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What Facility Managers Should Know about Workloading

Most larger facilities have a set schedule for sending out requests for proposals (RFPs).  Even if they have no specific intention of changing vendors, it is often performed just to make sure that what they are currently being charged for products or services is competitive. 

While it can be relatively easy to price compare copiers, for example, things become much more difficult when comparing the costs for intangibles such as custodial services.  This is because cleaning costs can be based on a number of parameters such as service standards of the customer, experience of the contractor, cleaning frequencies, and other variables.  But the big problem is that often building managers are essentially in the dark about what really is a fair and competitive price for providing the service requested. Complicating matters, as many building managers know, proposed costs for contract cleaning can run the gamut with no rhyme or reason to them.

Fortunately, many building managers, working with some janitorial distributors, have begun “workloading” their cleaning services.  This is a technique that helps managers and in-house cleaning professionals, as well as cleaning contractors, to more precisely determine the time, labor needs, and related costs involved in cleaning a facility.

This process is actually not new. But workloading does require a lot of numbers and computations, which is why many managers have avoided it in the past.  However, software and recently released web-based systems, similar to electronic dashboards, have been developed that allow janitorial distributors and building managers to work together, inputting cleaning-related data into the system which then does the numbers, allowing managers to have a more precise understanding of their building's cleaning needs and what it will cost, instead of depending on a ‘hit or miss’ strategy.

Starting from Scratch

The best way to begin effectively workloading a facility is to put aside all previous concepts about custodial staffing requirements, hours, and costs.  It’s similar to unlearning bad habits. What was done in the past may not work now with a workloading strategy, so it is best to take a fresh look at a building’s cleaning and maintenance needs.

Once this is accomplished, the process involves the following:

Cleanable space: Determine the total amount of cleanable space in the building.  The gross square footage of the facility is not the right figure to use for this process, as it could result in projecting significantly higher cleaning costs.  Are building storage areas cleaned every night?  How about mechanical rooms? These are part of the facility’s gross square footage but not what is actually cleaned on a regular basis. Architectural drawings often can help with this information or we must physically measure each area.  However, this tabulation is key to the entire process.

Scope of Work: Managers must break down cleaning into three categories: daily, detail, and project. Daily cleaning involves such things as restroom maintenance, trash collection, vacuuming, and dust mopping key areas.  Detail cleaning involves scheduled cleaning – high and low dusting, for example, that may be performed weekly, monthly, etc.  Project cleaning involves carpet cleaning, floor refinishing, etc., which may only be performed once or twice per year.

Cleaning Times: Here is where the numbers come in but, as mentioned earlier, using software programs or web-based dashboards, these calculations can be determined electronically.  For example, let’s say a facility has 15,000 square feet of carpeting that requires cleaning 260 times per year.  The production rate, as determined electronically by a dashboard or manually by using ISSA’s 612 Cleaning Times1 suggests one cleaning worker can clean (vacuum) 10,000 square feet per hour, making the amount of time to clean all carpet 1.5 hours. The task time (1.5) is then multiplied by the frequency (260), which gives us 390 hours per year.  This process is then repeated for all cleaning tasks from trash collection to restroom cleaning.  

Labor Costs: We then multiply these times by the hourly rate paid.  For managers with an in-house cleaning staff, these rates are readily available. If contracting out cleaning, these rates may be provided with the RFP or can be requested. Some government RFP’s actually require that wages paid workers be documented. Multiply the total number of hours needed to clean each area by the hourly rate. Be sure to add such expenses as taxes, insurance, workers’ compensation, etc., if using an in-house staff.

Supply Costs: The cost of cleaning is about eighty percent labor and twenty percent supplies.  However, these can definitely add up making supply costs a major expenditure for building managers.  Along with workloading, some programs/dashboard systems help ‘price compare’ products so managers can see what product options they have and make thought-based decisions when it comes to product selection.

Many building managers are in the unfortunate position of selecting cleaning contractors with “fingers crossed.” They hope what they agree to pay is a fair price and, of course, they hope they will receive a satisfactory service.  Fortunately, with the help of workloading, computers, and dashboard technologies, much of that “hope” can now be replaced with knowledge, facts, and figures.

Michael Wilson works for AFFLINK, reach him at


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