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Know the numbers

September 19, 2010
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It’s been said that you cannot manage what you cannot measure.

In any business, but especially in the professional cleaning industry, if you know your numbers you are on the right road to success. If not, you are heading for a bump.

Building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house facility managers better know their numbers, in regards to sales and profits and budgets and overhead, respectively, and have these numbers down cold and up-to-date.

How many hours it takes to clean your facility is obviously very important to know. More important though: Is your answer correct?

If it’s not correct, a BSC could lose money, an account or not be successful at getting new accounts; an in-house facility director could miss budget and lose his/her job.

What to measure
It’s important to know what to measure so you can get to that goal of knowing your numbers.

A key question is: What is the production rate for a given facility?

In other words, how many square feet per hour should your employee(s) cover?

In order to know this, and to build a history, you should measure:
  • Cleanable square feet
  • Your employees’ effectiveness
  • Non-cleaning tasks, such as travel time, trash removal and special duties required for special reasons.
To measure square footage, you could use the blueprints of a facility if they are available, but be careful because many of these CAD/CAM figures are not very accurate.

Spot-check these figures by actual measurement of various spaces in the buildings you service.

The most accurate way to measure or verify measurements is to use a measuring wheel.

Square footage is the length times the width of an area.

What about circles, triangles and unusual shapes? That takes a little more study, but you can make an educated estimate that will give you a workable number.

Once you know the cleanable square feet, it should be noted by floor surface. You can sort surfaces out by:
  • Carpet versus hard floor
  • Open areas versus congested areas
  • Special areas, such as raised computer floors, labs and restrooms
  • Areas requiring special cleaning procedures, such as clean rooms.
Pay special attention
Special note should be made of any “first impression areas,” such as entryways, customer waiting areas, restrooms — anywhere your client’s/employer’s image is to be shown off.

And, yes, that includes the boss’ office.

These first impression areas should be “showcase clean” at all times and everyone on the cleaning team should be aware of them.

These figures should be studied, totaled and laid out on an organized, efficient cleaning blueprint.

This blueprint then could be color-coded by floor surface — work area and square footage can be noted.

Using accurate time studies, you then divide the workload.

Don’t forget to include preparation, clean-up and any special jobs that must be done.

At this point, you have developed a “daily cleaning schedule.”

Project work
Now you must insert special project jobs, such as carpet extraction, stripping/scrubbing and recoating hard surface floors and other project work.

These projects can be scheduled for each employee or a combination of employees after their daily cleaning time is over.

Here again, good time standards and properly selected equipment and materials must be used to get this project/recovery work done efficiently and effectively.

Time studies are available from ISSA, the Building Service Contactors Association International (BSCAI) and various suppliers.

But, the best time standards are those that you, as a successful businessperson or facility director, develop yourself for your staff.

Do your own measurement and your own time study and don’t rely on industry standards as gospel and you will feel much more comfortable and much more knowledgeable about this issue.

Time standards are general answers to how many square feet a person, working at an efficient rate can clean in a given amount of time, such as “X” number of square feet per hour and that number then can be broken down into minutes as needed.

Variable factors
Cleaning times vary based on the size of the area to be cleaned, congestion, type of floor surface and cleaning tools to be used.

As an example, to dust mop a long, 10-foot-wide hallway requires different tools than a congested office or classroom and the time standards (minutes per 1,000 square feet) will be different for each area.

If you use a 6-foot dust mop in a 10-foot hallway, you can go up and back with a 2-foot overlap and be done.

You could not use this tool in a congested area.

On the other hand, if you use a 36-inch dust mop in the hallway, you will need four trips up and back.

It seems simple, but it needs to be considered.

Choosing the right size tool, whether it is a dust mop or a large automatic scrubbing machine, is important.

Isolate, evaluate and try it before you buy
Isolate an area of your facility and evaluate various size tools and procedures.

Also, isolate one, two or three of your cleaning personnel and have them evaluate these different procedures. Then, pick the most effective and efficient tools and measure their productivity.

Remember, you cannot expect people to work at an Olympic speed, but you can expect the operator, if properly trained, to work at an acceptable rate of speed — one that is acceptable to you.

When evaluating procedures and various tools used, price is an issue. Thus, consider your return on investment (ROI) or the impact on your budget.

Remember, your greatest cost is labor. The price of a more efficient tool must be considered.

Many times the higher priced tool will reduce your overall costs and pay for itself in a fairly short period of time.

Another number to be aware of is total wages, including fringe benefits, health insurance and vacation time. All of this adds up and affects your cost of operation.

So, when you “know your numbers,” such as square footage to be cleaned, by floor surface, by density, using the most effective tools and well-trained personnel, you will improve your cleaning efficiency.

Maurice Dixon is president of Dixon & Associates, a Minneapolis, MN-based JanSan consulting firm. Dixon, who has more than 45 years of service in the professional cleaning industry, teams with fellow consultant Gary Joyner to produce a “Cleaning and Cruising” seminar and a “Classic Cleaning Course.” Dixon can be reached at

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