It’s 8am in the dead of winter in the midwest. You’ve just received a call from a frustrated client — the manager of a retail store — who said the lunchroom and back bathrooms haven’t been cleaned again, and they are tired of your cleaners not doing their job properly. This was the last straw, and they will be finding a new cleaning service.
You call your cleaner to ask what happened. She explains that the entryway of the store was covered in a thick layer of dried salt, which customers had brought in from outside. Your cleaner, knowing they wouldn’t have enough time to tackle the floors AND the back rooms, made a decision to thoroughly clean the entryway, so that it would be spotless when customers came in the next day.
Because your client’s business is a retail location, your cleaner made the right call by putting the customers business first. Unfortunately, you didn’t know any of this had happened because the cleaning shift took place late at night. As a result, you heard about this directly from the client, jeopardizing the contract.
Had your cleaner been trained to report issues like that at the end of her shift you would have known first thing in the morning, before the client even arrived at their store.
But if you’ve read our post on what your cleaners know that you don’t you recognize that not all problem reporting systems are created equal. For instance, a logbook that lives in a drawer on site is much less helpful than a cloud-based spreadsheet that can be accessed from anywhere.
In this post you’ll find step-by-step instructions for setting up a problem reporting system that uses your cleaners’ smartphones to ensure you’re always in the know about what’s going on across your business.
We’ve also included best practices for setting expectations around the use of technology so that productivity isn’t affected by the use of phones at work.
How to Set Up Your Problem Reporting System
In an ideal world, every commercial cleaning company would use Swept to report problems, request supplies, communicate with clients and other members of their team 🙂
But we recognize that not everyone is ready to purchase janitorial software, and sometimes other solutions make better business sense for the time-being.
In the absence of Swept, we have a free alternative that will work for most business owners. In fact, this is the solution we used ourselves when we were a janitorial company — before building out the full Swept software.
Step 1: Create an Airtable Account
We recommend using Airtable to create a spreadsheet for each of the locations you clean. Spreadsheets within Airtable are called “bases” and work differently than spreadsheets created in Microsoft Excel or Numbers, as they can be accessed and updated by multiple people from any device, anywhere.
Note: If you’re familiar with Google Sheets this cloud-based concept is similar, except Google Sheets requires all users to have a Gmail address to sign in with, whereas Airtable allows you to sign up no matter what email provider you use.
To create a free Airtable account go to airtable.com and sign up. Then come back here for further instructions on how we recommend using it for problem reporting.
Step 2: Copy & Customize our Template
Once you’ve created an account and created a “workspace” (use the name of your company, for instance,) click here to access the Problem Reporting template we’ve created.
Inside the template click “Copy Base” in the top right hand corner. Select the workspace you just created and you should see the template copy appear on your main dashboard.
Pro tip: If the sample bases that appear there by default are getting in the way you can delete them or move them to a separate workspace as shown below:
You can make changes to our template to suit your business (for instance you may not feel you need to have columns for time in / out or total minutes listed,) or you can start from scratch by creating your own base.
There are endless ways to customize your spreadsheets, but we’ll let you rely on Airtable’s Help Centre to learn about all the possibilities.
Step 3: Share the Base with your Cleaners
The next step is to share your base (spreadsheet) with each of your cleaners.
If you’d prefer not to have cleaners view locations they are not assigned to, you have a couple options:
- Create a different base for each location you service, then name and share them accordingly;
- Keep them in the same base but use a different tab (Airtable calls them “tables”) for each location as we did in the template provided. You can then change the access permissions on each tab to customize what each cleaner can and cannot see.
Step 4: Download the Mobile App
If you haven’t already, you’ll want to go to the app store and download the mobile version of Airtable for your Apple or Android device. The app works on both phones and tablets, so everyone on your team should be able to access it.
The mobile app is how your cleaners will update their spreadsheets, so we recommend asking them to download it as soon as they receive their email invitation to join your workspace.
Step 5: Provide an Incentive for Reporting Problems
This isn’t a technical step, but it might be a necessary one for your team all the same. It can sometimes be a challenge to get others on board and excited about change, so we recommend having a plan for incentivizing cleaners ready to go.
It could be that every cleaner who updates the spreadsheet after each shift for one month straight (without missing any shifts) will receive a gift card for a local coffee shop.
You’ll need to explain that it’s important for cleaners to update the spreadsheet with their shift information even where there are no problems to report so that you can refer to the spreadsheet if a client does have a complaint.
Step 6: Set up Email Notifications (Optional)
If you want to take this system to the next level, sign up for Zapier as well and set up a “zap” that connects Airtable to your email provider.
This will allow you to receive an email notification every time a cleaner or client reports a problem in one of your Airtable “bases” (spreadsheets.)
Without this step you will need to make it a habit to check your spreadsheets every morning for new problems.
Pro Tip: If this is the method you choose we suggest at least creating a reminder/alert in your phone to check it as soon as you wake up each morning.
How to Set Expectations Around Technology
If you’re setting up a cloud-based problem reporting system like this for the first time, you’re probably a little weary of allowing your cleaners to be on their phone while at work.
You might fear that by giving your cleaners permission to use their phones on the job they will spend more time texting or on social media than cleaning, and that productivity and quality of service will decline.
While these are valid concerns, at Swept we feel that the improvements to communication and the trust you will build with cleaners will outweigh the risks you face.
Here are some best practices for getting cleaners to use this problem reporting system without abusing the ability to use their phones:
Start from the Beginning
One problem you might run into when trying to implement a system like this is cleaners who either don’t have smartphones or aren’t comfortable using their personal phones for work purposes.
When hiring new cleaners, state in the job description that the applicant must own a smartphone to be considered for the job. Then, ask during the interview process if they would be comfortable using their personal phone at work.
When it comes to existing employees who don’t own smartphones, you’ll need to either provide them with an inexpensive smartphone like this one (the Swept team affectionately refers to it as “Little Blu,”) OR make an exception that allows them to text or call you to report issues at the end of a shift.
If they are resistant to using their personal phone at work, your best course of action is to explain that this system is being put in place to help and support them.
Explain that when their manager has all the information in front of you about what went on at a location it ensures they are not blamed for things that are outside of their control. Likewise, if they need help with something or additional training you will be able to identify their needs and better support them.
Show you Care and Build Trust
To reduce the likelihood of cleaners abusing the use of their phones you’ll need to clearly communicate your expectations as well your commitments as their manager during training, and then again on a regular basis throughout their employment with your company. This should include:
- Providing cleaners with clear instructions for cleaning at each location, as well as the criteria by which their work will be evaluated during your quality assurance process (ie., inspections.) If there is no confusion around what they has to be accomplished during each shift cleaners will be more likely to hold themselves accountable to meeting those expectations. Check out our article on cleaning instructions to learn more.
- Ask about their goals — why are they here? Remember: that aren’t working for your company because they loooove cleaning. They are there for their own reasons, and taking an interest in those goals and explaining that you want to help get them there will allow you to hold them accountable without sounding too authoritative. You can use this information to keep them focused on their goals, and it can help you with tough conversations around performance and attendance down the road. Check out this article from our blog to learn more about this philosophy.
- Use this as an opportunity to build trust. As you know, trust is a 2-way street. By allowing them to use their phones at work you are showing that you trust them, which many cleaners will appreciate and in turn, respect. And while we recognize that this isn’t a fool-proof method, we believe in giving cleaners a chance to prove they deserve that trust 🙂
Teach Cleaners How to Report Problems
At the end of the day the key to a successful problem reporting is that everyone is on the same page. To achieve this in your commercial cleaning business you’ll need to invest the time to include it in your training process when a cleaner is hired, and be diligent with enforcing it as a mandatory part of their job on site.
Once cleaners have the Airtable app downloaded onto their phone it should be as simple as updating the spreadsheet with information from their shift before leaving the location.
Having said all this, we don’t expect the system we recommended above to work for everyone, especially if you have a lot of cleaners or service a lot of locations. If you’re looking for a more robust system that integrates with supply tracking, payroll, inspections and cleaning instructions, that’s where Swept comes in.
To find out if Swept is right for your commercial cleaning business, click here to take our 2 minute quiz.