Facility Managers: What Do Touchdowns, Caves, RFPs, GPOs, have to do with Cleaning?

The world of business in North America and around the world is changing and changing very quickly. Facility managers need to know that these changes are being reflected in the ways buildings are used, designed, operated, and maintained.

Very simply, tenants think differently about their workplace, which is causing nothing less than a design and building use revolution. The old design of “one staffer/one office space” has become passé and this is causing many facility managers and building owners to play catch-up, updating, renovating, and changing their properties to address the changing needs of today’s tenant.

For instance, were tenants in the 1990s looking for office space that had a “touchdown” area?  Today, many office designs include a touchdown area—a small designated space that offers power and internet connections, possibly a phone and fax, that a worker or visitor can use for a few minutes up to a few hours.

And were tenants ten and twenty years ago looking for office space that included “caves and commons?” A cave is similar to a touchdown area but more private, often larger, and more permanent, essentially a small private workstation.  However, a “common” is entirely different and is one of the biggest changes in workspace design in years.  A common is an open area, often a very large open area, in which scores of people work: executives, clerical people, middle management, etc.

There are many more changes facility managers shouldnote, such as tenant requests for areas or office space can be retrofitted as “war rooms,” “huddle spaces,” and even “hotels,” but with all these modifications, something that may be overlooked is that these changes have also impacted the ways facilities are cleaned and maintained.*  And because of this, the request for proposal (RFP) that worked fine for choosing a cleaning contractor a decade or more ago is most likely out-of-date when it comes to addressing the cleaning needs of the 21st century tenant in the 21st century office space.

The Need for an Evolving RFP

Years ago, when a new facility manager took over the operations of a new office building, one of their first tasks was to put together an RFP (request for proposal) for cleaning the building.  This is no easy task, even for the most experienced facility manager, and often requires the help a building operations consultant to put it together.  Once it is completed, what usually happens, according to Ron Segura, president of Segura Associates, whose company helps major organizations streamline their cleaning and building operations, is that the “RFP is filed away and pulled out every couple of years when the decision is made (or when facility managers are required) to take bids for a new janitorial contractor.”

According to Segura, about the only fresh-up to the RFP may be to change its date or adding something that was part of an RFP on the Internet that the RFP designer thought looked good. “The question not asked, is will this addition to the RFP impact the quality of the work? Impact costs? Apply to our facility?”

But cleaning has changed, and as we have discussed earlier, so have building workspaces and tenant needs.  For one thing, in today’s environment it is important that we contact building occupants and get the buy-in from them if possible, prior to the issuing of the RFP. Many times building users will make the statement, “nobody ever asked me if there were special requirements for my building”. Which usually tells me they were glad to be asked.

Also, the RFP must adapt to changing environmental issues.  For instance, a big issue in many parts of the country today is water conservation. A standard question to be included – or should be included – in an RFP designed today is to ask the contractor how they will contribute to the conserving of water.

Segura mentions this one example because it is so common. But specifically addressing the needs of the new workspace and the different ways tenants use office space, one of the biggest changes that must be incorporated into an up-to-date RFP is the “commons” area mentioned earlier.  More and more companies want large open spaces for their staff.  This is impacting the cleaning time and needs of the facility because large open spaces typically require the following:

  • Tables must be cleaned and disinfected nightly due to so many more people using the area.
  • Along with this, telephones and any other items that may be shared by many people all require more careful cleaning and sanitation.
  • Private office spaces tend to be neat and tidy, most of the time; with common area work spaces the cleaning professional may never know what to expect 
  • Floors will need more regular vacuuming and/or cleaning; in a private office, floors may only need to be cleaned or vacuumed a couple of times per week; in a large open workspace nightly service will likely be needed

While we did not address it earlier, another change in the way workspaces are used today affects when the facilities can be cleaned.  Asking cleaning workers to begin their work “after workhours” is no longer possible because there often are no set workhours.  When people are in a facility when it is being cleaned, this can slow down the cleaning professional. This can impact how much time – and how much it costs – to clean a facility and should be an issue addressed in the RFP.

The GPO and the Cleaning Contractor

Just as tenants’ needs and the ways tenants use office space have changed, along with how these facilities must be cleaned and maintained, so have the ways some cleaning contractors purchase supplies and receive much of their training and education. The big change, which can benefit today’s facility manager, is the development of group purchasing organizations (GPOs) for the professional cleaning industry.

A GPO is not a buying group.  It is not a group of independent cleaning contractors that have banded together to purchase cleaning supplies and equipment in exchange for discounts. Instead, according to Terry Sambrowski, executive director of the National Service Alliance, a GPO for larger cleaning contractors, a group purchasing organization allows contractors to develop close ties with manufacturers of cleaning equipment, all to the benefit of their customers.

“[Like a buying group] they do enjoy special pricing – which may also be reflected in reduced cleaning costs for building owners – but this relationship and impute from contractors allows manufacturers to design cleaning tools and equipment that specifically addresses the changing cleaning needs of today’s changing workspace.” 

Along with this, Sambrowski adds, there are other benefits of GPOs that can prove helpful for facility managers working with GPO-member cleaning contractors.  These include the following:

First in line: Some manufacturers introduce new equipment first to GPO members before the equipment is brought to market.  Along with allowing them to “beta” test the machines, they have access to the most state-of-the-art equipment long before it is available to other cleaning contractors.

Training: With the new equipment, manufacturers are very concerned that custodial workers are trained how to use these new machines. This training often includes a review of “best practices” in professional cleaning as well as an introduction to new cleaning procedures that improve worker productivity, helping to reduce costs which once again can be reflected in custodial charges.

Competitive edge: Some GPOs have regularly scheduled meetings where members discuss their own challenges along with addressing the needs of the evolving workspace; “what often happens is one contractor has already encountered such problems and discusses how she has handled the situation,” explains Sambrowski. “This means the cleaning contractor will know how to handle an unexpected or unusual issue, they’ve already been taught by another GPO member how to do so.”

Facility managers that must re-work their RFPs so that they include the cleaning of such things as touchdown areas, caves, and commons, should know they are not alone.  Many managers are in the same boat.  Turning to consultants to help address today’s cleaning needs as well as selecting contractors that are members of GPOs can help make these transitions smoother and even cost effective. “Fortunately,” says Segura, “along with potentially resulting in cost savings, facilities often are cleaner and healthier as well.”