Cleaning service providers as facilities partners

From the October 2021 print edition

Over the past year and a half, we have all had to adapt. People have settled into routines of Zoom calls on the sofa and lunches at their kitchen table. It has been a time of introspection and reckoning – solutions that worked yesterday will not work today; and now you have been given the task of welcoming employees back to the office, ensuring they feel safe and supporting them. Hiring the right cleaning service provider is your first step to ensuring you do it right.

Although cleaning may not be your business, it matters. A good cleaning company is an essential partner for your building. How do you choose the right cleaning services provider? The first step
is to ask yourself some questions and consider what you have now.

Why are you looking to make the cleaning change? Is it cost-savings? Is the contract up for renewal? Is it because of the quality of work? Or do you want to explore options? The likely answer is all of the above, and maybe you have no relationship with your cleaning company.
The foundation for all great partnerships is respect and connectedness. How much do you know about your cleaners? Do you refer to them by name or as the “cleaners”? What time do they arrive? How long do they stay? How much do they know about your needs?

A good cleaning company is interested in serving you, listening and glad to clean. Their engagement will show if they move from a problem to a solution quickly, be proactive in managing expectations, and care that they help you win.

To see if they care, peek inside the janitors’ closet. It is not only where they store their tools; it’s their office. A clean, well-organized closet shows you if they care about the work and take pride in the profession. A disorganized, dirty room not only is unsafe and unhygienic, but demonstrates lack of interest.

Ask the end user
Now that you have decided that change is needed, now what? Ask the customer. One of your best resources is the people who interact with the space daily. A survey of your people will tell you what didn’t work, what worked and what they would like to see added.

Creating a cleaning committee – an employee-led group that provides feedback on cleaning – is another excellent tool to help understand what’s most important to your people. It also allows them to feel like they are part of the process.

Professional janitors train to handle cleaning chemicals, supply professional-grade equipment and are certified in all safety requirements. This training also includes knowing how to perform ergonomic cleaning – the skills needed to tackle the most challenging jobs effectively and efficiently. The right company for you has skilled and well-supported people.

The right fit
A great website, reports of millions of square feet cleaned and years in business mean something, yet it doesn’t tell the whole story. It is important to ask critical questions to test your prospective cleaning partner’s reliability and ensure they have the right cultural fit.

What is their staff turnover rate? What is their account retention rate? What is their process for hiring? What are their thoughts on environmental stewardship? Do they have a safety and health program? How about a diversity strategy? The pandemic has changed the way people work and what they expect. Organizations now look to facilities managers to address concerns about hygiene and cleanliness in the workplace. To help set clear expectations, a service level agreement is a must.

An SLA is a shared understanding between the building manager and the cleaning team
of what will be delivered. It provides a standard for evaluating results by detailing components such as areas to clean, tasks involved and the frequency of the work. A professional cleaning company will ask you for your SLA and offer to build one for you if you don’t have one.

Next, ask your cleaning company for their transition plan. A smooth transition is essential to onboarding. The aim is to minimize stress in the workplace and allow you to keep your business focus. A plan should include a pre-walk with the site manager, a review of requirements such as times to start, keys/code access and the delivery of supplies. It also will include introductions to the new cleaning teams, designating a contact person and scheduling facility walk-throughs.

Check in with progress and ask for adjustments. Part of good onboarding is establishing weekly and monthly reviews and using your SLA will give you a roadmap to measure performance.
Typically, a new team will take from one week to a month to settle into their new routines. A good launch plan has a solid people process, including hiring effectively, pre-training thoroughly and supplying equipment. You should see improvements reasonably quickly.

Your new cleaning team should accept feedback and make changes quickly. If there is ongoing inconsistency in tasks performed, frequent changes in staffing, or slow communication, it might be time to request a meeting with the account manager.

Lastly, if attempts fail to find a remedy, it’s good to keep in contact with the other companies you considered. If a change is needed, do it quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Procurement, facilities and purchasing managers are all on the front lines of this return-to-work phenomenon. You do not have to be there alone if you choose the right cleaning service provider.

Isvar Prashad is founder of The Carter Benette Group, a commercial cleaning service.