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Cleaning schedules revisited in open offices

'Wave-offs' more common as flexible work spaces facilitate flexible work hours
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
By Ron Segura

Cleaning in open work spaces invariably must be done while people are still using the office. The main reason for this is that, along with tearing down walls and partitions, the old worker “time-clock” system has been torn down as well. Some staff members may start their day at 7 a.m., or 10 a.m., and there are those that prefer the swing and even graveyard shifts.

This can cause complications for cleaning workers who typically prefer to have the work space to themselves when cleaning.

It can slow them down if people are still in the office when they are cleaning. Often they must stop mid-task, such as vacuuming, because someone is on the phone. (This is called the ‘wave off,’ a term used when office staffers wave off the cleaners to come back later.)

Safety becomes a bigger issue when more people are using the office; this is mainly due to the fact that people are coming and going, resulting in doors being left unlocked that should be locked.

And cleaning needs are amplified. More people using the same space means more areas must be detail-cleaned and disinfected. Disease can spread much faster in an open office, and effective cleaning is one of the primary ways to prevent this.

So, how can cleaning workers get around these realities of the open work space?

Adjust cleaning times

One way to tackle many of these problems is to adjust the time when an open office is cleaned. Office facilities are traditionally cleaned in the evening, often starting around 5 p.m. Depending on the location and the industry, an open office may have a very high density around 5 p.m., with many people still at work and using the office at this time.

Because no two open office workspaces are necessarily the same, the building manager should determine the best time for the cleaning workers to come in. This is so important, it should be written into the scope of services and requests for proposals. In some cases, the contractor will have to pay workers more to come in at odd or unusual hours, and this added cost will need to be reflected in their bids.

While no two locations are necessarily the same, very often it works best to have the bulk of the cleaning performed in the early-morning hours. There are often fewer occupants then, and the facility can be freshly cleaned before many workers start their work day.

Set a schedule

Let’s say that cleaning the space early in the morning is not an option and that managers prefer that the open space office is cleaned after 5 p.m. The only way this will work is for the cleaning staff to set a work schedule and hold the office staff to it.

Such a work schedule might look like this:

  • From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., distinct sets of restrooms will be cleaned; this ensures restrooms are always available to building users, but also notifies them when specific restrooms will be closed for cleaning.
  • From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., trash will be collected.
  • From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., food service areas will be closed for cleaning.
  • Also from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., all desktops, counters, shared workstations and shared electronics will be cleaned and disinfected.
  • At 10 p.m., vacuuming and hard-surface-floor cleaning begins.
  • The remaining time would be allocated to special cleaning projects performed on a weekly or monthly basis (high and low cleaning, floor scrubbing, floor polishing, etc.)
  • During these set times, if cleaning workers are given a wave off, they should be instructed to tell office workers they will come back one more time, but if they cannot clean then, the area will not be cleaned that night.

Promote program success

There are three keys to the success of such a program.

First, everyone using the facility, cleaning crew and office workers, must be thoroughly aware of what areas are being cleaned and when.

Second, such a program requires a degree of flexibility. Too much flexibility and the cleaning program will lose all structure and essentially fall apart. However, there may be occasions when large groups of office workers are meeting at specific times and need certain areas available to them. In such cases, cleaning workers will need to be flexible, and adjust their schedules accordingly.

Third, and possibly foremost, the entire program needs a high degree of courtesy. Both office workers and cleaning workers must understand they both have a significant role to play. Kindness and courtesy among all the players ensures that cleaning is performed efficiently and with minimal disruption.

Open space offices have resulted in many changes for both building managers and cleaning workers, requiring them to work together, as partners, to keep facilities clean and staff healthy.

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations to streamline their cleaning and building operations as well as promote sustainability and healthier cleaning strategies so that facilities function more effectively and efficiently and realize cost savings. 

One thought on “Cleaning schedules revisited in open offices

  1. Hi Ron,

    Thanks for sharing cleaning schedules revisited in offices. This is very useful information. Keeping an office clean is the best way to maintain a productive and comfortable environment.

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