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Custodial Services News archives

Taking Learning to the “Field”

In August 2022, E&G Custodial Services AD, Vibha Buckingham, sent the team's staff development manager, Sandra Smith, to join frontline associates where they work. The plan was to have meaningful conversations that would not only teach, but also emphasize frontline's vital role to the university.

“I envisioned the benefits of bringing training and collaboration to the frontline in small group conversations that informed, inspired and added some fun to their workday,” said Buckingham.

The important soft and hard skills discussed:

  • Everyone's a Leader
  • Importance of work flexibility
  • Building trust-based relationships
  • APPA's importance to E&G Custodial Services
  • Standing in the shoes of a Quality Assurance Inspector

Altogether, 77 frontline team members participated in the 5-person sessions. Feedback reports indicated unanimous satisfaction for the program, with high marks given to acting in the role of a QA Inspector.

According to Buckingham, “Such engagement for our frontline gave them clarity on the technical standards developed by APPA to measure the quality of their work. This can only lead to more awareness in improved practices and task completion.”

Another bonus from this exercise was decreased stress levels in frontline associates. We are always looking for creative ways to decrease job-related stress for the frontline. Sharing the fact that quality score results are not selected by QA Inspectors helped de-personalize the process, resulting in a greater understanding and acceptance of the quality audit program.

Field location learning will continue in 2023 with topics on sustainability, GS-42 program certification as well as improving relationships by understanding the importance of self-awareness.

Newcomb Zone Housekeeping Olympics

E&G Custodial Services' Newcomb Zone enjoyed some friendly competition during UVA spring break with a Housekeeping Olympics event on March 10 organized by Zone Manager Tiffanny Morris and her supervisory team. The three teams (The Little Rascals, The A-Team Scrubbers and The Scrubby Doos), consisted of approximately 25 participants who competed in multiple events such as a timed vacuum clean-up, a mop obstacle course, a 19-inch burnishing pad toss caught by long handled toilet wands, PPE don-doff race and toilet brush toss into buckets. The Scrubby Doos secured 1st place with the highest medal count, but everyone had FUN!

Check out photos from the Newcomb Zone Housekeeping Olympics.

Check out a video of the Newcomb Zone Housekeeping Olympics:

Secure your team's future by preparing now

Author: Sandra A. Smith, E&G Custodial Services Manager, QA & Staff Development; published by SRAPPA, spring 2021. Full article available in the SRAPPA Spring 2021 newsletter.

Illustration of figures collaborating to stack columns of a rising bar chart

If 2020 has shown us anything, it's that it takes everything we've got just to maintain daily operations. Success during such times demands high levels of engagement and commitment from every team member every day. Absent these two qualities, we couldn't reach our core business goals of providing APPA level 2 service and healthy work and study environments.

But what about the future? What is leadership doing today to help team members prepare to take the reins when opportunities present themselves tomorrow?

At UVA, the Educational & General Custodial Services department works hard every day to keep our “feet” firmly planted in the present and the future. In addition to meeting current customer expectations for clean and healthy environments, we also provide focused learning opportunities to help team members prepare for greater roles for whenever they become available.

We feel so strongly about providing ongoing professional development that we named it and created a process to drive it. It's called Continuous Advancement Preparation (CAP), and like a multi-rater feedback process, (i.e., 360-degree performance feedback), CAP employs multiple tools and people to reach individual development goals for our associates. All we ask of candidates is a commitment to want to grow and apply what they've learned. Here are some of the program's concepts:

  • Identify needed competencies for upcoming roles.
  • Establish one-on-one customized mentor-ships.
  • By ninetieth day of employment, new hires complete an innovative Good Starts! developmental program.
  • Encourage professional certification.
  • Send an enthusiastic candidate — instead of a seasoned manager — to a conference or industry association meeting.
  • Assign an “own it” project for candidates to assess and successfully complete.
  • Engage a third-party professional to address any interpersonal impediments that may be blocking progress.

Overall, the benefits include earlier wins by new hires; each is motivated to become a “positivity champion,” and, of course, many have moved into progressively greater roles or have demonstrated advanced skills.

Whether or not candidates move “up” in the organization, it is clear that they enjoy the process offered by our Continuous Advancement Preparation initiative. Sometimes the mere act of learning something new is enough.

Full article available in the SRAPPA Spring 2021 newsletter

Customers Across Grounds Share in Infection Prevention Efforts

Partner with us to help keep working and learning environments healthier across Grounds.

With the onset of COVID-19, UVA custodial workers have added infection prevention to their regular cleaning regimens. Part of this enhanced focus is to disinfect high touch points more frequently. But with millions of square feet of surfaces across Grounds, we’re also welcoming the support of all building occupants to help provide ‘real time’ disinfection of critical surfaces between uses.

Performing personal type disinfection has become part of everyone’s ‘new daily routine’ along with social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and using face coverings inside and out when on Grounds.

To help support real-time disinfection by all, the University has provided disinfection kits to faculty, staff and students.

Here are some key ways that everyone can help:

  • Office Occupants: To help free up time for custodians to do more disinfection in general areas, office/cubicle occupants should leave trash cans outside their spaces before leaving for the day. Use disinfection kits provided to address real-time wipe-down of shared objects, high touch points and other frequently used items in spaces before leaving for the day.
  • Classrooms: Educators and students can use disinfectant supplies to disinfect podiums, desks, chairs, and tabletops in-between classroom changes, or more frequently if needed.
  • Kitchen/Break Room/Food storage: Encourage all users to disinfect high touch areas such as appliance handles, coffee makers, refrigerators, sink fixtures, and microwaves.
    To limit use of storing food in shared access refrigerators, consider bringing personal coolers.
    Beyond the shared effort of disinfecting, learn more ways occupants can help maintain healthy and clean environments across Grounds: Support a Healthy Environment.

UVA’s E&G Custodial Services Team Honored by APPA for Innovation

Effective and Innovative Practices Award, presented to University of Virginia, 'Recognizing UVA's Silent Ambassador,' August 2020, by APPA

APPA has awarded UVA’s E&G Custodial Services team its prestigious “Effective & Innovative Practices Award” for our development of a professional certification track based on Green Seal’s GS-42 Standard. In a press release issued on August 3, 2020, APPA noted that UVA’s program honors the dedication and hard work of UVA’s “silent ambassadors” who create environments that attract thousands of students to the university every year.

This educational opportunity is thought to be the first such program to be based on the GS-42 standard. One of its core objectives is to award professional certification to frontline and management team members who demonstrate “substantial knowledge and application of job relevant GS-42 requirements.” In 2019, 24 individuals, including 10 frontline associates, achieved this distinction. Plans are underway to offer certification to all remaining team members in the foreseeable future.

In accepting the award, department head Vibha Buckingham said, “We are honored that our program was selected for this special award; special mostly because it represents what we have long worked toward — recognizing individuals who work hard every day to create clean, healthful and stimulating environments across Grounds.”

E&G Custodial Services creates professional certification track

This year, Educational & General (E&G) Custodial Services created and launched what is believed to be the first program in the custodial industry to certify individuals based on Green Seal Standards, specifically known as GS-42 Certification for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning.

Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin presents a certificate to Tabitha Ford
E&G Custodial Services frontline associate Tabitha Ford receives her certificate from Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin.

E&G Custodial Services' entire cleaning program was first certified by Green Seal in 2013 based on the rigorous requirements of its GS-42 standard and has been re-certified annually by demonstrating sustained adherence to these best practices in green cleaning.

Associate Director Vibha Buckingham and her team created and launched the individual certification program with the primary objective to recognize the professionals who apply their knowledge to perform sustainable cleaning every day.

The first wave of graduates totaled 24, which included 10 frontline associates. In a special Oct. 17 ceremony, awardees were presented with their certificates by Green Seal Chief Executive Officer Doug Gatlin. In remarks during the ceremony, Gatlin cited the value that custodians bring to the built environment every day through their sustainability best practices. He also recognized Vibha Buckingham for her leadership in creating the first known certification program based on Green Seal's GS-42 standard.

The individual certification curriculum was created by Staff Development & Quality Assurance Manager Sandra Smith based on the most job relevant aspects of the GS-42 standard. The program was built around seven core objectives:

Sandra Smith and Vibha Buckingham pictured with Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin
E&G Custodial Services Staff Development & Quality Assurance Manager Sandra Smith, Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin and E&G Custodial Services Associate Director Vibha Buckingham.
  • Provide an opportunity to E&G frontline associates, frontline supervisors and area managers to gain professional certification in green cleaning best practices.
  • Enhance self-value, motivation, engagement and productivity through personal academic achievement and professional recognition.
  • Create an engaging experience using “collaborative learning” prior to classroom discussion.
  • Create two tracks, one for frontline associates and another for management team positions.
  • With over 100 team members, offer the opportunity in manageable “waves” so that over time everyone has an opportunity to earn what could be their first professional certification.
  • Sustain the momentum post-class through periodic “micro-learning bursts” and robust rounds of green cleaning “Jeopardy!” games.
  • Include an annual recertification track.

During the ceremony, the Green Seal CEO predicted that UVA’s program would become an “inspirational model” for other organizations in the custodial industry and higher education environments. He shared that Green Seal is exploring partnership opportunities with E&G Custodial Services where collaboration and industry input would be valuable in fulfilling Green Seal objectives.

Photos from Oct. 17 ceremony

"Walks & Talks" Help Improve Quality and Fun On-the-job!

A woman tossing confetti in an office

Taking a page out of GEMBA—the Japanese term for where the “real work” happens—FM’s Custodial Services has customized a tool that gives greater purpose to management’s walks through their buildings.

We call our one-page tool “Walks & Talks” and it’s used to prompt managers to do five things as they visit with staff, customers and observe overall building conditions:

  • Look for opportunities to improve process and have positive interaction with customers
  • Affirm routine work is progressing per building timetables and customer needs
  • Uncover issues and seek solutions
  • Ask employees to “teach” them about how they do key parts of their job
  • Build relationships with the front line by
    • Recognizing high performance
    • Encouraging fun on-the-job

During this calendar year, our team focus is mostly on the need and how to have fun on the job. Managers are charged with uplifting workplace experiences for both supervisors and front line staff. Our 2017 theme is “It’s up to YOU...” to create a fun, energizing and positive place where employees look forward to coming to work.

Mobilizing this tool promotes our positivity message and takes it directly to the front line employee’s workplace. When the conversation comes to them, it’s more personal…more powerful…more meaningful…and more memorable.

Adding fun to the daily equations takes the site visits to a lighter mindset. The decision of how managers will choose to lighten the mood is up to them. Whether they break into song, dance, tell a joke (politically correct of course), play a guessing game, share a funny story, rap, mime, tell a story through art, etc., the purpose is to show a personal and or vulnerable side of them that the employees usually do not see or experience. All levels of custodial management have embraced this concept and are ready to help our staff feel more satisfied, more valued and more likely to come back the next day with a smile.

There’s no reason why we can’t all “whistle while we work”—and Custodial Services is determined to make this happen for our entire team.

Tiny Trash Bins = Huge Impact!

Mini trash cans

Sustainability is one of four core values in UVA Facilities Management. To support this particular core value, Custodial Services is promoting sustainability through a program of centralized trash collection and removal.

This means the responsibility of trash and recycling removal is being transferred from custodial staff to office occupants. When trash and recycling is managed properly, the reality is trash doesn’t add up to much on a daily or even weekly basis. Through vigilant monitoring, we have concluded that “paper” is the majority content receptacles; through individual conscientiousness and collection, very little will go into landfills. Facilities has begun another pilot to compost food scraps and other organics; this will further reduce trash, and therefore the “tiny bins” will need occupant needs.

Custodial Services is promoting and providing free miniature bins for non-recyclable and non-compostable contents. And, to add a splash of fun, the tiny trash bins, which are only a little over four inches high, come in assorted colors!

While a large benefit to centralized (DIY) trash is landfill reduction, there are two other significant pluses. First, for every 1000 office occupants who retire their regular trash can and cease use of plastic liners, UVA  will save $6000 per year. Second, custodians will apply saved time to higher impact work in rest rooms, lobbies, etc. Or maybe just spend a few extra minutes improving the shine on that mirror or glass table top.

Occupants in any building can ‘take the first step’ and trade-in their regular trash can for a tiny bin. They can contact their building supervisor and ask them to do the exchange on any given day and receive this bin in a color of their choice.

Bottom line: This is a very achievable and painless change that everyone can make and at the same time, make a significant contribution to landfill reduction, cost savings and increased attention to higher priority cleaning tasks. Tiny trash=huge impact!

If you want to exchange your trash can for a tiny bin, please call the housekeeping supervisor for your building or send a request via email to Sandra Smith,

Introducing another tool to enhance our services in your building:
site-specific manuals

UVA Minor Hall

In order to reach national certification of its cleaning program by Green Seal, an organization has to look closely at its building and develop procedures that support the health and welfare of all occupants as well as sustain building materials used in its construction. Called a site-specific manual, this document goes beyond generic “how-to’s” to really focus in on the unique set of characteristics in a building that demand specialized attention.

One segment of the manual addresses how to care for all of the floor types in a building. So, how a cork floor is cleaned (product and technique) is very different than that being required by marble or slate.

Another area that is covered in the manual deals with customer communication. How and how often we seek customer feedback is an important part of making sure we’re meeting their needs and expectations or clarifying for them what in fact our service package includes and in some cases, excludes.

Sometimes different buildings possess unique characteristics that require special handling from a cleaning perspective. A building may house a health clinic. Or include decorative live plants. In some cases there are even birds and animals! All of these situations require some unique product or procedure to ensure cleaning results meet the standards required for certification.

How we handle emergencies while in the building and a commitment to protect occupants who are considered “vulnerable” to fragrances, chemicals or noise are all spelled out in this document as well.

For the last six months, Custodial Services supervisors have been compiling information toward developing a manual for each of their buildings. Most of the manuals will be available for electronic distribution by mid-February. If you’re interested in receiving a copy of the manual for your building, please email Custodial Services Quality Assurance and Development Manager, Sandra Smith (

Students and Sustainability: A Caring Partnership

UVA students gathering recyclables during a dumpster dive event

As we make our way into the 21st century, a new wave of young minds is flowing into both state and private higher education institutions. This generation is one that appears to be more interested in the preservation and health of our environment than any of their predecessors. They understand the need to preserve our environments, protect our planet and consider the impact of products on our personal health.  From recycling programs to safe cleaning chemicals, these young adults know more about sustainability than most of us ever imagined. Even more impressive, they care!

  • In a recent survey of 1,700 prospective students in the state of Virginia by the Worcester Business Journal, 13.5% were likely to select a university based on sustainability programs.
  • 23% would be influenced by a strong sustainability program according to the Princeton Review’s College Hopes and Worries Survey.
  • 61% of prospective students were interested in the sustainability programs and “the school’s commitment to the environment”, according to the Princeton Review.
  • UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute conducted a survey of 240,000 students at over 300 institutions and over 45% stated that they would “adopt green practices” at their respective institutions if presented to them.

What does this tell us?

  • Thousands will factor sustainability into their decision on what  school to attend
  • Almost a quarter of students will be influenced by a sustainability program
  • Three out of five are interested in sustainability programs
  • Almost half will participate in sustainability programs if given the opportunity

Here at UVA, we are committed to the health and welfare of our students, faculty and staff. It’s why we pursued and acquired Green Seal certification of our cleaning program. It’s why we developed over 50 procedures to define the how and why behind what we do. It’s why we are committed to using sustainable products and tools. It’s why we place such a high priority on continued training.

It’s not enough for us to follow others in the pursuit of cleaning for health. Our goal is to lead. Whether it’s EPA approved trash liners, elimination of bleach, a mission to replace products that mask odors with those that remove them, we strive daily to “… provide services with your health, safety and the environment in mind.”

The miracle of microfiber

Microfiber cloth
  • It lasts and lasts and lasts — up to 500 launderings and more.
  • Its fibers are vertical which helps get into all of the “nooks and crannies” where dirt tries to hide.
  • Microfiber removes dirt, grit and grime instead of moving these impurities from one location to another.
  • It comes in task-specific colors to help avoid cross-contamination. This means that the colors of microfiber that we use in restrooms (red, yellow and yellow w/red trim) are not used in any other space that we clean.
  • Because its vertical fibers are slightly stiff, microfiber can sanitize surfaces using only water by generating agitation/friction that removes substantial amounts of dirt, grit and bacteria.