5 Characteristics Custodial Leaders Need Right Now

“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

Connections. We break them when we clean and disinfect surfaces throughout a building, breaking the chain of infection. Yet as a business leader, it’s also essential we build and maintain connections—particularly with the people on your team.

With so much uncertainty and disruption, many people around the globe are looking for guidance and stability. Childcare, concern of an elderly family member, personal health—these are just a few of the concerns clouding our minds right now, including the people on your team.

This presents an amazing opportunity for custodial managers to inspire and lead. 

According to leadership expert Nancy Koehn, “…real leaders are not born; the ability to help others triumph over adversity is not written into their genetic code. They are, instead, made. They are forged in crisis. Leaders become ‘real’ when they practice a few key behaviors that girls and inspire people through difficult times.” 

As we look to help our teams look beyond the shadows, what characteristics can effective leaders reveal to encourage those around us to see a future opportunity?

1. VISION

Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman at Siemens AG suggests that when business leaders consider a post COVID world, they should look at it as a “renewal, not a return.” 

What would a renewal of your cleaning operation look like? If you received additional budget to staff, train and supply your department, what would you want to add and why? Would you do a better job of standardizing your processes? Measuring cleaning performance? Providing additional training?

Facilities managers and custodial professionals can expect to play a bigger role in business operations following the pandemic as leaders will have a much greater appreciation for their expertise. Prepare a vision for the role of your team in a post pandemic environment and how you can improve the service you deliver. Being able to clearly communicate this vision will to only inspire your team, but also the leadership. 

2. FLEXIBILITY

Martial arts master Bruce Lee is coined with saying: “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” 

Due to the nature of the work, flexibility is a characteristic many custodial professionals already demonstrate, but this is increasingly important during a crisis. From inventory to staff, schedules to moods, almost everything is in a state of flux. Demonstrating flexibility and a growth mindset will help you better adapt and “bend with the wind.” 

3. AUTHENTICITY

When COVID first hit, Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson responded less than a week later in a message to Marriott employees. His message was honest, immediately tackling several sensitive topics including his personal health and the impact of COVID on their business. 

“I can tell you that I have never had a more difficult moment than this one. There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates—people who are the very heart of this company—that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control,” he said.

Employees watch their leaders carefully. Don’t hesitate to keep it real with your employees. This will help you earn their respect. 

4. RESILIENCY

Setbacks are inevitable. This applies to life in general, but particularly when you’re leading others during a crisis. Being resilient not only means having a plan in place to protect your team from the impact of a pandemic, but also recovering quickly when setbacks occur. 

Forbes Magazine identifies these key steps to becoming a more resilient leader: communicate powerfully, be coachable, build positive and trusting relationships, embrace risk, develop others, champion change and act decisively.  

Resiliency means creating balance by accepting the things we can’t change and creating meaningful change where we are able. 

5. INCLUSIVITY

Custodial teams are often one of the most diverse groups within a business. Building an environment where everyone on your team feels that they are accepted and belong should be a top priority for every custodial professional right now. 

According to Harvard Business Review, “what leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included.”

Recognizing biases, demonstrating cultural intelligence, collaboration and humility are just a few of the key traits inclusive leaders possess. Within a custodial operation, these attributes can inspire greater productivity than any new piece of equipment. 

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Cleaning is in the spotlight right now. From profiles highlighting the safety risks to janitors to features of cleaning processes, there’s a lot of dialogue happening around how buildings are cleaned.

By setting a vision for your team and leading them through the other side of this thing, you can help ensure that everyone emerges stronger. 

Cleaning Conversations: Jeff Hawkins, Provo City School District

Approximately 70-75 percent of the custodial team at Provo City School District is comprised of students, so when schools closed in the spring, that left Jeff Hawkins and his team with a massive staffing shortage. With all hands on deck, staff from other departments pitched in to learn the (OS1) System and clean schools.

With so much of the current conversation focused around disinfection, Jeff talks about how the (OS1) System has prepared them for executing cleaning during a pandemic situation, so his team has the training, tools and program to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

Cleaning Classrooms Safely: A Teacher’s Checklist [with infographic]

With the topic of reopening schools leading many conversations right now, we’ve had a lot of questions about how teachers and administrators can work with custodial teams to make sure classrooms and common areas to limit the potential for COVID to spread on hard surfaces.* 

Tips for helping teachers keep classrooms clean and safe.

Whether you work in a school or know a student who will be returning to the classroom this fall, these steps can help teachers keep classrooms clean and safe:

  1. Clean, then disinfect. Kids make messes. And with calls for students to eat lunch in the classroom, those messes will only increase. It’s important to know that in order for a disinfectant to work, you must first clean the surface to remove any foreign substances or barriers and then apply the disinfectant.  
  2. Focus on touch points. Little hands are constantly touching, but what are some of the most often touched surfaces within your classroom? Faucet handles, chair backs, keyboards, door handles and desks are all items that should be disinfected throughout the day to limit the opportunity for virus spread.
  3. Follow label instructions. Just like teachers need time after a long day, disinfectants also need time to sit and dwell in order to work effectively. How much time is indicated on the back of the bottle and can range between 2 to 10 minutes. 
  4. Launder cleaning cloths regularly. Disposable wipes are hard to find right now, so a lot of teachers will be using donated disinfectant sprays or spray from the custodial team. If using your own cleaning cloths, make sure to use a fresh cloth each day to avoid cross contamination.
  5. Safely store cleaning chemicals. Make sure curious hands don’t find cleaning chemicals and be sure to lock all disinfectant supplies in a secure area.
  6. Use bleach in a pinch. With wipes and ready-to-use disinfectants in short supply, the CDC recommends using a diluted bleach solution to disinfect appropriate hard surfaces. To make a solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of room temperature water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water.
  7. Clear desks and tables nightly. Stack books, papers and supplies on desks to keep tables and other surfaces clear for custodial teams to disinfect in the evenings. A lot of custodial teams will be working with limited resources, so every little bit helps.

* As the CDC notes, hard surface transmission is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads, but recommends several cleaning and disinfection protocols to maintain healthy environments. These tips are designed to supplement regular cleanings performed by custodial teams in a school. Clean schools are critical for learning both now and once the pandemic is over. 

Cleaning Conversations: Ben Walker

In this episode of Cleaning Conversations, we spoke to Ben Walker, COO of ManageMen about how the pandemic has impacted ManageMen’s training and events, shifts and opportunities he sees for the cleaning industry and the most valuable advice he’s ever received. If you have anything to do with cleaning in a facility beyond your home or are interested in strategies to improve public health, you won’t want to miss this insightful conversation.

The Case Against Spraying Disinfectant Everywhere

Raise your hand if you’ve seen a picture of a heavily suited worker spraying what’s assumed to be disinfectant on sidewalks and streets in the past four months.

It looks something like this:

For cleaning professionals, this image might be somewhat alarming. Mostly because it demonstrates what we already know—that the majority of people throughout the world have limited understanding of the science of cleaning. 

Yet, when the general public sees images like this, they assume it’s what’s required to protect them from COVID-19. 

This gap in knowledge has led to widespread use (misuse?) of chemical disinfectants. Unnecessary use of cleaning chemicals generates waste, cost and can lead to injury to both the people applying the disinfectants and the individuals in the buildings being cleaned in the wake of the current pandemic. 

In short, spraying disinfectant everywhere—throughout schools, daycare centers, offices, hotels and restaurants—is a bad idea. 

Let us explain. 

A Health & Safety Issue

If it were just a few images circulating that misrepresent what’s truly needed to stop COVID-19 in its tracks, that’d be one thing, but the lack of education around proper disinfection practices is leading to injuries. 

One recent report found that at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California, guards were “rampantly spraying [disinfectants]… every 15-30 minutes around housing units. The sprayed chemicals are coming into contact with individuals’ eyes, noses, mouths, skin, clothing, bedding, food and drinking water, on an ongoing basis.” 

From headaches and nausea too painful blistering of the skin and swollen eyes, noses and throats, detainees housed in these areas experienced a variety of physical reactions from the misuse of the disinfectants. 

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In April, the CDC reported that calls to poison control hotlines for cases involving cleaners and disinfectants rose significantly over the previous two years. 

Insurance Journal magazine recently reports that in an average business, disinfectant overuse can impact up to 10 percent of people. 

“Asthmatics, migraine sufferers, those with allergies or immune disorders or suppressed immune systems may experience symptoms [resulting from disinfectant exposure] such as memory loss, trouble concentrating, mood swings, irritability, headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting,” said Dr. Claudia Miller, an immunologist, allergist and co-author of Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes.

While there’s cause for concern, it’s important to recognize that disinfecting is important when it’s done properly using tested application methods. In pictures such as that shown above, spraying and fogging technology is used. However, emerging research has shown that these methods may not offer the efficacy of more traditional spray and wipe methods. As such, use of these methods should be reconsidered until additional testing is conducted. 

Citing ineffectiveness and health concerns, the World Health Organization recently recommended against the use of spraying or fogging disinfectants for use against COVID-19. In their guidance document, they wrote:

“In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces by spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended for COVID-19… spraying disinfectants can result in risks to the eyes, respiratory or skin irritation and the resulting health effects. Spraying or fogging of certain chemicals, such as formaldehyde, chlorine-based agents or quaternary ammonium compounds, is not recommended due to adverse health effects on workers in facilities where these methods have been utilized.”

Similarly, the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) has also advocated against fogging and misting, in their recent recommendation, “Guidance for Decontamination of the Built Environment: Cleaning, Disinfection, Worker Protection and Post Cleaning and Remediation Assessment.”

Old Problem, Renewed Awareness

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a chemical handling issue on our hands. This post and infographic from a few years ago offers some important data around chemical accidents and injuries to workers. In pre-pandemic days, cleaning workers were experiencing an estimated 83,000  injuries from cleaning chemicals each year. Cleaning chemicals are a regular culprit in poor indoor air quality findings. 

But as businesses across the country begin the process of reopening, communication and  education around cleaning, cleaning science and cleaning for health is more critical than ever. Science must continue to drive our best practices, which we should regularly benchmark with other organizations and communicate with building owners and occupants. Cleaning workers not only tools to do the job, they need the education, training and personal protective equipment to use those tools effectively.

Here are five important things to remember when disinfecting any space, for COVID-19 or otherwise. Intensive disinfection efforts must be:

1) Conducted only after surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned.

2) Performed by trained staff.

3) Accompanied with the proper personal protective equipment.

4) Conducted in well-ventilated areas. 

5) Coupled with other mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and regular hand washing. 

If you use a systematic, engineered approach to cleaning like (OS1), there won’t be a need to spray disinfectant everywhere. And remember, effective cleaning contributes to a healthy indoor environment; it doesn’t pose additional health risks. 

In This Together: Tips for Coordinating Cleaning as Buildings Reopen

“We’re in this together” is a frequent refrain of the past two months. From the pandemic to protests, people share these words to express solidarity and unity throughout the many challenges facing our communities right now. 

Within the Simon Institute, (OS1) leaders have been working together throughout the pandemic to share best practices and strategies. However, as federal, state, tribal and local officials in both the public and private sectors move to Opening Up America again, it’s time that we expand our cooperation if we haven’t already. 

It goes without saying that we play a critical role in the effort to protect the people who live, work in and visit the buildings we clean. In fact, the U.S. EPA has recently issued a statement emphasizing the need to continue cleaning and disinfection practices to reduce exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. 

But we can’t do this alone. Through ongoing communication and effective partnerships with key stakeholders, we can work together to keep buildings clean and disinfected. Click here to read the full blog post that identifies who would should be talking to right now and what we should be discussing. 

WHO: Administration 


WHAT TO DISCUSS: Organizations want additional cleaning, but many are not adjusting their scope of services and budgets accordingly. Custodial professionals should be prepared to have conversations about the need for additional resources. This includes being able to identify costs associated with additional cleaning products, labor, PPE and training to ensure buildings are cleaned in a way that keeps everyone safe. 

WHO: Internal Reopening Teams

Teams might include facility managers, safety directors, human resources, marketing and other key administrative professionals within the organization. 

WHAT TO DISCUSS: Make sure your team is involved in helping coordinate efforts as buildings reopen. In these meetings, you’ll want to communicate plans for staffing, cleaning frequencies and any resources you have available through existing supply chain relationships. This might include access to wipes, hand sanitizer and additional cleaning products. 

You might also work with marketing and communications to help create communication tools for building occupants. 

WHO: Building occupants

WHAT TO DISCUSS: When clearly communicating cleaning programs with building occupants, you not only help build peace of mind, but you can also help improve the effectiveness of cleaning programs. 

Topics to address may include: 

  • Any disinfectant/wipes sharing programs to assist in cleaning personal spaces
  • Highlights of the (OS1) System and approach 
  • Specific high-touch areas located throughout the building
  • Dust control initiatives, which limit the potential for the virus that causes COVID-19 to remain suspended in the air by attachment 
  • Requests to clean off desks, conference tables and other surfaces in communal areas to improve cleaning effectiveness

WHO: Distributors

WHAT TO DISCUSS: As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid overstocking and plan on two units (or two full orders) of critical inventory for consumables, chemicals, and tools. This includes germicidal cleaner, vacuum filters, and pro-duster sleeves. Distributors in the industry have experienced extreme disruption with shortages of supply. Many of the raw materials that we rely upon in the United States come from China – and since China has been experiencing their own pandemic-related challenges, it’s been hard to get those raw materials. Things that we take for granted – plastice bottles, spray nozzles, even microfiber in some instances are going to have longer lead times for the next few months. Stocking up now, and maintaining a lean, but effective inventory will help your operation reduce its overall impact on supply.

Ongoing communication is critical as we work together to keep our buildings safe and healthy  for everyone.

What an Amazing Time to Be in Our Industry

You know the adage “hindsight is 2020”? I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Ultimately, the saying speaks to the fact that it’s easy to see what the right thing to do was after an event happens, but difficult to predict the future. 

When we get to the other side of this pandemic and are five or 10 years in the future, what will the events of 2020 look like? Will the industry effectively have captured its moment, helping the public understand the critical role that cleaning plays in protecting public health? 

When people go back to work, will they start to look at the person cleaning the restroom or mopping their office lobby in the eye and possibly even say “thank you”?

When budgets are cut due to funding shortfalls, will cleaning be one of the last departments to feel the pinch, because there’s an understanding that cleaning is essential to helping stop the spread of deadly viruses?

Forced to show that they’re cleaning and not polluting the indoor environment, will more custodial teams put key performance indicators in place and do a better of measuring their efforts and possibly benchmarking them against other programs as we do in (OS1)?

Will janitors and custodians finally drop off the list of occupations with the most injuries, because there’s greater value for the work they perform and a desire to help people work more safely?

From custodial directors to distributor sales representatives, janitors to equipment salesman—when someone asks what we do for a living, will we proudly recognize our affiliation with the cleaning industry? 

Will hindsight truly be 2020?

From the Frontlines: Michigan State University

Keeping academics, students and faculty safe has always been a priority for Brandon Baswell and the custodial team at Michigan State University, but the coronavirus and COVID-19 have definitely impacted the way they clean, train, staff and budget. Brandon shares some excellent insights on what’s happening now, and how they’re planning for the fall, in our second episode of Cleaning Conversations. 

“You can’t do ANYTHING if you don’t have a clean and healthy environment.”

Brandon Baswell, Michigan State University

From the Frontlines: Los Angeles Habilitation House Talks (OS1) and Cleaning for COVID-19

There’s no shortage of information and news available related to COVID-19 and steps individuals can take to reduce its spread through actions like hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.

As businesses begin to reopen, we will be talking to the cleaning teams who have been on the frontlines throughout the early weeks of the pandemic. What challenges have they faced and how are they changing their approaches to accommodate both teams and their clients?

Our friends Nancy Albin and Guido Piccarolo from Los Angeles Habilitation House discuss how the (OS1) System prepared them for the current pandemic and the changing perception of the importance of cleaning in maintaining the health of people in a building.

The Future of Cleaning and Hygiene

Cleaning professionals, start your engines. 

We’re at the starting line of one of the most important races of our lives. Never before have people paid so much attention to how cleaning is performed. As a profession, we’re stepping out of the shadows and onto the stage as people start to understand that cleanliness isn’t just about what you see, but also about what you don’t see. 

In “Science, Cleaning and the Built Environment,” cleaning scientist Dr. Michael Berry stated, “Effective cleaning is not widely recognized as a form of insurance or that ineffective cleaning has a high cost in the long term.”

With the coronavirus and this pandemic, that has changed. People now see the critical importance of effective cleaning, because public health safety is at stake.

Whether you’re an (OS1) user or someone who stumbled on this blog post looking for ideas on how to better clean your facility, you can bet that once we get through this pandemic, people will be asking a lot more questions about your cleaning program. As we stated in this post, the business case for better cleaning has never been stronger; and evidence of this paradigm shift is popping up all around us. 

Cleaning Takes the Stage

Last week, Delta Airlines introduced “Delta Clean”—their “new standard of airline cleanliness—now and always.” In a video announcing the initiative, Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch discusses the various steps Delta plans to take to improve the cleanliness of its planes. 

Delta rolls out “Delta Clean” a new standard of cleanliness.

A recent article in National Geographic suggested that to fight germs wherever you go, you  should ask about “cleaning practices” at hotels. 

“Before you book a hotel or a vacation rental, ask about the cleaning process. Often, the answer will give you a clear idea of whether or not this is a place you want to stay.” – Jason Tetro, microbiologist and author of the book The Germ Code.

Singapore has developed a stamp that helps visitors and locals easily identify hotels and other businesses that achieved a standard level of cleanliness. The “SG Clean” stamp is placed prominently at the entrance of an establishment and designed to give people “peace of mind,” says Keith Tan, CEO of the Singapore Tourism Board. They aim to eventually certify more than 37,000 establishments. 

On April 9, the Google Doodle (the fun logo updates you can find on the Google homepage used to commemorate holidays and special occasions) was changed to a person holding a mop and bucket to recognize cleaning workers—this feels like a moment, right?

The Future of Cleaning

Products. Processes. Training. Measurement. These four key critical pieces of EVERY cleaning program will be the subject of scrutiny once buildings start to reopen. People will need peace of mind that they can step into buildings without concern of contamination. 

This is good news for (OS1) users! There’s a good chance you can speak to each of these elements better than you can recall certain family members’ birthdays. From training to annual audits, the (OS1) System ensures that people understand not only HOW to clean, but WHY we clean. 

If you’re not an (OS1) user, you need to be prepared to speak to cleaning processes, products, training and measurement protocols. 

People will want to know what products and processes are used, and how cleaning performance is measured. Are you ready for that challenge?