How to Prepare for a Bad Flu Season with a Good Disinfection Program

So—do you want the good news or bad news first?

Bad news: Early reports show that this year’s flu season is not looking so good. There’s a particular strain—H3N2—which is said to be more severe.

Good news: With proper disinfection, cleaning teams can have a substantial impact on stopping the spread of the virus.

A few months ago, we talked about the “Hygiene Hypothesis” and how there’s no such thing as being too clean. Proper cleaning—and disinfection— is critical to preventing the spread of viruses and diseases outlined in that post. 

But contrary to popular practice, disinfecting is about so much more than just misting an area and wiping it down several minutes later. In most non-critical environments, low-level and intermediate disinfection will do. Summary: HOW people clean is much more critical than WHAT they use to clean.

As we head into cold and flu season, now is a good time to refresh these basic principles of disinfectants with your team to make sure they work as intended:

  1. Consider the Tools: It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re cleaning to disinfect an area, you can’t use dirty tools. the tools you use can’t be dirty. And we’re not talking just “I can’t see dirt, so it must be clean” — freshly laundered cleaning cloths, mops and brushes must be used in order to prevent poor disinfection. Once the surface of the cloth has been used, fold it over to expose a clean side before wiping again.
  2. Follow Specified Dilution Ratios: We’ve all heard about the dangers of the “glug, glug” method where cleaners loosely follow dilution ratios by adding a “glug” of disinfectant to a few “glugs” of water. In some instances, cleaners may think that adding more disinfectant than called for is better.  This approach is not only be dangerous to the cleaner, it can result in  sticky or heavily soiled surfaces – which actually can become an even bigger breeding ground for pathogens . Always follow manufacturers’ directions when preparing  a disinfectant. 
  3. Clean, and Then Disinfect: If soil is present on a surface, it can cut down on the germicidal capabilities of a disinfectant. Use a one-step procedure to enable disinfectant cleaners achieve peak performance.
  4. Use Friction—and a Little Elbow Grease: According to the CDC, friction (e.g. scrubbing a hard surface with a brush) is an “old and dependable method for disinfecting hard surface. We’d go a step further and say it’s the most important component of a surface disinfection program. Cleaners should also put a little muscle into cleaning, as bacteria can mix with film and dirt on surfaces. When these are not removed, bacteria can also be left behind. 
  5. Wipe in ONE direction. Try sprinkling some flour on a tabletop and wiping it in a circular motion with a slightly damp cloth. What happens? The flour just spreads around the table. When you wipe in a singular direction and continue to expose a clean surface, you are able to move toward the edge of the table and remove bacteria more effectively.
  6. Change Solutions Frequently: As a best practice, cleaners should use a two-sided mop bucket system. To ensure cleaners regularly change disinfectant solutions, set a hard rule on frequencies (e.g. change solution once every five rooms). 
  7. Return Tools for Cleaning: After any disinfection occurs, it’s important to establish a protocol for cleaning equipment at the end of their shift so tools can be cleaned and dried. Mop heads should be returned to a designated barrel so they can be taken to a laundry and cleaned. Before each use, make sure mops are completely  dry. Bacteria are not destroyed by laundry chemicals, but by  the hot air of drying. Even slightly  damp mops will harbor dangerous bacteria. The same holds true for squeegees or any other tools used in the cleaning process—make sure they are properly cleaned and inspected for tears, which can create places for bacteria to hide. 

Always remember: the best disinfectant is a clean, dry surface.

For more information on disinfection, sanitization and best practices for cleaning, check out our book “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” in the ManageMen store. 

The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do to Attract and Retain Custodial Workers

What do employees what in a job, anyway? Custodial managers often ask themselves this question when assembling a new team or filling a position opening. Finding good staff is difficult, because even in tough labor markets, turnover in the commercial cleaning industry is notoriously high—as much as 200 percent in some operations.  

In Facility Cleaning Decision’s 2018 Reader Survey, staffing challenges were one of respondents’ top areas of concerns. While respondents cited an average turnover rate of 15 percent, they identified numerous reasons for people leaving the department, including opportunities for better pay, limited advancement opportunities and the physical nature of the work. 

Stop for a minute and imagine that you just found out that several people on your team were currently looking for a new job. Would you do anything to help dissuade them from leaving? If so, what? As custodial managers, we can’t often set perks such as benefit programs or 401k plans, but there are a few carrots we can extend team members to incentivize and retain them.

To be clear, we’re not talking about Silicon Valley office style carrots either. Giving employees a place to take a nap or play video games isn’t a likely possibility in most custodial environments. But take Bain & Company, Gassdoor’s top place to work in 2019, as voted on by their employees. The one thing their employees say makes working at Bain so great? 

Its employee-focused culture. 

“The people are what make [Bain] special,” said one Bain employee. “Throughout my career, I can point to people who invested in me, helping me to grow and develop.”

What incentives do you have in place to keep your team motivated? Certifications, recognition programs and opportunities for advancements can incentivize workers.

An employee-focused culture means developing an environment that helps employees evolve both personally and professionally. It means thinking about how the work impacts them. It’s about not viewing them as cogs in the wheel, but as the wheel itself—necessary to move forward.

How can you create an employee-focused culture? It’s not as hard as you might think.

  1. Offer frequent training and certification. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report revealed that a shocking 93 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Training is one of the top ways to retain custodial workers, but it can also be one of the most difficult due to the diversity of our industry. Languages, disabilities and ages can all present barriers when training employees. Training programs that accommodate a variety of learning styles can help workers understand not just HOW to do the job, but why their jobs are important. Help them understand how to protect themselves during work and demonstrate a culture of safety. Consider offering a stipend for other training and/or certification offered beyond your organization, and think about micro learning opportunities, which do not require the time or commitment of traditional certifications.
  2. Provide opportunities for advancement.  Custodial work is often looked at as a transition position. “I’ll work as a custodian until I can get another job,” people say, or maybe they pick up custodial work as a second job to earn extra income in evening hours. What too many employees don’t realize is that they can have a great career—that pays well—in the cleaning industry. Through mentorship and managerial shadowing programs, you can give frontline employees a lens into some of the opportunities available in the field. Provide a clear outline of advancement opportunities so they understand what they need to do to get to where they want to go.
  3. Give Recognition. Frequently. From housekeepers week to environmental services week, National Custodian Day (Oct. 2, 2019) to Thank Your Cleaner Day  (Oct. 16, 2019), there are plenty of recognized events to recognize cleaning workers. But you don’t have to wait for an official day to give staff an applause for a job well done—something simple like presenting a star award for outstanding performance or highlighting a “worker of the month” can help workers feel seen and appreciated.
  4. Balance workloads. It’s easy to give the faster, younger people on your team additional work that comes from a call-off or event, but that can create resentment over time. Employ a system to fairly divide work so that no one person or team bear the brunt of additional responsibilities. 
  5. Show you care. Sometimes, it’s the small things that go the furthest with your team. Remembering an anniversary, details of an upcoming vacation or checking in with them to see how their child is doing in school shows your team that you’re listening, and that you care. Encourage your team to share ideas and create opportunities for connection at the beginning and end of each shift so you have time to talk with one another.

Automotive mogul Lee Iacocca once said, “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”

7 Deadly “Muda” or Wastes in a Cleaning Department

Toyota is often looked to set a standard in manufacturing, as it has long embraced lean management principles to develop automobiles across the globe. A large part of its success is due to its innovative approach to production, which can be attributed to Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System. While lean management originally started with Henry Ford’s assembly line, Ohno further integrated these principles into the Toyota Production System, which formed the basis for lean manufacturing as we know it today.

A central tenant of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing is minimizing “muda” —or waste—without sacrificing productivity. From uneven workloads to consumption of materials, limiting waste within an operation is one of the best ways to improve its profitability. 

In their paper, “Cleaning as an Engineered Process: Lean Principles for a Neglected Industry,” authors Dr. Jeffrey Campbell and Kathleen Campbell look specifically at how Lean Management Principles can be used within a cleaning department to improve efficiency.

“Lean is implemented by first understanding the activities and practices that are considered wasteful and do not add value to the process. It then looks at the process and identifies what creates value in the process stream and what is wasteful. A culture of continual improvement must be set up so that those who are in the day-to-day work-flow are comfortable with approaching management with new ideas on how to improve processes. Each area also needs to be cleaned and organized so that everything is in its place. With the preceding steps in place, waste can be eliminated or mitigated, and the process can become more Lean.’ The process should be re-evaluated often as new ideas or improvement emerge.” 

The “Seven Wastes” model is commonly used in lean and quality management systems such as ISO 9000 and Six Sigma. The wastes Ohno identified include:

  1. Transportation: The movement of resources or materials without adding value to your product.
  2. Inventory: Maintaining more product than you need for a given period. 
  3. Motion: Unnecessary movement of employees which may cause injury or are unnecessary.
  4. Waiting: The absence of movement for goods or tasks (e.g. waiting for items to be fixed, delivered). 
  5. Overproduction:  Producing more than you need to meet the customer’s demand or expectation.
  6. Over-processing: Performing work that doesn’t bring value to the organization or customer. 
  7. Defects: Production of a faulty or defective product. 

While a custodial department doesn’t necessarily manufacture a product, they do provide a service and one can easily draw parallels between Ohno’s seven wastes and potential sources of waste in a custodial department. 

Consider the seven deadly wastes when applied to a cleaning department: 

1. Transportation: How do custodial workers move throughout the building/buildings? Do they have defined routes or are they left to move throughout the building as needed? Are they kitted with everything they need (e.g. vacuums, chemical, PPE) to complete their tasks or do they need to go to other locations to retrieve items? 

2. Inventory: What does your janitorial closet look like? Is it filled with old equipment and expired chemicals? Do you purchase extra inventory “just in case” you need it, which contributes to accumulation overtime? 

3. Motion: Janitorial is one of the toughest jobs, which leads to high injury rates (one of the leading occupations for injuries, in fact). Injury from over-exertion is one of the most common to custodial workers. 

Ongoing training and on-the-job observation helps cleaning workers keep safe strategies top of mind for common tasks like lifting, reaching high areas, bending, etc. 

4. Waiting: How much time does it take cleaners to complete their task? Is there idle time? What happens when a space is occupied? Using our 99 Workloading Times and 612 Cleaning Times Book can help you identify how much time it should take your team to complete work assignments. 

5. Over-production: Is there such as thing as “too clean”? No, but there are routine tasks in a cleaning operation that might not need to be completed as often as they are. For example, a low-traffic restroom does not to be cleaned more than once a day unless there’s a specific issue to be addressed. The same goes for floor maintenance activities such as extracting a carpet or finishing a hard floor.

6. Over-processing: Because the cleaning industry currently lacks any standard for cleanliness, cleaning organizations must work with building occupants and customers to identify desired levels of cleanliness. 

In their paper, the Campbell’s discuss APPA’s five levels of appearance in its Custodial Staffing Guidelines book, which can be used a baseline for this discussion. Alan Bigger identifies them in his article “Operational Guidelines for Educational Facilities – Custodial.” 

7. Defects: Problems arise in a cleaning operation when employees lack the necessary training to do their work. In some instances, this can create a PR nightmare, as was the case at a Burger King restaurant in Fruit Cove, Florida when an employee used a floor mop to clean tables in the play area. 

In addition to complaints, the absence of a proper training program can cause injuries and result in inefficient cleaning processes. 

How lean is your custodial operation? Are there areas of muda or waste you could reduce? Consider talking to one of our consultants to learn more about how an engineered approach to cleaning could help! 

The Importance of Time in a Cleaning Operation

“Time is more precious than gold, more precious than diamonds, more precious than oil or any valuable treasures. It is time that we do not have enough of; it is time that causes war within our hearts, and so we must spend it wisely.” 

— Cecelia Ahern, The Gift

Over the years, we’ve spoken with hundreds of facility managers and experts in our industry. One thing that often separates the people who run relatively smooth operations from those routinely plagued with issues is great time management skills. At the front of any great cleaning operation is an individual who not only does a great job of managing his or her own time, but also the time of the custodial team. They equip custodial workers with a toolkit that includes the equipment and products to do the job, along with the ability to make their own decisions and effectively manage their own time. 

Why is time management so important? For starters, because labor accounts for approximately 90 percent of a cleaning budget. The remaining 10 percent goes to supplies, equipment and consumables such as toilet paper, paper towels, etc. As an industry, we typically focus on that 10 percent (e.g. “what’s the cost of auto scrubber A compared to auto scrubber B?”). However, a lot of our business at ManageMen is built around how we can do a better job of managing the other 90 percent.

Enter workloading. Workloading is the term used to describe how labor is managed in a cleaning operation. It details the goals, describes the jobs and projects outcomes for every position within the department. While many facility managers find work loading to be a near impossible task, it’s core to the (OS1) System. Without even distribution of responsibilities, clearly defined tasks and outlined outcomes, too many variables can enter the equation. An operation that has been workloaded is focused and makes the best use of time. 

Take Maria, for example. Maria has a set of specific tasks outlined on a checklist for her to complete in her 8-hour shift. As she’s vacuuming the hallway, she receives a call that someone needs help setting up a conference room. In this situation, Maria has been trained to say “no.” She understands that her checklist is the priority and that if she has time at the end of her shift, she can help setup later. 

We all have the same 24-hours in a day and 8-10 hours a day at work. So what strategies can you use to make the most of time in your custodial operation?

  1. Conduct an audit of how you currently use your time. Do you spend an hour each day responding to email? Dealing with personnel issues? Track your time for a week and see where you spend your time.
  2. Create a list of priorities. This can be divided up into a list of daily, weekly or monthly tasks. Include steps you need to take to achieve larger goals, along with regular responsibilities. 
  3. Establish a set time to complete each task. This is where our Cleaning Times book can be an extremely effective tool: look at the time referenced in our book and conduct your own analysis of the time it takes a cleaning worker to complete the task and compare the two. Having a set time to complete the job will help keep your team focused and on task.
  4. Plan ahead. It’s one thing to complete your list of things to do, but you should also be thinking about what’s next. This can be done either the night before, or first thing in the morning – establish your MIT or Most Important Thing. 
  5. Give yourself time. While it seems counter-intuitive to effective time management, it’s important to allocate extra time between tasks and meetings. Cramming too many activities back-to-back will reduce your effectiveness. Studies have shown that the human brain can only focus for approximately 90-minutes at a time. Give yourself a few extra minutes to take a walk, drink a glass of water or just take a few deep breaths between tasks. 
  6. Keep the Pareto Principle in mind. Italian philosopher and economist Vilfredo Paredo once observed that 20 percent of the pea plants in his garden generated 80 percent of the healthy pods. This led him to think about uneven distribution in other areas, and he found that, in numerous industries, 80 percent of the production came from about 20 percent of the companies. This led to the generalization that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the action—or the 80/20 rule. As a manager, focus your time on the 20 percent of the tasks that will lead to the biggest return. Delegate what tasks do not align with these goals. 

As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says, “Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon you, your goals, and your determination to use every available minute.”