Outsourcing cleaning services

In the wake of COVID-19, proper building cleaning has become more critical than ever. Cleaning is probably the most frequently outsourced facility operational service. To ensure a successful relationship with a cleaning contractor, extensive up-front work must be done. Failure to make full preparation for a cleaning contractor contributes significantly to the unsuccessful contract cleaning experiences of many facility managers. This preparation includes the following aspects:

  • Conduct a square-foot analysis of the property to identify the quantities of each type of cleaning service required. An analysis of building floor plans, combined with observations of actual finishes in the building, should be done for each floor. Colored floor plans should indicate by square feet the type of area (carpeted, tile, resilient floor, wood floor, concrete, or paved) and totals for each area. If the work is bid, a common practice is to have the suppliers evaluate the property during a building tour and submit bids based on their own calculations and information obtained from facility personnel. Although widespread, this practice is unadvised because it leaves facility managers dependent on the bidders’ assessment of the work required rather than having solid information of the building’s cleanable space and productivity benchmarks.
  • The frequency for cleaning each of the following areas should be defined: entry areas, lobbies, halls, corridors, rest rooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, elevators, copier rooms, computer rooms, garages, loading docks, Dumpster and refuse areas, walkways, fitness centers, lounges, waiting rooms, vending areas, stairs and landings, warehouse areas, window treatments, lights, and so forth.

Some facility managers find they have more operational flexibility if they adopt a performance approach to cleaning. Operational flexibility means that the level of cleanliness is defined, but the exact methods used are left to the contractor’s discretion. This approach is a viable alternative to prescribing skip cleaning, which customers often dislike. It also places responsibility on the contractor and relieves the facility manager of the burden of checking hours of attendance and materials used, so he or she can concentrate on results and the quality of the work. The following items should be considered:

  • The level of cleanliness desired should be specified for each area, followed by an inspection. If you specify a level higher than what you are prepared to inspect (e.g., a very low bacteria count on rest room sinks), you will end up paying for something you may not receive, especially if cleaning workers realize that you are not inspecting to that level.
  • The type of cleaning to be performed on each surface in each area should be defined. For large areas, maximum productivity will be achieved by specifying the type of equipment, such as vacuum size, to be used.

Cleaning Contract Specifications

Clear contract specifications are essential to get the most from your cleaning dollar. If the specifications are unclear and the negotiated price is low, you will get the bare minimum required and nothing more. The preparatory work discussed above forms the foundation of your cleaning specification. Basic elements specified should include scope of work and worker qualifications, discussed below.

Scope of Work

The scope of work is the heart of the specification. It is imperative that quantities be accurate and that procedures be tailored to your building. Use the following as a checklist for defining the scope of work.

  • Specify areas and surfaces to be cleaned and the square footage of each surface.
  • Specify frequency of cleaning for each component, or, alternatively, the level of cleanliness required.
  • Identify permitted methods for cleaning each surface or component.
  • Describe the equipment that must be used, who provides it, and any special training required to use that equipment.
  • Specify mandatory record keeping (time clocks or sign-in logs) that the supplier must follow.
  • Note who is responsible for the supplies inventory.
  • Identify areas of the building that may be used for storage and staging of cleaning equipment.
  • Specify who is responsible for compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Describe waste disposal and recycling procedures, especially for hazardous or toxic waste.
  • Place a vacancy clause in the contract so that the contractor will not clean or be paid for the cleaning of vacant areas.
  • Identify work hours and responsibility for damages to the property.
  • Describe how many personnel you expect to clean the building, unless you decide to use a performance approach and leave the staffing to the contractor.
  • Specify who is responsible for keys.
  • Identify who is responsible for safety data sheets (SDSs) on products and dispensers. (Note: SDSs might need to include text in English and a second language, such as Spanish or Korean.)
  • Indicate who is responsible for safety and training.
  • Specify hours of normal cleaning operations.
  • Specify how cleaning is handled for special or one-of-a-kind events.
  • Specify conditions for cleanup during construction activity.
  • Specify emergency contacts/management contacts for cleaning staff.

Worker Qualifications

Cleaning has become a very sophisticated service, especially concerning environmental health and safety issues such as the use, application, and disposal of chemicals. Therefore, every worker must meet the following basic standards:

  • Require proof of experience and qualifications of the cleaning crew supervisor (for example, make sure this person has supervised cleaning crews at equivalent sites).
  • Specify the type of training required of cleaning personnel, including safety training (such as prohibitions regarding mixing of chemicals and use of electrically powered equipment with frayed power cords).
  • Identify who is responsible for providing the training.
  • Specify security requirements for the cleaning personnel, such as the wearing of identification and uniforms; access procedures for cleaning secure areas; rules regarding the protection of the customer’s property; use of customer’s equipment, such as phones; and the salvage of items disposed of in the trash.
  • Ask for customer service training for cleaning staff who interact with customers.
  • Insist on proof of citizenship or legal alien/resident status to avoid liability for illegal hiring practices.


Inspections are essential if you are serious about getting the level of service you have specified. At least some of these inspections must be random and unscheduled.

  • Specify inspections of the work to be made by the contractor and the type of reports that facility operations will require; also specify the rights of facility personnel to make unscheduled, surprise inspections.
  • Identify the required equipment inspections to assure that equipment is operating properly and safely.
  • Specify the procedures for responding to complaints or problems.

Benchmarks for Successful Cleaning

Benchmarks for cleaning are important because, while wage rates are relatively low, cleaning is the most labor-intensive aspect of most facility operations. There is a wealth of sources for good benchmarks for cleaning services, including IFMA research reports and, for leased property, the BOMA Experience Exchange Report. Technical benchmarks include the following:

  • Cost per square foot for providing this service at one of the recognized industry levels of cleaning—Standard service amounts to bare bones service; special service encompasses what most occupants would consider routine cleaning of all surfaces; and custom level includes unusual or especially frequent work.
  • Productivity of cleaning staff—The most recent benchmark of productivity for cleaning work is 2,500 to 2,800 square feet of cleanable space per person/per hour for standard services.
  • Number of customer complaints concerning cleanliness per square foot of cleanable space—Cleanable space is often called “ruggable,” meaning carpeted, but usually includes public rest rooms and other building service areas.

In addition to these basic measures, other indicators of performance include customer perceptions of cleanliness obtained from customer satisfaction surveys, and the general appearance of high-profile, high-sensitivity areas such as elevator cabs, elevator lobbies, and executive offices.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s Fundamentals of Facilities Management course, part of the FMA designation program. More information regarding this course or the BOMI-HP™ credential is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website, www.bomi.org.