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Productivity: Strategies and tips for increased output

September 19, 2010
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There are hundreds of books and publications that focus on techniques, methods, procedures, and even scientific analysis to enhance productivity.

Although I personally have not perused through all of them, I did locate an easy to understand definition: Simply stated, productivity is a “rate of work.”

There are numerous examples that illustrate this formula. For instance, automobile speed is expressed in miles or kilometers per hour, which is a rate of work.

Processing 10 invoices per hour is a rate of work for an account clerk.

Servicing 30 restrooms fixtures per hour is a rate of work for a cleaning professional.

Thus, “production” is used to express the amount of work — we drove 35 miles, we processed 75 invoices, we cleaned 12 toilets.

Strategies that work
With shrinking budgets, and/or expanding facilities, increasing the rate of work/productivity without sacrificing quality and safety, is an inexpensive approach to addressing these scenarios.

The five productivity tips discussed below will increase the rate of work for professional cleaners.

In other words, custodians will service more fixtures, classrooms, or whatever other common denominator is used, by utilizing these principles.

Employing one strategy may reduce the time it takes to clean a room from, say, 15 minutes to nine.

That first strategy can then be used as a springboard, and combining it with a second or third strategy, will save even more time and increase overall productivity.

Not surprisingly, if a custodian (or supervisor) embraces the following five strategies, productivity might increase by as much as 200 percent.

1. Cleaning knowledge
By improving cleaning knowledge, custodians will be better skilled to resolve cleaning issues. Cleaning information is available via trade journals, cleaning associations, videos, publications, vendors, and last, but not least, the Internet.

For instance, provides information daily on cleaning issues, and offers access to a free “Ask the Experts” bulletin board for custodial questions.

Sadly, most school districts provide minimal “cleaning knowledge” to their custodial staff.

Understanding the concept of “dwell time”, for instance, helps a custodian utilize disinfectants properly and safely. Cleaning with health and safety in mind can result in fewer student and teacher absences due to illness.

2. Quality assurance guidelines
For every cleaning task, there must be an end result that is quantified and measurable.

For instance, after a toilet has been serviced by a custodian, the fixture should be free of visible soil, odors, mineral deposits, and soil buildup around the base, etc.

This quality assurance guideline is the basis for training custodians, purchasing high-quality equipment and chemicals, and measuring performance and appearance.

Therefore, every school district should have written cleaning procedures with quality assurance guidelines.

Too often, custodians perform cleaning tasks without achieving the desired result.

But if the end product is not defined, then the result is often left to the discretion and mood of the custodian.

3. Customer cooperation
In school facilities, teachers and students can provide incredible resources to facilitate cleaning.

For example, implementing a comprehensive recycling program reduces the volume of waste.

Or by providing a classroom with only one waste bin — rather than two, three or four — a custodian’s productivity is sure to increase.

If a custodian services 50 classrooms that have four trash cans each, that’s 200 bins to empty.

Just by reducing that number down to two bins per room, the custodian’s work on that task is cut in half. And teachers and students probably won’t even miss the excess bins.

Another quick example: If students stack chairs alongside furniture, then custodians can vacuum or dust mop more rapidly, since there are fewer obstructions impeding the wand.

The enforcement of no food, drink, and gum in certain areas is another example of cooperative cleaning.

This helps immensely because time invested in removing gum from carpet, takes away from other cleaning tasks, a consequence of this spot removal obligation.

4. Economy of motion
In the early 1900s, the Taylors and Gilbreths started what is now called “scientific management”.

After studying routine tasks (such as shoveling), they came up with a series of “motion economy” principles that result in more work without working any faster.

For instance, one hand often remains motionless. Custodians should use both hands when cleaning. It can increase productivity.

Also, custodians should have their cleaning cart properly stocked, so that all tools and equipment accompany them as they clean. Going back and forth to the closet to retrieve items wastes time and reduces productivity.

Another example of motion economy is described as “using a tool that does multiple tasks”.

There are machines that clean restrooms that can also clean kitchen floors, locker rooms, sidewalks, walls, and even furniture.

Backpack vacuums can remove soil from carpet, floors, counters, windowsills, chalk trays, room corners, etc., thereby performing multiple cleaning tasks with just one machine.

These principles of motion economy apply to all work situations, so they are universal and this strategy may require commitment to try cleaning a different way.

5. Allocation of labor
Traditionally, schools have assigned work to custodians via a route, run, zone, station, or other similar term. Basically, the custodian is responsible for all cleaning tasks within a designated space.

However, there are other ways to distribute the work that result in high productivity, such as “group” or “task” cleaning.

Under this system, custodians are assigned cleaning tasks, as opposed to areas, and organizations that have adopted this system report impressive results such as:

  • Lower equipment costs
  • Faster training
  • Reduced utilities
  • Equitable service
  • Safer environment

Several school districts have successfully adopted hybrid models of task cleaning under which every classroom is cleaned each evening, as opposed to the previous A/B or “skip” cleaning system.

Change for the better
William R. Griffin, a fellow cleaning consultant, promotes the following: “If you do not change the way you clean, you will not have different results.”

I agree with his admonition — working faster is not the solution — working smarter (via the aforementioned and proven strategies) is the real key.

In my travels throughout the country, I have surveyed more than 500 school districts, community colleges, and other educational organizations.

Since the early 1990s, the cleanest facilities have incorporated variations to these strategies cited above.

These productivity tips are free, effective, and safe.

Every cleaning program (from managers and directors to supervisors and custodians) should evaluate how they clean.

By incorporating these simple techniques, productivity is sure to increase.

Perry S. Shimanoff is founder and president of San Carlos, CA-based Management and Communication Consultants (MC2). Since 1979, MC2 has worked with school districts and community colleges by conducting cleaning audits, staffing analysis, hands-on workshops, and other maintenance- and operations-related services.
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