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Want to Reduce Turnover and Improve Productivity? Start by Listening.

We’ve been talking to a lot of (OS1) users recently, gathering input on what they experience on a day-to-day basis so we can improve our training. At Symposium, we speak with leaders of organizations like Sandia National Labs, University of Texas at Austin, Los Angeles Habilitation House, Michigan State University and others to identify best practices, but what about the people actually doing the cleaning? What ideas do the janitor—(OS1) specialists—have for improvement?

A common concern we’ve heard is regarding the general absence of meaningful communication between custodial workers and their department leaders. This is an issue in organizations everywhere—not just (OS1) organizations, cleaning organizations, big corporations or small start-ups. 

As business leaders, we tend to get so caught up in the day-to-day that we don’t take the time to engage our teams. Meaning, we’re the ones doing most of the talking and don’t take much time to listen. Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Fun fact: The average person has an eight-second attention span. Listening is a learned skill that takes practice, but when done well, can create more productive teams.

But listening isn’t something that comes easily to many of us. We spend years learning how to write and speak, but listening isn’t often (ever?) taught in school. It’s an adapted skill that we learn and refine (or not!) over the course of time. Have you ever taken a listening class? If you’re like us, there’s a good chance that answer is “no.” 

A leading consulting firm found that organizations that communicate regularly with their staff — and do a good job of listening — are likely to have lower turnover. This isn’t surprising, because communication helps eliminate the opportunities for misunderstanding so that everyone is on the same page. But the average human has an eight-second attention span, so we could all probably use some room for improvement.

So how can you become a become a better listener? Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Just listen. A lot of listening is just that—truly listening. When someone takes the time to speak, focus your mind on what that person is saying rather than that list of “to-do” items sitting on your desk. Don’t interrupt or attempt to offer solutions as the person is talking, just listen. 
  2. Put the phone away. Let the employee know that they are your immediate priority when you are speaking to them. Your phone might buzz or ring, but by disregarding the impulse to pick it up, you’re showing the employee that they have your full attention and are truly listening to what they are saying. 
  3. Check your preconceived notions at the door. If you think you know what the other person is going to say before you go into a conversation with them, you’re already halfway down the path of not listening. Clear your mind so you are truly open to what they have to say.
  4. Consider timing. It’s hard to be a good listener if the other person isn’t willing to talk. If this is the case, try catching members of your team while they are working. Custodial workers spend a lot of time with their thoughts because they often work alone, so by making it a priority to check in with your team when they are working, you may catch them in their comfort zone and get a better understanding of what’s on their mind.
  5. Ask more questions. A lot of times, we want to help offer solutions or solve problems for people on our team. Rather than responding with an answer right away, ask more questions. This can help create a safer space for the employee and encourage them to speak more. 
  6. Summarize what was said. Active listening is a common communication tool people use to let the other person know that they heard what was said. In addition to validating that you are listening, repeating a summary of someone’s statements back to them helps clear up any miscommunication that may have occurred. 
  7. Silence your inner interrupter. When we think we know what the other person is saying, we can have a tendency to jump into the conversation and respond before the person is done speaking. This can be detrimental to the conversation, not only causing the person to shut down, but also possibly shifting the speaker’s intent in another direction. It can be extremely difficult in some situations, but it’s a best practice to always wait until the other person is finished speaking.

What the Golden State Warriors Can Teach Us About Better Cleaning

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated magazine named the Golden State Warriors as their Sports Person of the Year. They are the fourth team to be recognized with the honor, following the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. 

“Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special,” said Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers upon receiving the notice of the honor.

In an industry such as ours, which is notoriously filled with inefficiencies, it can be beneficial to look to a successful organization like the Golden State Warriors for inspiration and ideas to improve the way we operate. One thing that stands out about the Warriors is how they are a team, both on and off the court. Everyone makes sacrifices and while there are star performers, each individual fills a very specific function within that team dynamic. 

A lot of custodial operations operate use an individual-based approach, rather utilizing than the collective strengths of the team. This is called zone cleaning. Within this type of system, individuals are assigned to clean a specific area, performing all of the cleaning responsibilities within that space. So, a janitor might be required to dust and mop eat floor, empty trash, wipe down/disinfect surfaces and fixtures on the first floor of a building. 

If the Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr were to apply that to his team, you can only imagine the results. At six foot three inches tall, Steph Curry is too small to play center and would never be effective under the basket. He’s a talented ball handler and shooter, which makes him better suited for a point guard or shooting guard position. 

When you apply a team-based approach to cleaning, each individual has a specific job, much like the players on a basketball court. For example, a “vacuum specialist” vacuums all the surfaces throughout the building and checks that wastebaskets have been emptied. It’s much simpler and faster to train employees to perform those two tasks than it is to train them on a long list of jobs. 

Team Cleaning uses specialists who concentrate on defined tasks such as light duty and trash, vacuuming, restrooms, and utility work, much like the players on a basketball court. (Photo courtesy of ProTeam)

Yet the advantages go beyond training. The biggest advantage of team cleaning is improved productivity. Let’s say that you have to clean a 12,000 square foot building with eight floors. If one worker was assigned to each floor, performing every cleaning task over a four-hour period, it would require eight people, eight vacuums, eight trash barrels and eight restroom carts for the entire building. 

In that same building using a “specialists” approach, a light-duty specialist and vacuum specialist would be assigned to the first four floors, and another identical pair of specialists would be assigned to the top four floors. A restroom and utility specialist would be assigned to the entire building. Using this approach, only six people, two vacuums, two trash barrels and one restroom cart is required.

In addition to fewer people and equipment, team cleaning has several additional benefits, including: 

  • It saves energy
  • It reduces complaints 
  • It’s easier to inspect
  • It’s more fun
  • It’s safer
  • It’s faster
  • It’s easier
  • It simplifies the cleaning process

There are several things which experts attribute to the overall excellence of the Warrior’s legacy. This includes the versatility of its players, their skill, the number of great players on the team, their unselfishness and the respect everyone within the organization has for one another. Rise or fall, the team does so together. These attributes have led the Warriors to three NBA championships in the past four years, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 finals.

At Janitor University, we teach janitors to always remember “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

Just like the Warriors, everyone on a team cleaning team is responsible for the success or failure of their team. And as a result, they are stronger—and more effective—together.

* For more information about team cleaning or to find a variety of resources designed to improve the way you set up and manage your team cleaning program, please click here

The Cleaning Gazette – June/July 2015 Issue

The Cleaning Gazette – April/May 2015

The Cleaning Gazette – May 2014

Understanding Cleaning Times and Work Assignments Seminar

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Cleaning times and work assignments are one of the most important, yet misunderstood concepts in managing a profitable cleaning program. In this half-day workshop, John Walker, author of ISSA’s Cleaning Times series, will teach you how to use the 540 Cleaning Times to identify productivity strengths and weaknesses.

Workshop Details

  • This workshop will be taking place at ISSA/Interclean North America 2012 on Tuesday, October 16th at 1:30pm – 5:30pm @ McCormick Place. 
  • Separate registration is required: $149.
  • This workshop is not included in the ISSA Convention seminar fee.

To register for this workshop, just click on the button below:

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While others outsource, UT-Austin Investing in Custodial Training

Custodians listen to Luis Alvarado, an (OS1) Certified Coach, as he instructs them on safe cleaning techniques during their three-week custodial training program. Photo by Melissa Macaya.

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By Melissa Macaya
For Reporting Texas

While many educational institutions across Texas have outsourced their custodial services as a result of drastic budget cuts, UT-Austin continues to hire and train its own custodial staff under their state-funded program called (OS1). The university only outsources about 10 percent of its custodial services for specialized cases…

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Achieving Green Cleaning

Article from the March 2012 Issue of The Cleaning Gazette

There is a conflict in the professional cleaning industry. The green cleaning movement has pushed for cleaning products and practices that are free of toxins, poisons, endocrine disrupters and known carcinogens. Yet, recent outbreaks of infectious diseases and drug-resistant bacteria demand that pathogens be eliminated from the indoor built environment utilizing “kill” agents (read poisons).

In (OS1), we meet both requirements by utilizing an engineered cleaning process and a scientifically validated process for reducing pathogenic microorganisms. (OS1) strikes the right balance between being environmentally sustainable and controlling pathogenic microorganisms.

Benchmarking Best Practices

For twenty years, we have educated organizations about cleaning processes and products that ensure their worker’s health and safety. Aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were first reduced, then eliminated from the (OS1) program. They were replaced by Green Seal Certified chemicals that also provided a source reduction of landfill waste. Mixing chemicals was eliminated. All daily-use (OS1) cleaning chemicals come in pre measured packs so the worker just adds water. This eliminates the danger of chemical overexposure. Although to (OS1) users it is just common sense and education, this is an uncommon practice in the jan/san industry. In addition to safer chemical formulations and packaging, our (OS1) trained Coaches teach their employees chemistry basics including the pH scale, the “4 S’s of cleaning” and cleaning physics. They also train their employees on the correct application of cleaning tools and time. New, neutral pH disinfectants were introduced by PortionPac that effectively kill pathogens, but are safer on surfaces.

John Walker, President of ManageMen says:

“It’s all about knowing the surface and using the right chemical solvent on the soil that is present at the right time. Do it right the first time and you won’t damage surfaces and you won’t have to do it over.”

Disinfection requires not only the right solution, but friction as well, according the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The tool of choice to provide that friction is the (OS1) specified Unger microfiber cloth. Microfiber razor-scrapes the surface. It actually cuts the bacteria away from the surface. The use of color-coded microfiber cloths helps prevent cross-contamination and communicates to the cleaning team who is following instructions. Microfiber is also easier to launder because the weave is so tight, pathogens are washed off the surface quite simply.

Maintaining Indoor Air Quality

Even with the presence of toxic cleaning chemicals reduced, indoor air quality can suffer without proper cleaning techniques and subsequently affect the health of cleaning workers and building occupants. It’s vital that contaminants in the air are captured at their source, before they enter our breathing zones. High efficiency vacuum filters and HEPA filters remove those invisible particulates that carry bacteria and mold spores.

Filters on vacuums clog frequently. When filters are dirty, clogged, and not changed often enough, they lose efficiency. Air quality is almost entirely a function of a custodian’s cleaning or polluting functions indoors, according to Dr. Berry’s UNC study. It is fundamental that the practices of indoor environmental management include tracking vacuum filter changes and cleaning.
Catch Dirt at the Door

“Something as simple as floor mats can also make a huge difference”, according to Dr. Michael Berry in the University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill, publicly funded study comparing “Traditional Housekeeping” with the (OS1) cleaning process in 2006.

In (OS1), we specify that the building must have at least a 15-20 foot walk-off mat. That’s at least five steps on a mat to clean your shoes. If you don’t use mats, dirt tracks into the building. Mats are designed to scrape soil from shoes, and carpets have a tendency to hide the dirt. We want to scrape and remove, not conceal dirt.

Cleaning Professionalism

The establishment of professionalism among (OS1) cleaning workers follows their training and certification. They are the true environmentalists of the indoor environment. (OS1) Users must establish themselves as the  “EnvironMentors” to the  building occupants in the indoor environments that we all share.

Clean and Green: The University of Texas at Austin’s Sustainable Cleaning Process

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Presented by Robert Moddrell and Corey Wright, The University of Texas at Austin.

For the last decade, UT Austin’s Custodial Services has maintained over 12.5 million square feet of the UT campus using a high-performance cleaning process called (OS1). Developed by ManageMen, (OS1) promotes the standardization of the custodial operation through the use of environmentally friendly products and ergonomic tools. With this process, Custodial Services has maintained a consistent cleaning program across campus despite the size of our operation and varying demands of each building. Moreover, this process has ushered in a sustainable approach to cleaning that is easily reflected in our chemical program, water usage, paper and plastic products inventory, team cleaning system, and indoor air quality.

Are Dirty Schools Making Kids Sick?

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Two seemingly unrelated events were the subject of news stories in the early weeks of 2012. The first occurred on January 12, when the Vermont Senate gave final approval to Senate bill #92, a bill that requires public schools and “approved independent schools” to ensure that only environmentally preferable cleaning products are used to clean the schools. The bill will now make its way to the Governor’s desk for his signature which will transform the bill into law. Vermont’s state owned and leased buildings have already transitioned to “green” cleaning products as a result of the Clean State Program created by an executive order signed by Governor Douglas in 2004.

Banning Germ Killers in Schools

But the perhaps, unintended consequence of this legislation action goes further. It bans disinfectants and sanitizers in public schools. Is this really the lengths Vermont want to go to be “green”? If so it joins the states like California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Neveda, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington. It is relevant to note that this legislation has been driven not by the medical community and public health experts but by state procurement officers and purchasing agents in league with the janitorial supply industry.

The Vermont bill allows for the use of disinfectants only when:

  1. Blood, body fluids or fecal soiling is present on any surface; (ignoring that most diseases are spread by invisible germs called pathogenic microorganisms and not visible accumulations listed in the Vermont legislation).
  2.  The State makes a case specific determination that failure to use a disinfectant would create a risk to public health and safety (like MRSA, Avian Flu, SARS, Whooping cough, measles, and the common cold).

Two days later, on Saturday January 14, Dr. Sanjay Gupta CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, aired a report in his series on Toxic America about the sorry, environmental health of schools in the United States. More schools than ever are making kids and school staff sick. While it’s tough to estimate how many toxic schools are in America, most research shows that at least a third or more of U.S. Schools have issues like mold, dust and other indoor air problems serious enough to cause respiratory illnesses like asthma in students and staff. Healthy Schools Network reports that as many as 55 million U.S. children may be attending public and private K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions can make everyone sick.

The U.S. EPA estimates that at least half of all schools in this country have indoor air quality problems caused by toxic chemical and pesticide use, chemical spills, mold infestations, asbestos, radon, lead in paint and drinking water, heavy metals and persistent toxics, such as mercury, CCA and PCBs.

Other highlights of Dr. Gupta’s story included:

  • A story about a woman who claims school air sickened her son for 53 days last school year
  • New York study finds correlation between building maintenance and illness
  • Studies estimate one-third of U.S. schools have mold, dust and other indoor air problems
  • Connecticut school so plagued with mold officials decided to tear it down

Now the Rest of the Story

Missing from both the Vermont and Dr. Gupta’s story was the recognition of the importance of cleaning and sanitation. There was no recognition that a proven process of cleaning and disinfections leads to improved health, comfort and educational performance.

In 2007, Michael Berry, PhD, wrote a booklet Healthy Schools are Clean, Dry and Productive. Largely ignored, this essay provides leadership for both the “school is making my kids sick” and the “green cleaning” groups. Berry points out that the “importance of a healthy school environment in enhancing the learning process is described in many studies. There is a direct connection between environmental quality, comfort, health and well-being, positive attitudes and behavior, and higher levels of education performance. The quality of the school environment shapes attitudes of students, teachers and staff. Attitudes affect teaching and learning behavior. Behavior affects performance. Educational performance determines future outcomes of individuals and society as a whole.”

Berry wrote:

We need to recognize that the main causes of environmentally related illness in schools are water, food sources for the various bio-pollutants, non-existent or ineffective cleaning, and poor ventilation. We should guard against becoming myopic when it comes to assessing environmental risk in school environments. Too often, we spend a large amount of time looking at air quality alone, especially in recent times with regard to mold. This narrow focus is necessary but by no means sufficient to protect the health of our children and their teachers and the quality of our school environments.

Should the states be banning disinfectants and sanitizers?

To protect health in schools, we need to take a close look at total exposure, and not solely focus on the air route of exposure. Bacteria that come from direct contact with other humans and surfaces cause over 80% of environmentally related illness. The main routes of exposure are dermal and ingestion, not air. Even air poses its most serious threats by delivering bacteria and viruses to sensitive receptors. Sufficiently concentrated airborne mold spore and other airborne allergens, such as cockroach antigen, frequently trigger allergic reactions in sensitized individuals, particularly asthmatics.

Disinfectant and sanitizers are by definition toxic. We use them to “kill” pathogens before they make humans sick. The purchasing agents and cleaning chemical supply marketing organizations who promote the complete ban on poisons and toxins in schools don’t understand what Paracelsus, the father of toxicology, declared in the 14th century “The dose makes the poison.” Using sanitizers are fundamental to food preparation, dishwashing and serving meals. Disinfection of potential cross-contamination points in lavatories, and other common touch points in schools are basic to proper cleaning and school hygiene.

Trainers should expect and be prepared to discuss the risk/benefit analysis of proper cleaning and sanitation. (OS1) has an unequalled dedication to environmental issues. But it also values the benefits associated with properly killing pathogenic microorganisms in the public facilities entrusted to us. The State of Vermont and Dr. Gupta should know about the following scientific studies on the importance of cleaning:

  • Frank Porter Graham Study
  • Alexander Krilov Study

They should also be promoting the benefits and the reported results by workers and patrons in (OS1) facilities like Dixon Middle School and University of Michigan. In 2012, the (OS1) user group will be focusing on three areas to “Protect Yourself” in facilities. They are:

  1. The reduction of asthma-type symptoms due to the performance level of (OS1) that provides negligible dust following the UNC cleaning protocol.
  2. Focus on proper use and application of germicidal chemicals.
  3. The opportunity to dramatically reduce humidity in schools by strategically using portable air drying equipment.

These three strategies are a messaging opportunity for the (OS1) trainers, (OS1) support manufacturers (particularly ProTeam, PortionPac & Dri-Eaz) and the Simon Institute.