieved without a properly trained workforce.

A comprehensive training program helps a staff achieve its productivity potential.

Through one-on-one meetings, supervisor training, videos, manuals and wall charts, workers will better understand the products, tools, cleaning sequences and correct procedures, resulting in improved quality of work and results.

Training is an important and an ongoing process that will help improve the chances that workers don’t just revert to old ways of completing their tasks and wasting your budget.

We all know that keeping a facility clean, safe and healthy on an ever decreasing budget is a difficult challenge to overcome, but it’s time to stop focusing on the wrong areas by wasting time and money on lower quality products and inefficient cleaning procedures.

By analyzing and improving current practices, organizations can achieve long-term savings above and beyond product price, while also helping to make a building cleaner and safer as well as enhancing productivity.

Focus on your biggest time consumers and find ways to better allocate those minutes and hours.

While it may seem like a daunting task, just break it down into a few easy steps and you’ll see that it is possible to effectively do more with less.

Neal Duffy, senior manager Technical Training - Staples Facility Solutions, is a 30-plus-year veteran of the janitorial and sanitary maintenance industry with a background in consulting with facility managers on development, training and implementation of custodial practices, including healthy, high-performance, sustainable and high-productivity cleaning. Neal is a registered environmental health specialist and sanitarian as well as an ISSA-certified expert in Cleaning Industry Management Standards - Green Buildings. He is an Advisory Member of the board of directors for the U.S. Green Building Council Upstate New York Chapter, and has completed the Ashkin Group’s Green Cleaning University. Neal’s team of Staples Facility Solutions trainers support a national network of experienced specialists in their work to help meet a customer’s goal of improving cleanliness, while reducing operating costs.

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