The New World of Cleaning

The following article is from Behind the Broom and is written by Judy Gillies, President and Founder of the Surge Group.

There is a shift taking place in the cleaning industry. Facility managers are beginning to understand that clean facilities are an investment that both attract and protect its occupants and customers.

They are also realizing that the work of a ‘cleaner’ has gone from just mopping and dusting to operating and keeping up-to-date with new technologies, sophisticated equipment and the use of safer, greener and more cost-effective products. All of this entails a whole new level of professionalism within the industry.

Concurrently, the financial pressures experienced over the last few years have forced a new evaluation of old standards. More than ever before, upper management is intervening— challenging facility managers to keep costs down. They want value for their dollar. There is less tolerance for the traditional industry approach that was sometimes developed over lunch on the ‘back of a napkin’. Upper management is now focused on ‘what makes up the numbers’ and what can be done to reduce cleaning costs.

The 21st century challenge within the industry is to continue the move toward professionalism through innovation, education, recruiting and training, while responding to the harsh reality of cash-strapped facilities reducing their costs. That is, we need to find cost-effective solutions while at the same time, convince the budget makers of the value cleaning brings to the facility.

Cleaning Industry Today


Effective leadership has been and will be a key driver in elevating the cleaning industry status. Effective leadership is required at all levels. Facility managers and/or cleaning contractors must take the lead in presenting good cleaning as the valued investment they know it to be. Effective and thorough cleaning does more than enhance the appearance of a facility; it protects health and saves lives. A March 2012 broadcast of Marketplace on CBC exposed how cutbacks of cleaning in some Canadian hospitals could be responsible for infections contracted while in-hospital ( However, while hospitals are the most obvious case, cleaning in any facility frequented or used by the public can protect against spread of infectious diseases, reduce the risk of cross-contamination and guard against pandemics.

Effective leadership by cleaning industry executives can go a long way toward changing the image of the industry. Attracting and retaining knowledgeable and experienced people into the cleaning industry has been identified as one of the biggest management challenges faced by both facility managers and contract cleaning companies. Cleaning has never been a sexy business; it is often a very thankless job and can require working some very long, irregular hours. It will take creative leaders to embrace the rapidly changing world of this industry; leaders willing to formulate strategies to create an environment that encourages cleaning employees to develop their skills, become more involved in their profession and play an increasingly important role in the facility.


Cleaning is so much more complex than it once was, so training must be implemented at all levels of the organization. A clean and orderly workplace is essential to avoid falls, fire and many other accidents and injuries. After all, clutter and disorder contribute to many workplace injuries and fatalities. Facilities that have used untrained cleaners to save money have often found that this can compromise on the standards of work. Cleaners work with intricate equipment and must understand the safe mixing and usage of chemicals. All of these things have a big role to play in the proper cleaning of a facility. It is not unusual for the role of cleaning to be undervalued in a facility and, unfortunately, the importance of training has not been realized by everyone.

Cleaning is both an art and a science and anyone can be trained under the proper leadership. But the right mix of training can be challenging and costly as the cleaning industry tends to be a ‘revolving door’. The industry attracts a diverse, multicultural workforce, so training programs must be conducted in a multitude of languages. Well-trained personnel in any facility equates to a reliable and motivated work force, consistent cleaning practices, increased productivity, better communication and enhanced teamwork.


New software products are entering the market and changing the way cleaning programs operate. As with every other industry today, the new technology allows us to do more with greater precision and higher efficiency. Facility managers and cleaning contractors have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Reports can be produced in minutes that would previously have taken weeks. Problem areas can readily be pinpointed and deficiencies corrected in record time.

Technology has played a big role in creating ‘best practices’. Breaking out work assignments, inventory management and equipment maintenance can be easily done with the use of technology. Work loading can be based on zero-based budgeting to right-size the cleaning staff for a fairer distribution of work. New mobile devices and applications for smart phones and tablets make it easier to track and communicate with employees and other staff. Problems, questions, or concerns can be responded to in seconds and can readily be tracked and recorded.

While technology adds to the new professionalism, it also requires a new knowledge base. Those still tracking with paper and pencil, or maintaining rooms full of file cabinets, will be left behind.


Reports are useless without communication. The new professionalism requires communication between facility managers and upper management, between contractors and facility managers, and between managers and employees. Communication begins with a well-drafted Scope of Work, but should continue throughout the professional relationship. Positive outcomes should be communicated as well as the negative ones. If cleaners are staying on budget or cleaning beyond the required standard, this is as important to communicate as the opposite situation.

Communication should also flow in both directions. Not only are employees responsible for heeding management concerns, but management should be open to the concerns of employees. If a new system is not working or if the time allowed is not enough to get the job done, the actual cleaners will be the first ones to notice. Similarly, the facility manager must be able to communicate to upper management just what is covered in the budget numbers.

Here, too, technology can be helpful. Photos and videos can communicate deficiencies and work patterns better than mere words. Reports showing numbers or graphs will have more effect on employees and upper management than a written report.


In the past, the cleaning industry had no clear standards or expectations to which to hold itself accountable. Expectations cannot be exceeded if there are none to begin with. Today, many corporations, and even the current Director of Facility Service Programs for ISSA, are stressing the need for standards in developing the cleaning industry’s new professionalism. But in order for them to be effective, the standards must be agreed upon by both facility managers and the cleaning companies. This, again, requires communication between the two parties, along with a professional approach by the cleaning industry to show facility managers they are serious about the business.

Once there are industry standards, there must be a way to ensure those standards are being met consistently. This is where certification comes into the picture. When an individual, organization, or company demonstrates their ability to comply with the standards and see to their implementation, they can then become ‘certified’, which is a mark of assurance for facility managers who are looking for a professional and reliable cleaning service. CIMS and CIMS-GB, developed by the ISSA, are two of the most professionally recognized certification programs in the cleaning industry, as they are awarded by independent, third-party auditors.

By ensuring that there is certification that can be obtained and certain standards to be followed, everyone in the industry benefits. When a cleaning company adopts industry standards and acquires certification, they set themselves apart from their competition and become a professional force to be reckoned with in the corporate world. By raising themselves up to such a professional level, the relationship between cleaning companies, staff, and facility managers improves dramatically. With more and more companies adopting these principles, a new era in the cleaning industry is being born; one in which the industry is being recognized as a professional service by facility managers across the country.


At the core of the new world of cleaning is innovation. Innovation must drive how the cleaning industry is perceived and how it fits into the global economy of the 21st century. The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association (ISSA) recently went to its members to find out how they are approaching the challenges they face daily. It is here where innovation has taken root.
The basic building block of this innovation is education, but obviously, better use of technology, the simplification of methods and systems, as well as discovering new ways to use equipment and products all figure into this. Moving forward, companies will have to innovate in finding greener, more sustainable cleaning solutions that do the job just as effectively as the older, more toxic options.

One of the driving forces behind innovation is the current push to save costs by doing more with less. While having infinite resources to draw on may be less stressful, the need to come up with new solutions provides an opportunity to showcase the new professionalism in the industry. Not only is it necessary to find more efficient cleaning methods, but facilities will want their assets to last longer. Finding effective cleaning methods that cause less wear and tear over time is a new imperative.


With the downsizing of operations, facility mangers are struggling to do more with less. Today’s managers find themselves wearing a number of hats. They do not always have adequate time to devote to resolving issues; quite often, they are simply putting out fires. Today, one person cannot do it all. Efficient and cost- effective management means doing what you do best, while passing on the rest to those who can do it better, often at lower cost. In Chapter 5, we address various partners—from people to computers. As the cleaning industry moves toward the new professionalism, new specialties have and will develop, such as training and instruction, recruiting, software development, etc.

Facility managers are increasingly turning to consultants for their expertise to help in decision-making and problem-solving. The cost of partnering may seem prohibitive initially, but the cost of reinventing the wheel often runs much higher. A third party resource can see things that someone involved in the organization cannot. They can do comparisons with other similar operations and make suggestions and/or recommendations accordingly, to ensure everyone involved is on the right track. Basically, a third party has an unbiased view and sees your operations from a different perspective.

Industry organizations, like ISSA, can also help. All cleaning operations should seriously consider partnering with such organizations that provide a marketplace of ideas, information about changes within the industry, resources for needed assistance, and more.


With all these complexities currently facing the cleaning industry, it is imperative, now more than ever, to keep things simple. It is easy to make simple things complicated, but complicated to keep things simple. That is why having simple, easy-to-follow systems in place is key in effective cleaning operations. Simplification actually allows for growth by keeping the tasks from becoming unwieldy. Simplifying the Request for Proposal, for example, means a facility manager does not have to start from scratch every time they want to go out for proposals. Having a standard, industry-wide checklist for the types of chemicals required to clean certain facilities saves time and effort. The company may choose among a variety of brands and suppliers, but will end up purchasing one chemical rather than three or four different ones, to perform the same task. The same applies to standard training methods, audits and systems to evaluate employees.

Your organization may be moving toward this new professional model, or you may not have started yet. Either way, you should find information in the following chapters that will help you to get, and stay, on track.

It’s a new world of cleaning out there. And it shines!