Hokie housekeeping: Celebrating the unsung heroes
The housekeeping teams at Virginia Tech provide best-in-class sanitation and customer service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to classrooms, administrative offices, student life spaces, and more on the Blacksburg campus.
“Our housekeeping teams assure that the university’s buildings and grounds constantly express the sense of place and quality that is intrinsic to Virginia Tech,'' said Chris Kiwus, interim senior vice president and chief business officer. “They establish first – and everyday – impressions that all Hokies value and appreciate. Their profound dedication to creating a clean and well-maintained environment for our students, faculty, staff, and visitors represents what’s best about Virginia Tech.”
From addressing spills in between classes at McBryde 100 to keeping the concourse "debris free" during a cold and snowy February basketball game at Cassell Coliseum, these teams are often the unseen – and unsung – heroes of all university operations.
During National Housekeeping Week, which is recognized nationally and by the university from Sept. 11-17, several Virginia Tech leaders share behind-the-scenes perspectives on Hokie Housekeeping.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Industrywide, the biggest challenge facing housekeepers is the overall demand put on them to maintain a sanitary environment. “The demand has only been heightened given recent world events,” said Greg Canaday, director of housekeeping for the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities.
The responsibilities do not stop at making sure surfaces are cleaned and disinfected properly, there are also special requests tasked to housekeeping. These requests can range from cleaning up water leaks to cleaning up broken glass from an accident inside a building. The university's housekeeping teams are there even when there is urgent carpet care needed for spilled beverages at important events. Virginia Tech's housekeepers work around the clock – including outside of standard business hours – to maintain stringent cleanliness standards campuswide.
How does housekeeping support student life?
“Residence halls represent a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year operation. With over 10,000 residents and thousands of conference guests in the summer, housekeepers respond to routine matters throughout the day and evenings and unexpected events throughout the late evening and early morning hours. Beyond the dedicated tasks, our housekeepers make deeper connections with residents beyond just saying hello in the hallways; they become part of the community in which they serve,” said Ken Belcher, director for facilities and operations for Student Affairs. “Our students notice and express concern when a housekeeper moves to another area or is out for an extended time. I love seeing thank you notes and cards taped to the housekeeper’s door.”
What’s something not well known about housekeeping?
“I think it’s the skill set. There are multiple standard operating procedures when it comes to cleaning a building. For example, restroom cleaning is not just cleaning the toilet, it’s also providing floor maintenance. Additionally, we do glass, spot removal, and dusting. Typically everybody thinks that’s a pretty simple job,” said Canaday. “Many of us clean our homes and are accustomed to the conventionality of four to five individuals using a common restroom. Imagine, however, if your family consisted of 5,000 individuals all using that same common restroom. Think of the work it would take to clean and make that restroom suitable for each individual to use. It’s a high-demand job but there has to be a certain skill and considerable training to ensure that the service we provide meets the university’s dynamic needs.”
It’s also important to note the public’s views have changed on housekeeping as a profession. “Housekeeping is a professional career that has not always been viewed in this manner. With recent global health events that perception has drastically changed,” said Robbie Santolla, housekeeping area manager for the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities.
Housekeeping activities don't stagnate outside of the academic year. “This past summer was one of the busiest summers that I can recall,” said Canaday. "We have an opportunity to complete detailed cleaning work that is more challenging to complete during the academic year due to normal foot traffic."
Heather Palmer, Jo Williams, and Danyel Basham clean and disinfect the Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building One in October 2021.
What’s your favorite part about working in housekeeping?
The university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), rings true in the hearts of housekeeping staff at Virginia Tech.
“Being able to step back and appreciate your work, what it means to you and this university, coupled with the appreciation that you receive from students, clients, and stakeholders makes you proud of the service you provide,” said Santolla.
How can people support housekeeping efforts?
As a part of the Virginia Tech community, it’s important to know how to support each other, and housekeeping is no different.
“I think thank you goes a long way,” said Santolla.
“Our housekeeping staff takes such pride and ownership of the areas they serve. If we all apply this same ownership to our areas just imagine how amazing this already beautiful campus would be,” said Canaday. “National Housekeeping Week is an excellent time to bring these amazing individuals and this pride and dedication to the forefront for recognition. We don’t need to limit our appreciation for folks like housekeepers, who perform functions essential to the operations of the university, to simply a week. It is something we should make a conscious effort to do all the time."
What is the takeaway from National Housekeeping Week?
“We need to take a moment to think of what our housekeepers do for us each day and how we can show them appreciation. I know I am extremely proud of our housekeepers and I can’t thank them enough for their hard work and dedication,” said Wendy Halsey, assistant vice president for facilities operations.