Strength in Numbers

Proper workloading and software applications can help validate staffing and budget decisions

Strength in Numbers

Labor costs typically account for the largest portion of any cleaning budget, and with today’s companies constantly under pressure to do more with less, you must be prepared to justify staffing needs.

Doing so involves having accurate answers to the following questions:

  • How long does it take to complete a taskor clean an area?
  • How does changing the frequency of a particular task affect the resulting costs and cleaning results?
  • How do increases and decreases in total square footage impact the bottom line?
  • How would a change in wages alter the overall budget?
  • What is the best cleaning plan?

The process of workloading a facility, building, or cleaning job will provide answers to these questions, and will help to establish a scope of work, staffing levels, and an accurate estimate of costs to perform the work. Workloading also can help identify productivity strengths and weaknesses in addition to help support or justify a bid. Understanding the fundamentals of workloading and using the right tools to implement the process will help you identify improvement opportunities and get the most out of your workforce.

Clean the Slate

Many people in our industry believe they can walk into a facility, and based on their experience alone, determine how many hours and employees are needed to clean the building. This guesswork is neither a reliable nor accurate method for developing a staffing plan. Relying entirely on the way you’ve staffed the building in the past isn’t going to cut it either. Even if you do produce estimates that appear correct, your figures are not data-driven and therefore, are not reliable or defendable.

Before starting the workloading process, forget everything you know; forget your staffing numbers, labor hours, and current scope of work. You need you start calculating from scratch for workloading to be truly beneficial. However, after using the following four steps, you may want to come back to these old numbers to compare them to your new projections.

Step 1: Take Inventory

Determine the total amount of cleanable space in the facility or building you plan to service. Don’t confuse this with gross square feet; cleanable space is only the area that your staff will actually clean. The best ways to obtain an accurate measure of cleanable space are to look at the building’s architectural drawings (provided they are correct) or to physically measure each area. Your goal is to get a precise number of square feet for each cleanable surface and categorize each one by its surface type (for example, 15,000 square feet of carpeted general office space).

Also, make note of cleanable objects in each space, such as desks and chairs, that may not be accounted for within the square footage.

Step 2: Determine Tasks and Frequencies

Break down tasks into three categories—daily, detail, and project. Some examples of daily tasks include cleaning restrooms, removing trash, and vacuuming. Detail work, including high dusting and spot cleaning, is usually scheduled. Project work occurs less frequently—weekly, monthly, or annually—and includes tasks like deep carpet cleaning and floor stripping.

Next, assign a frequency to each task. The frequency is the number of times per year each task needs to be performed. For example, a task that is performed five days per week is performed 260 times per year (five times per week multiplied by 52 weeks in a year). Together, your task list and annual frequencies make up the scope of work.

Step 3: Calculate Labor Hours

Once you have a scope of work, you can determine how many labor hours it will take to clean each area by assigning each task a cleaning time or production rate. First, conduct your own time-motion studies or consult a resource such as ISSA’s 612 Cleaning Times to calculate average cleaning times for particular cleaning applications, such as wiping down desks or mopping a floor.

Next, you can calculate the number of labor hours you will need. Let’s say the task of vacuuming all carpeted floors in a 15,000-square-foot area is to be performed 260 times per year and its production rate is 10,000 square feet per hour. If you divide the area by the production rate (15,000 square feet/10,000 square feet per hour), you will get the amount of time required to complete the task, which is 1.5 hours. You can then calculate the annual time in hours by multiplying the time the task takes by the annual frequency (1.5 hours x 260 times) to get 390 hours per year. Repeat this process for each task and area of the building you plan to clean.

Step 4: Determine Labor Cost

Once you have determined the total annual time needed to clean each area, you can then find out your labor cost by multiplying the total hours by the wage rate. You may want to include an additional percentage for taxes, insurance, and benefits. Your final cost will also factor in supply costs, equipment depreciation, hiring expenses (such as background checks and drug testing), miscellaneous expenses (such as mobile phones and uniforms), overhead, administration, and profit.

Simplify With Software

Whether you manage an in-house cleaning operation, outsource services, or run a cleaning business, knowing the number of labor hours a task requires is the key to effective management. Calculating these numbers faster and more accurately is even better. Many software tools are available today to streamline the workloading process while also providing additional features. Software can help you build, execute, and measure the results of a cleaning plan, which will help your organization continually improve. Some software tools can track supplies and equipment, capture employee training and work history, schedule cleaning tasks, and service a wide variety of other needs.

Software can also help BSCs win more bids by creating professional bid documents with a clear, detailed breakdown of how the numbers were calculated. It can ensure that jobs are estimated properly so BSCs do not lose money by underbidding or customers by overbidding. Jotting down numbers on a piece of paper with little explanation is no longer sufficient.

Software is configured to calculate everything for you automatically; it takes into consideration the traffic patterns and types of equipment you use to provide more accurate results. Customers can defer to a BSC with software to quickly and accurately find answers to questions, such as: “What if we reduced this task frequency to one less day per week?”

Validate Your Decisions

There are many ways you, as a cleaning manager, can use the data collected during the workloading process. With square footage, cleaning times, and tasks calculated, you can note areas where facilities or cleaning jobs may have too few or too many staff. If necessary, you should shuffle staff to increase performance and reduce labor hours. Even if this procedure shows that you already have an accurate number of workers performing each task, the workloading process helps validate staffing levels, especially when they are under scrutiny.

Showing data or workloading reports is an excellent way to justify a request for additional employees or an increased budget. This data also helps explain to workers why one employee might clean twice the square-footage as another, which may even keep employees from quitting.

Elevate Your Business

Cleaning businesses or departments are only as good as their workforce, and cleaning managers are only as good as their task-management skills. By using proper and effective workloading, you can be a great cleaning manager, get the most out of your workforce, and improve your functionality and profit.


For more information on this topic, be sure to attend Dave Frank’s education session, Workloading Made Simple, Monday, September 11, during ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America 2017 in Las Vegas, NV.

Posted On July 6, 2017

Dave Frank

President of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS)

Dave Frank is president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS), an independent third-party accreditation organization that establishes standards to improve the professional performance of the cleaning industry. With more than 35 years of experience, Frank is a leading authority in the industry. He can be reached at [email protected].

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