FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit

Cleaning Needs for the 21st Century

by Robert Kravitz — Originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of FMJ—The world of business in North America and around the world is changing, and it’s doing so very quickly. Facility managers need to be aware of the fact that these changes are being reflected in the ways buildings are used, designed, operated and maintained.

Very simply, occupants think differently about the 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 facility occupants.

For instance, were workers in the 1990s looking for office space that had a touch-down area? Today, many office designs include a touch-down area — a small designated space that offers power, Internet connections and possibly a phone, which workers or visitors can use for a few minutes or up to a few hours.

And were occupants 10 and 20 years ago looking for office space that included “caves
and commons?” A cave is similar to a touch- down 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 very large, in which scores of people (such as executives, clerical people, middle management, etc.) work intermingled.

There are many more changes to note, such as occupant requests for areas or office spaces to be retrofitted as “war rooms,” “huddle spaces” and even “hotels.” With all of these modifications, something that may be overlooked is that these changes also impact the ways facilities are cleaned and maintained. Because of this, a request for proposal (RFP) that was adequate for the cleaning contractor selection process a decade or more ago is most likely outdated when it comes to addressing the cleaning needs of occupants of 21st-century office spaces.

Need for an evolving RFP

Years ago, when a management company took over the operations of a new office building, one of its first tasks was to put together an RFP 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, 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 custodial contractor.”

According to Segura, about the only update to the RFP may be to change its date. But cleaning has changed, and so have building workspaces and occupant needs. For instance, one of the most common requests found in older RFPs is that “floors be stripped and re-waxed every four [or possibly six] months.”

Today, we no longer use the terms “waxed” or “re- waxed,” according to Segura. “The terms we use today are [floor] ‘finish’ and ‘re-finish.’ And few managers today want their floors to be refinished every four to six months. It’s simply too costly, too disruptive, [potentially] too environmentally unhealthy, and due to new hard-surface floor coverings and decors, simply may not be needed.”

With something like this listed in an RFP, what
is probably the biggest negative implication is
what we just mentioned: costs. To refinish floors
as frequently as listed in the RFP can increase the contractor’s estimates significantly. This means that this old RFP, which may have been prepared initially to help reduce expenses, is actually causing facility managers to pay far higher costs for custodial work than is necessary.

Segura mentions this one example because it is so common. But specifically addressing the needs of the new workspace and the different ways occupants use office space, one of the biggest changes that must be incorporated into an up-to-date RFP is the “commons” area.

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 each area.
  • Along with this, telephones, keyboards, calculators and other items may be used by many people, all requiring more careful cleaning and sanitation.
  • Private office spaces tend to be neat and
tidy, most of the time; with common-area workspaces 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.

Another change in the way workspaces are used today affects when the facilities can be cleaned. Asking cleaning workers to begin their tasks “after work hours” is no longer possible because there often are no set work hours. When people are in a facility when it is being cleaned, this can slow down the cleaning professional. This can impact how much time it will take — and how much it will cost — to clean a facility and should be an issue addressed in the RFP.

The GPO and the cleaning contractor

Just as occupants’ needs and the ways they 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 managers, 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 a GPO for larger cleaning contractors — a group purchasing organization allows contractors to develop close ties with manufacturers of cleaning equipment to the benefit of their cleaning 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 input from contractors allows manufacturers to design cleaning tools and equipment that specifically address 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:


Touch-down Area
Small designated space that offers power, an Internet connection and sometimes a phone. For use by workers or visitors for a few minutes or up to a few hours.

Small private workstation. Similar to a touch-down area but more private, often larger, and more permanent.

Open area, often very large, in which scores of people at all levels of the business work intermingled.
War room
Typically refers to a private room or space set up for teams to address specific projects. Includes tables, flat screens connected to computers or other data sources, chalk or white boards, etc.

Huddle space
Usually informal, relatively small areas where two to five people can meet together privately.

This practice offers a space similar to a touch-down area (but larger) that is designed to be used for one or more days by a specific staffer or visitor.

  • 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 during which 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, as they’ve already been taught by another GPO member how to do so.”

Facility managers who must re-work their RFPs so that they include the cleaning of such spaces as touch-down 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.”

Robert Kravitz

Robert Kravitz

Robert Kravitz has authored many articles on the professional cleaning, building, building management, hospitality and health care industries. He may be reached via his website, AlturaSolutions Communications, at 


FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit

Articles in FMJ are the exclusive property of IFMA and are subject to all applicable copyright provisions. To view abstracts and articles not shown here, subscribe or order individual issues at Direct questions on contributing, as well as on permission to reprint, reproduce or use FMJ materials, to Editor Erin Sevitz at

IFMA is the world’s largest and most widely recognized international association for facility management professionals, supporting 24,000 members in 104 countries. This diverse membership participates in focused component groups equipped to address their unique situations by region (133 chapters), industry (15 councils) and areas of interest (six communities). Together they manage more than 78 billion square feet of property and annually purchase more than US$526 billion in products and services. Formed in 1980, IFMA certifies professionals in facility management, conducts research, provides educational programs, content and resources, and produces World Workplace, the world’s largest series of facility management conferences and expositions. To join and follow IFMA’s social media outlets online, visit the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages. For more information, visit