Armed with microfiber mops and dusters and low-noise vacuums, a group of workers has emerged from the cover of night to lead a revolution.
Cleaning crews are boldly steering janitorial carts into office buildings' lobbies, work cubicles, and restrooms when such potentially disruptive activity has long been considered a no-no: in the daytime.
They are buffing and wiping and collecting trash in the middle of other workers' workdays - even as those employees take phone calls, pore over spreadsheets, or write reports.
A popular practice in Europe, out West, and even in corporate-headquarters-rich Atlanta, the movement is barely a ripple in this region. But commercial-property owners expect a steady stream of converts.
They cite reasons such as these: Daytime cleaning reduces operating costs - lights and heat don't have to stay on all night, for example. And, as an added benefit, reports of work-station theft all but disappear.
"It's one of those almost-no-brainer changes that you look back and say, 'Why weren't we doing this forever?' " said Dave Campoli, regional vice president for REIT Management/CommonWealth REIT, owners of One Franklin Plaza in Philadelphia, where tenant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been serviced by a daytime cleaning crew from ABM Industries since the fall.
Campoli is in talks with other tenants in REIT's portfolio of 25 city and suburban properties, trying to "build a base . . . who are willing to say yes." To his knowledge, the only other city property that has adopted day cleaning is SEPTA's 20-story headquarters at 12th and Market Streets.
The transportation agency said the change, made 20 months ago, had contributed, along with other greening measures, to a 12 percent reduction in energy use.
Of all the sustainability initiatives, day cleaning is "the biggest bang for the buck; it didn't cost anything," said Marion Coker, SEPTA's manager of strategic business planning and sustainability.
What it did require was adjusting to "someone coming into your office and emptying a trash bin," she said.
At the GSK offices, that "someone" used to be Pamela Seawright, whom ABM assigned to One Franklin Plaza a year ago. Her job now is maintaining the 16 restrooms on floors 10 through 17, as well as the fitness center.
When the 24-floor building fully converted to day cleaning in September, Seawright said, she was uncomfortable losing the anonymity of night cleaning. She also was not keen on interacting with "grumpy" employees. But the parties have gotten used to one another.
Now, many of the 850 GSK employees in the building know her name and solicit her cleaning advice, she said.
Such familiarity leads to better results, said Angela Pagan, Seawright's boss.
"You're seeing the people whose offices you're cleaning," she said. "You feel more accountable."
Bob Clarke, senior vice president of sales and marketing at ABM, said day-cleaning clients routinely report drops of 20 percent to 30 percent in cleaning and utility costs - and theft claims "go to virtually nothing."
Donna Bruno, GSK's site director at Franklin Plaza, said meetings were held with employees to explain the rationale behind the switch.
"We emphasized that having cleaning services performed during the day would not only save money, but it would also improve the work-life balance of the cleaning staff," Bruno said.
Employees wanted to be sure that "day cleaning would not interfere with their daily work," she said, "and it has not."
That's a credit to planning, said ABM's Pagan. For instance, she devised a schedule ensuring that when restrooms on one floor are out of service, those on the floors directly above and below are open. As for vacuuming, "if we see someone on the phone, we're not going to disrupt them and go into their office," she said.
Instead, crews wait until that person heads out to lunch or a meeting, then move in for the clean.
Alphonso Thompson takes care of One Franklin Plaza's lobbies, walkways, and 16 elevators. Given that most GSK employees get to work between 7 and 7:30 a.m., he tries to get his areas mopped and vacuumed before then.
His routine is adjustable: If employees or visitors enter a lobby or elevator where he is cleaning, "I stop the action, and when they proceed on their way, I continue."
Daytime cleaning could eliminate the need for day porters, those men and women who typically take care of spills or empty paper-towel dispensers until the night janitorial teams arrive.
But ABM's Clarke insisted the goal was "not about cutting out jobs; it's more reallocation of resources." In a typical night-to-day conversion, he said, porters will not lose their jobs, but instead will gain added responsibilities.
As long as the jobs continue to offer full-time hours and family-sustaining wages and benefits, day cleaning will have the support of 32BJ Service Employees International Union Mid-Atlantic District, which represents 7,000 janitorial workers in Philadelphia, said its director, Wayne MacManiman.
"Daytime hours promote energy-efficiency and allow cleaners to spend more time with their families," he said.
Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.