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Cutting cleaning costs and concerns.

Are your office cleaning costs escalating at a faster rate than your property revenues? Do you dread answering telephone calls from tenants because you know they involve maintenance related complaints? Are you devoting less time to administrative duties and more effort tO details and annoyances involving cleaning crews, schedules, supplies, and supervision?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you are a likely candidate to join the national trend away from in-house maintenance programs and toward professional janitorial services.

For a variety of reasons ranging from cost savings to improved quality of cleaning, owners and managers of office complexes, medical facilities, industrial parks, and retail outlets are turning to commercial cleaning services. In fact, the $30 billion janitorial services industry is expected to boom in the 1990s, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that the office-cleaning sector will provide more jobs than any other area of employment during this decade.

In-house maintenance

The major problem facing building managers who run in-house maintenance operations is staffing. Surprisingly, however, hiring the workers is not as difficult a problem as hiring a manager to supervise and inspire those workers who must perform the same simple, mundane chores over and over again each day.

In choosing a cleaning crew manager, you must strike a delicate balance. You cannot afford to hire a college graduate, nor would you want to-he or she would burn out in six weeks. Yet, you are not seeking mindless muscle either. The job requires someone who is responsible and conscientious, capable of ensuring that all work is performed thoroughly and satisfactorily, able to handle any emergencies that might arise, and qualified to inspire a team of workers nightly.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of a competent manager to the success of your building maintenance program-in house or not. This person is absolutely vital.

Obviously, the cleaning people-the actual workers-are essential to the operation. But their tasks are simple. Once you have trained people to use a vacuum cleaner you need not repeat the training process. Once you have shown them how to spray window cleaner and remove finger marks, they will not forget what they have learned. But because of the monotony of their work, routinely emptying waste-basket after waste-basket in hundreds of offices throughout a building, innocent oversights are commonplace.

Without qualified supervision, the cleaning people often miss trash, forget an ashtray, skip an office, and so forth. Sometimes they are in a hurry and decide the carpet looks clean enough and does not need to be vacuumed. Other times, they will get busy and try to cut corners, determining that, because the board room usually is not used on Friday, they will not waste the time checking it out before Monday.

Unhappy tenants

Usually, no one notices such oversights until the next morning when they are discovered by unhappy tenants. However, you can help avoid unhappy tenants by hiring a competent manager to oversee your cleaning crew. You can also contract with a cleaning service that will ensure competent management.

in my more than 20 years of experience in the commercial cleaning industry, I have become convinced that labor needs the motivation and inspiration of middle management to make sure every job is done and done right.

It is the middle manager who determines what special jobs need to be tackled, periodic jobs such as dusting or vacuuming in corners, or particular jobs such as cleaning up after a spill or breakage. Because these tasks are not a part of their daily routine, these are areas that labor might tend to ignore, but conscientious management should watch out for.

It is certainly to the advantage of your building to have someone on the job with a vested interest in seeing to it that the job is done properly. If your in-house cleaning crew manager does not measure up, then the responsibility falls onto your shoulders.

It would be easier for you if offices could be cleaned during the day, while you were in the building and could periodically check on the work of your janitorial staff. But such work must be done after the office workers have left the building, which means you would either have to stay late each night or find another solution.

One way to resolve that problem as well as a myriad of other problems related to running an in-house cleaning operation-is to consider hiring a professional janitorial service. A manager's position is nonetheless crucial, but now responsibility for searching out and hiring a competent supervisor rests with the outside contractor who, usually, has greater experience, expertise, and resources in such matters.

At the same time, such a move relieves of a number of obligations related to a cleaning crew: hiring and firing, payroll, insurance, personnel records, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, vacation and sick pay, and absenteeism.

Labor costs climb

The primary reason for the savings is the fact that labor costs have continued climbing for those who operate in-house cleaning crews. Workers invariably tend to slow their pace after a year or two on the same job. It soon becomes necessary to add additional workers who, in time, also become less efficient. Before you know it, you now have a cleaning crew of 15 or 20 people doing the same work that was done by half as many three to five years earlier.

Here again is where a superior manager can be of invaluable service to you. Such a manager would understand that you do not need 20 people-that 10 could do the job more efficlently-and would exercise skills to motivate the smaller number of workers to perform at optimum levels, thus containing maintenance costs. Where such high-calibre input is ignored, cleaning costs rise year after year.

If you own a 200,000-square-foot building and are ready to make decisions on having it cleaned by an outside contractor, you should begin your search in the phone book and also call those representatives who might have stopped by with their business cards.

Initially, your considerations should be size and strength. Larger companies will have access to the labor pool you will need, and they will be better able to respond to virtually any call. You are a fairly large contract, at 200,000 square feet, and you will require a sizable contractor to service you-particularly in the event of an emergency.

Recognizing that supervision may be a difficulty, you will want to maintain communications with the company to ensure any and all problems are resolved quickly.

Check references

You might feel more comfortable knowing that with a larger cleaning company, insurance and bonds are in place. It may be a local contractor-not necessarily a national firm. In any event, check references thoroughly, and get recommendations from others who have used their service. While I do not object to providing opportunities for newer, smaller contractors, remember that you, as a major client, need not be anyone's training ground.

On the other hand, if you own a smaller building, you might look at the situation differently. Then cost becomes a more important factor. If you are working within a budget, try to find a maintenance company that can work with you-within that budget. In which case, you might need the flexibility provided by a younger, smaller company. Most larger companies could not accommodate you.

With smaller firms, the owner is usually on site to oversee operations of the cleaning crew, and you will receive more attention in general than you might from a larger company. But you will want to make certain that the company is not so small that it cannot afford to hire suitable cleaning people or to pay for bonding and insurance for the life of your contract.

When dealing with small companies, you have an even greater burden to make certain they have insurance forms, to maintain contact with the owner and crew manager, perhaps even to visit the premises during a cleaning operation to satisfy yourself that the quality of people working in your building conform to your requirements and present a good appearance. These are the people your tenants are going to see from time to time.

If you go with a larger company, cleaning personnel probably will be dressed in uniforms and be screened before being placed in your building. With smaller companies, however, they may not have the budget for uniforms and may not have the staff to screen all employees. If you elect to go with a smaller firm, watch to ensure that work is being performed properly and efficiently. Saving money through utilizing a smaller or newer cleaning firm will require your active involvement.

When selecting a janitorial service, insist on receiving insurance forms not just initially, but quarterly, to ensure that the company stays current on its insurance. Or, request that you be included as an additional insured on the cleaning firm's policy. It does not cost the company anything, but it will ease your anxiety about being covered. It also ensures that you will be notified in the event of cancellation of the insurance.

Get the best supervisor

Many larger buildings avoid smaller cleaning contractors and use larger firms because they know all of those items are in place. They may not always receive the attention they would like because too many employees, including those in supervisorial positions, are simply employees with no vested interest in the company.

Most major cleaning companies attempt to hire the best managers available, but very few top-calibre supervisors are available for such work. It is not a position of stature or prestige unless you own the business. On the other hand, if you have 100 workers in a building, you must have on-site supervision.

In any other business with that number of workers, it would take a talented individual to inspire them to perform routine chores over and over again for four to six hours at a time. A restaurant manager works harder, longer hours, and makes less money than a janitorial manager, but the position is accorded more prestige.

Consequently, this presents a problem in our industry. It is not a prestigious position and it is difficult to find and keep qualified supervisors for any length of time. There is great turnover. A large national company may get a good supervisor but have difficulty retaining him or her for more than a year. When it becomes necessary to replace that person, the building begins having problems and tenants suffer.

We have managed to solve that problem by establishing a 1,500-unit franchised system coast to coast, where each building cleaned has the owner of the local franchise on site to supervise operations and ensure quality cleaning. We found that the only way to attract the superior individual who can effectively manage and motivate a cleaning crew is through ownership of the business. If you own it, you care for it.

When you have narrowed your selection down to two or three janitorial firms, determine who will be the project manager or supervisor for your building, and arrange a meeting with that individual. At that meeting, ask the following questions:

* What are your credentials?

* What experience have you had in general?

* How long do you plan to stay with the company?

* What kind of screening process will you put employees through before they are allowed in my facility?

* Will employees be uniformed?

* What are your bonding requirements and security procedures?

* Who do I call if I have a problem?

The person who manages the cleaning crew in your building is the key to keeping your tenants satisfied. Ensure that he or she is cooperative, amicable, and motivated. Do not hesitate to check references.

Once you have decided on a specific janitorial company, you will be offered a contract, usually for one year. Most such contracts contain escape clauses allowing you to terminate the agreement if the cleaning company is not doing a good job.

And just how do you make such an evaluation? You can personally inspect the building with a representative of the janitorial service on a weekly basis, but generally in the course of your walking around the building, you will be aware if any problems exist. And, of course, tenants will be more than willing to share their complaints with you.

Such problems can be reported to the company so they may be rectified that evening. If the problem is serious in nature, the cleaning crew manager will visit immediately to correct it.


You probably have had your fill of tenant complaints right now, which may be the reason you are considering making a change. Major complaints are founded basically on missing items and poor quality cleaning. The best way for you, as building manager, to handle such persistent complaints is to invite the janitorial supervisor to meet with you and with the tenant to discuss the problem and solutions.

If corrections are not made immediately, middle management must be replaced. If the problem continues, the building manager should act immediately to replace the maintenance company rather than jeopardize the tenant lease.

Overall janitorial fees have been stable in recent years. We have managed to contain costs through more efficient cleaning, operations, and centralized processing offices. In large measures, smoking restrictions have aided the stabilization. Due to more nonsmokers in the workplace, more offices are free from ashes in trash and on furniture. Not only did cleaning crews have to empty and clean ash trays in each office, but they had the even larger chore of confronting residual ashes, which have a tendency to escape ashtrays and come to rest on desks, table tops, chairs, sofas, and carpets.

As an owner and/or manager of commercial property, you may not rank office cleaning as a priority, but your tenants certainly do. Given the broad scope of your many responsibilities, you might be more inclined to categorize building maintenance as more of an increasingly expensive nuisance. But it need not be increasingly expensive or a nuisance. It can be handled efficiently with the right approach, attitude, and supervision.
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Author:Cavanaugh, Jim
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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