A warehouse worker uses an Android handheld mobile computer to scan the barcode on a pallet of products.
By Mark Wheeler | December 11, 2019

How Android (and Other “Droids”) are Aiding with Warehouse Workforce Retention

Study Shows Technology = Happiness

I've talked a lot in recent months about how labor constraints are challenging warehouse efficiency and growth. Consumers are demanding more, but so are workers. Fortunately, warehouse leaders are taking the right steps to appease workers of all generations with more aggressive investments in technology.

Everything from Android mobile computers to “droid”-driven automation systems (think co-bots) are being deployed to keep workers moving efficiently through tasks in warehouses and distribution centers. But for most, it is the move to Android™ that is delivering the greatest immediate payoff.

At First, the Forced Migration to Android Was a Source of Frustration for Warehouses. Now, It Has Become the Key to Eliminating Worker Frustration.

A year or two ago, many warehouse leaders on both the IT and operations sides were dreading the migration to Android. It was a decision that was made for them after all, and it meant a change to their infrastructure and more training. They had happily used Microsoft OS mobile devices for decades, and the announcement that Microsoft was ending support for its Windows® CE and Windows Mobile devices was disruptive. The sheer investment it would take to migrate entire business systems to Android seemed overwhelming at first. But it was a shift that leaders simply couldn’t avoid for security reasons. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

Zebra’s most recent Warehousing Vision Study found that labor recruitment, as well as efficiency/productivity, were among the top challenges of warehouse leaders. Eighty-three percent of the global respondents are using or plan to implement an Android operating system by 2024. With this implementation, 43 percent expect to improve efficiency and 39 percent believe they will be able to increase their ability to adapt to new workflow complexities – and efficient workers that can cut through complexity are happy workers.  

Considering how challenging it can be to secure reliable labor and the propensity of workers to job hop for marginal wage increases, investing in Android mobility and complementary automation solutions should be an easy decision. I explain why in this new podcast:


Beyond the reasons I noted in the podcast discussion, the reality is that Android mobility solutions, together with automation solutions, help to elicit worker loyalty. They also help to keep labor costs down.

In 2018, the annual turnover rate for warehouse personnel neared 25 percent. The costs associated with high turnovers range from 20 to 25 percent of a warehouse worker’s salary, according to estimates from warehouse enterprises, which can add up to $7,000 or more every time just one worker quits. In addition, it can take an average of 4.5 weeks to get a new employee up to full productivity according to our Warehousing Vision Study respondents. During this period, current team members are often required to shoulder the burden of the additional workload, which can lead to decreased morale.

If human labor is still highly valued in the warehouse (which we know it is) and the costs of recruiting new labor at current churn rates are unreasonably high (which we just established they are), then warehouse operators should be doing what they can to increase the value of the workers they already have every single day. They should also be doing what they can to show workers that they value them.

Investing in enterprise-grade Android mobility solutions and even certain automation solutions (such as co-bots) are the easiest way to invest in your people and, in turn, help them become more invested in your organization.

Why Warehouses’ Human Resources Can Credit Android (and Other “Droids”) for Worker Retention

Warehouse workers are consumers at the core. They use Android smartphones and tablets in their personal lives and are very familiar with the OS. Given the user experience (UX) similarities between consumer-grade and enterprise-grade versions of Android devices, it doesn’t take much to onboard workers (whether Millennials or Baby Boomers) to these new technology systems.

Plus, the versatility of enterprise-grade Android mobility solutions means that you can deploy a single platform to support all of your workers, even though you may need a few different form factors of Android devices within your four walls – including vehicle-mounted computers, tablets, wearables, handhelds and more.)

For example, many workers on foot may require a rugged handheld mobile computer connected to a mobile printer, head-mounted display or other wearable for picking, packing, cycle counting or inbound logistics. On the other hand, a forklift operator may be best served by a bigger-screen, rugged tablet that can be securely mounted in the vehicle while moving about yet removed in a grab-and-go fashion when he or she needs to jump down to secure a signature during inventory hand-offs on the loading dock. In these cases, Android allows you to easily configure, secure and manage all devices, no matter which device is best suited for the workflow. Plus, many Android devices can be applied to multiple workflows, so many workers will only need a single device to do their jobs – which further increases worker efficiency, comfort and satisfaction as the volume of fulfillment transactions increase and the value of speed and accuracy continues to climb.

Leading sports brand ASICS learned this quickly with a 10 percent lift in productivity after equipping workers with Android handheld mobile computers. As did North Central Sight Services, which provided workers with visual impairments with new state-of-the-art Zebra MC3300 handheld mobile computers. These enterprise-grade Android handheld devices feature a modern color interface that suits the company’s new Warehouse Management System (WMS) programming. North Central Sight Services has also taken advantage of the many development tools that Google offers Android users, such as a voice programming tool, to increase worker support with auditory guidance; workers no longer need to rely on visual guidance alone to make their next pick. As a result, the company has seen its return rate reduced to two for every 15,000 orders. In other words, use of the Android operating system can turn any worker impairment – related to current environment or evolving business demands – into an advantage.

Many warehouse operators are also observing greater productivity levels among human workers who collaborate with co-bots. And greater productivity helps to increase workers’ value, which subsequently contributes to improved morale and retention rates.

Don’t believe me? Watch these videos:

In other words, mechanization may be increasing in warehouses worldwide, but it’s not overtaking the warehouse to the extent that some may believe. It’s certainly not taking over the workforce, it’s making the most of the scarce labor pool they have or have access to.

Providing warehouse workers with technology solutions that enable them to become productive and effective with little training, improve their safety on the job and increase their overall worth – even in a partially-augmented, partially-automated environment – can be rewarding for both you and them. Android-based worker augmentation and co-bot-delivered automation can make your warehouse a more appealing workplace.

I also spoke about this in detail in my podcast. (I highly recommend you listen to it after you finish reading this post.)


So, as you’re considering ways to conduct smart operations and achieve better outcomes, take a moment to consider how you can better connect physical and digital systems. How can you fuel more natural, effective interaction between humans and machines?

How can you apply Android technologies in combination with automation technologies – or artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) – to better sense the physical world; analyze what’s happening within your operations; and then communicate actionable intelligence to your front-line workers so they can execute the right task quickly and accurately?

Making sure workers have the right Android device in hand for the job at hand is the first step. But you can’t stop there. You need to find ways to maximize that device – to better facilitate communications between people and systems – so that you can move from “systems of record” to “systems of reality”.  For example, could a solution such as Workforce Connect be beneficial? Watch this video:

Once you figure all of that out, then you need figure out how to clearly demonstrate – not just communicate – how each technology benefits workers, including that “robot” roaming next to them.

How to Ensure Warehouse Workers Will Credit Android and “Droids” with Their Decision to Stay Put

You know that you need a lot of people to meet customer demands and keep your entire supply chain’s operations running smoothly. But do the people you’re trying to recruit or retain know that?

They say perception is reality, even if it is a misperception. And right now, there are a lot of TV shows, movies, magazines and more influencing public perception of certain technologies and workforce trends. A recent Superstore episode depicted how workers can feel threatened by the co-bots that are actually trying to make workers’ jobs easier, not take them away.

Therefore, you are going to have to prioritize change management for the next several months, or likely years, with both your current workforce and potential candidates. Otherwise, the technologies that stand to boost worker comfort, productivity and morale may seem scary and actually deter some highly-qualified workers from considering your company or committing to you long-term.

So, as you’re considering the many different ways that Android and/or automation solutions can be used to modify workflows, also consider how they can be used to change attitudes about the type of work being done in warehouses today – and by whom. Doing so will quell fears, build confidence and help you keep workers happy, which is the key to happy customers.


Editor’s Note:

Zebra has a number of resources to help inform your technology decisions as you adapt your warehouse to accommodate the next generation of customer and worker demands. For example, these three exclusive webinars offer insights on how to manage your migration to Android and maximize the return on your investments:

Webinar #1: The Age of Android in the Enterprise
Zebra’s Kevin Lollock, Regional Product Manager, Mobile Computing OS and Developer Platforms will unpack the vast migration to Android and the opportunities available for your warehouse and distribution centers.

Webinar #2: Modernize the Warehouse with Android
Warehouses without Windows®? Mark Wheeler, Zebra’s Director of Supply Chain Solutions discusses the migration to Android devices and shares a vision of the warehouse of the future.

Webinar #3: How to Start your OS Migration
Zebra’s Ritesh Gupta, Lead for Zebra Learning Services simplifies the steps of migrating to Android devices, including key considerations for planning, management, support and security.

Watch one (or all) of them now. You can also find more tips on how to Modernize Your Warehouse with Android.

And don’t miss our ongoing discussions about the issues that matter to you here on the Zebra Your Edge blog. Subscribe now, or catch up on recent warehousing-related blogs here.

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Mark Wheeler
Mark Wheeler

As the Director of Supply Chain Solutions, Mark Wheeler is responsible for Zebra’s warehouse and supply chain solutions global strategy. He collaborates closely with customers’ supply chain operations teams, as well as Zebra’s product development teams and solution partners, to align emerging technology solutions with customer needs.

Mr. Wheeler has held numerous positions in supply chain execution throughout his 30-year career, including strategic consulting, automated warehouse design and build and complex systems integration. He is a frequent speaker at industry events.

Mr. Wheeler holds a bachelor of science (BS) in mechanical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University