Some Say Mobile Devices are Key to Improving Employee Productivity and Engagement During Disruptive Times. We Say Software is Just as Important.

Simplifying workflow execution and optimizing labor can help boost employee morale and make it easier to manage the increased pressure on retail warehouses.

A retail worker uses the MC2700 to scan items in a warehouse
by Jennifer Myers
August 05, 2021

Recent supply chain disruptions have changed the work experience for today’s retail warehouse employees. The months-long demand surge, days-long Suez Canal blockage and ongoing delivery driver shortage have made it difficult to forecast staffing and find a stable operating tempo. However, the dramatic increase in e-commerce retail may prove to be the greatest long-term disruptor – and an opportunity to rethink how warehouse operations and workers are managed.

In 2010, e-commerce accounted for 6.4% of all retail sales. That number more than tripled to 21.3% in 2020 – and it’s holding steady. On top of that, $428 billion in merchandise was returned in 2020, with online returns more than doubling from 2019. As a result, warehouse employees are being asked to handle far more deliveries and returns each day along with the logistical issues that come with simultaneous fulfillment of consumer and commercial orders across even more facilities.

I know you’re eagerly trying to hire more workers to offset this growth, and it’s great to see warehouse employment at an all-time high given the years of recruitment and retention challenges. However, it’s critical you can effectively manage this surge of new employees and they can fully manage their workloads from day one.

The Right Software Can Triple the Benefits of Your Team’s Mobile Devices in Today’s Warehousing Environments

There are three strategies you can use to improve labor scheduling and boost employee productivity and engagement at your warehouses and distributions centers, and all are fairly simple to execute:

1. Improve Communication Across Your Organization

Quick and easy communication is more important than ever before. New warehouse employees will certainly have questions and need assistance with their daily tasks. Managers will need to follow up regarding the status of critical activities. Unexpected projects or tasks will require managers to quickly alert relevant employees and direct them to prioritize that work.

Real-time, mobile device-based communication solutions provide a simple and centralized way to send messages, assuming they can easily be accessed and managed by your front-line teams and IT. Eliminating third-party tools and giving warehouse employees a single, shared app through which they can communicate (regardless of their device form factor or model) enables them to collaborate with stakeholders on everything from scheduling to shipping actions. This helps ensure the right people are in the right places at the right time for tasks to be completed correctly and on time. It also reduces the overall time it takes to get important projects done and improves the productivity of your workforce.

These types of software solutions also give you the ability to control and audit your workforce communications. By accessing data on how many employees have seen or responded to messages, you can easily identify trends in communication and improve how your warehouse team operates. By designating organizational hierarchies in the system, you can also control permissions and targeting of communication, ensuring compliance by giving employees permission to message specific employees during specific hours. All of this ensures employees are getting communication that is relevant and useful, making tasks easier and improving how they engage with their work.

2. Give Employees Schedules that Work for Them

Employee morale is easily boosted when they feel they have control over their work schedules.  Though last-minute schedule changes may be necessary from time to time, giving employees the opportunity to weigh in on those changes is extremely valuable.

That’s why we’re seeing more warehouse operators embrace intelligent workforce management solutions that automate the scheduling process and account for all of the variables that matter most at warehouses, such as workload, employee preferences, employee skillsets, and labor regulations. This improves scheduling accuracy, provides more consistent hours for employees, and ensures they are more satisfied with their schedules.

If a last-minute change is needed as orders surge or slow down, the employee self-service tools make it easy for employees to manage such changes. For example, they may not be able to secure childcare if called into work with less than 24 hours notice. Instead of having to leave a voicemail for their managers and hope their requests for a shift swap or time off are being taken care of, they can simply submit requests through their smartphones. They’ll be alerted as soon as a manager approves time off or a colleague agrees to the switch. On the flip side, someone who may want to pick up extra shifts as their normal hours are cut now has the means to do so without having to beg a manager for more hours. This real-time, collaborative approach to scheduling leads to a more satisfied and engaged workforce.

3. Simplify Task Execution for Warehouse Employees

With so much work coming into warehouses from online orders and returns, it’s easy for your workforce to feel overloaded and stressed out. When you don’t have the ability to send the right tasks to the right employees, or to ensure activities are being executed correctly, you risk frustrating warehouse workers who receive an unmanageable workload and begin to make mistakes.

Real-time task management solutions alleviate the pressure of a high-volume workload by automatically and intelligently prioritizing and distributing all tasks according to best practices, ensuring each employee is receiving the right amount of work throughout their shifts.

Warehouse managers can view and measure task status and completion rates in real time, which helps to pinpoint employees who are struggling to manage their workload and those who may be powering through each task quicker than expected. This provides an opportunity to coach and assist underperforming employees, opening a dialogue before they become increasingly frustrated and disengaged from their work. It also allows you to ensure fast workers are fully utilized.

The Takeaway

Though retail warehouse operators are facing new challenges in today’s on-demand economy, each of them can be effectively managed if you have the right people in the right place and focused on the right tasks. Leveraging the right communication, workforce management, and workflow execution tools can help foster a more productive and engaged workforce, increasing each employee’s daily contributions and increasing the fulfillment capacity of your entire warehouse operation.

If you’d like to learn more about the software solutions that can easily be added to your workers’ mobile computers, tablets and other devices to improve communications, visit our website or contact our team today. 

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Jennifer Myers
Jennifer Myers has spent her career in retail and supply chain operations working for some of the nation’s largest retailers both in the field and in the corporate office. She joined Zebra in 2021 as a Solution Consultant, and her primary job is to listen to retailers and help them run an even better business by adopting leading-edge technology both in their brick-and-mortar stores and up the value chain to their distribution centers.
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