The gradually rising GDP and volatile market forces compel entrepreneurs to get into businesses that are much in demand for lucrative gains. Many manufacturers & service providers take the shortest road to stay ahead in the competition. Many, at the same time, struggle to sustain due to unprofessional and unhealthy practices. In the last five years, cleaning contractors or housekeeping service providers have mushroomed by the score, with increasing demand from various industries for such services. The surge in demand has also encouraged unhealthy practices such as non-payment of minimum wages or other statutory benefits and improper cleaning contracts. Housekeeping, janitorial, gardening, pest control, waste management, mail room management, vendor management and other soft skills are viewed as mundane services. But, housekeeping is an art, which after perfecting the same, is a science. Efficient rendering of these services has a positive impact on business, builds brand equity and increases employee morale of the client company, says Jason O’Connor, Proprietor of O’Connor & Associates, Asset Management Company, Mumbai. O’Connor, who has recently begun operations, has a vast experience having worked with well-known FM companies for over two decades.
Housekeeping business can be started with a handful of people. Even with a staff of five janitors, one can begin work, says Jason, but “provided there is at least one supervisor for a team of five to seven workers”. Before the individual or the housekeeping company sets forth in any kind of engagement of any kind of job – it could be a one off job like weekend cleaning or contract cleaning – he/it has to have the relevant experience in terms of visiting the site, preparing of a site report which is mandatory, understanding the area – the break up in terms of floor area, carpet area, fabric, toilets, the servicing terms, frequency and the cost based on the frequency.
There should be some understanding between the client and the service provider based on all of the above terms. Right from the number of workers in various shifts, the number of supervisors to the number of working hours has to be clearly laid down when dealing with the client. Hence, any individual wanting to open a housekeeping company with the above knowledge can do so even with a small amount of money. The main reason that could account for his failure is when he takes short cuts on the three aspects – safety angle, legal statutory angle and the training of the right people to do the job. “You can have all the systems and processes but all of them are as good as the men you employ. This in turn also affects the service provider’s cleaning contract,” says Jason. Few important things that make a cleaning contract company professional, include
- Implementation of all social security norms
- Application of man, machine and material
- Training and Supervision
- Safety during handling of machines and various applications
- Provision of protection gear for the worker
Implementation of social security norms
Any company for that matter, employing more than 20 people, is legally bound to provide its workers with social security benefits. A detailed report on the various mandatory benefits to employees has been discussed in the following pages.
Application of man, machine and material
A professional housekeeping company, says Jason, will provide:
- consistent & quality oriented services
- use of state-of-the-art cleaning equipment & technology
- specialised cleaning
- cleaning & maintenance of all areas within the contract
- complete MIS reporting systems
Jason suggests that the Strategic Alignment model is a holistic framework that brings together the four elements that must be aligned to achieve sustained superior performance. Understanding the customer needs and market demand, the housekeeping company has to formulate service strategies. The strategy should keep in mind the working environment of the client company in order to abide by the rules of the contract. This in synchrony with the workers’ ability to perform and able supervision helps better achievements. These principles are explained in a diagram above.
Training & Supervision
The housekeeping company has to create a specialised team of people who are in the know-how of doing the work, no matter how small or big. This specialisation comes through training. The housekeeping service provider should be able to train workers on the application of man, machine and material. “But this team should work under qualified supervisors. Specialised jobs should be conducted under close supervision.”
Most contracts demand cleaning to be done after office hours and it is essential that it is done in the presence of the supervisor. A supervisor ensures that the terms of the contract are being met and nothing is being messed around. People should be trained to do only as much as they are expected to do.
Training also helps harnessing young talent and brewing them into quality staff to conduct specialised services like chandelier cleaning, carpet shampooing, floor polishing, etc.
Safety in terms of application, where the methodology is followed correctly and safety in terms of equipment, is crucial. “Incorrect usage of chemicals, for example in floor cleaning or carpet cleaning, can result in permanent damage to the floor or carpet.” A worker while cleaning the carpet can leave spotting on the carpet by using the wrong chemicals or the carpet itself can shrink in size due to wrong treatment.
Hence, it is necessary that workers handle various operations under the supervision of supervisors who are experts. When it comes to handling equipment, says Jason, a worker could also get seriously injured. A floor burnisher/buffer is very heavy equipment and could throw the worker off the floor.
Many machines come with multiple applications and have to be handled with care. Some applications like glass cleaning/façade cleaning, chandelier cleaning, ceiling cleaning, etc., should be performed by trained workers and should be done under supervision, which is also a mandatory requirement. The time required for the detergent to remain on the floor/carpet from the time it gets on the floor, is also critical job of supervisor, because any detergent that stay beyond its required time on the carpet area or soft area, runs the risk of staining/shrinking it or damaging the surface.
Workers are always under the risk of getting exposed to chemicals. Detergents and other chemicals used during the cleaning process release fumes that could pose danger to the workers and hence the use of mask, gloves and other gears is important for the safety of the worker.
Need of the hour
Today, every client expects the professional management of housekeeping which is possible through the following:
- Provide regular reports weekly or the Monthly Management Report (MIS/MMR) by the beginning of the following week/month. This will give the client the clear picture of the housekeeping performance.
- Formal meetings and discussions with the clients on the soft services offered.
- Assessment of worker performance.
- Provide regular feedback to the client on agreed follow-up points from meetings.
- Ensure all employees under housekeeping go through a proper induction training followed by attending all the modules of the in-house soft skills training programme within 15 days of joining the company and before he/she is deputed on a client site. A good financial and beneficial model for a housekeeping vendor is to hire bench strength when he is performing large scale one-off jobs i.e pre-opening of a mall/hotel/hospital. Where all finishing jobs such as surface cleaning, glass, rest rooms, floor polishing, etc., are conducted, is a good opportunity to have freshers work alongside the experienced hands as they will pickup and learn fast on the job besides a the client will not mind the large number of housekeeping team on site.
- Implement a ‘CIWT – Continuous Improvement Work Team’ programme for all client account to ensure & encourage innovation from the operational teams. (Must meet at least every quarter.)
- Record all the innovations & improvements presented in CIWT programme in ‘A1 solutions site’ (which can serve as a central repository for best practises) for easy access to all employees.