A woman processes a package in a dimly lit warehouse.
By Mark Jolley | April 03, 2019

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: It's Time to Modernise the Warehouse

Warehouse workers are valuable team members and deserve a quality work environment

Technology and logistics are moving at a phenomenal pace, yet the work culture at many warehouses is still stuck in the past. Compared to the modern-day office and spotlight on well-being, some warehouses are archaically depressing. Granted, they are industrial hubs and not creative ad agencies, but that doesn’t mean welcoming, stimulating environments should be curbed. The warehouse team is responsible for shifting items from A to B on behalf of global brands, so it’s important they are looked after just as much as the office-based departments at logistical giants and online retailers. That next-day delivery the customer has been promised is partly in the hands of the warehouse employee scanning, swiping and screen tapping for hours on end.

If you’ve not spent time inside, most warehouses are giant hangars that can be freezing cold, boiling hot, noisy and dim, with too much artificial lighting and barely any home comforts. Workers clock on, do their jobs, then clock off, and there can be a significant amount of employee churn. Warehouses need to find a way to foster greater team spirit, collaboration and loyalty. A more comfortable, enjoyable and flexible environment might nudge employees to bond and perform to the best of their ability.

The warehouse floor is busy, and not the place for oversize beanbags, inspiration walls and an Xbox. But what stops these being available elsewhere in the vicinity, giving employees a place to chill out and socialise when on breaks? Warehouse managers could learn a lot from Google or Sky with free or subsidised canteens, clean bright meeting areas, airy spaces and gym facilities. What if warehouses offered free breakfast snacks and fresh coffee pre-shift? I’d say workers would show up in good time, feel valued and perhaps even start their shift earlier, knowing they are receiving perks in return. A decent pre-shift meal could work wonders for all.

When it comes to technology, some warehouses are not keeping up with the times. The next generation of workers who have grown up in a fast-paced digital world will be expecting touch screens, apps, intuitive interfaces and smart devices. If the warehouse technology is slow, unreliable or outdated, they will become despondent and eventually leave, resulting in high staff turnover.

You might question why we should bother investing in warehouse workers…who cares if there is a high turnover of staff? There isn’t really a shortage of labour, right?

Well, for those of us designing and producing high-spec technological devices, these end users are key to our success. Technology is only as good as the people operating it. So even the best device in the world isn’t going to perform if the user has no respect for it, neglects it, fails to report problems, or resorts to cutting corners and manual methods like pen and paper. A dimension measuring device, for example, is expertly designed to calculate remaining volume in a container or vehicle, and someone in some tech enterprise (you perhaps?) has invested significant money, time, research, testing, marketing and sales in getting this product perfected. If the operator doesn’t interpret the data or commands properly, either through apathy or ignorance, then shipping can be delayed, money will be wasted and the product will likely be deemed a failure. A total waste of everyone’s investment.

These end users also provide invaluable insight into the true user experience. Without taking the time to listen to their feedback and ideas, how can you improve the design? It could be something as simple yet unforeseen as a touchscreen that doesn’t work with gloves, a screen that is hard to read with goggles on, an alert that isn’t loud enough due to ear protection worn, or a process that is excessively laborious resulting in short cuts. If, as employees, they feel valued, warehouse workers are surely more likely to offer proactive feedback or report a fault. Whilst product training can help, improving morale nurtures a positive attitude, boosted in part by a welcoming workplace.

So how could you/we motivate warehouse workers more?

Setting targets is one option, but this doesn’t necessarily build teamwork, assure quality or create a conscientious attitude. Inter-warehouse competitions have worked well in my experience, giving individuals goals to work for and reaping rewards as a team. Therefore, a ‘dangling a carrot’ is preferable to threatening with a stick, so to speak.

Some of the benefits that office workers enjoy actually cost very little to the employer but really lift morale, increase productivity, and reduce lethargy, absenteeism and sickness. What about a complimentary coffee bar, an on-site yoga class or visiting physio/chiropractor? All that physical work in the warehouse can take its toll, and these holistic therapies could help prevent injury or sickness.

With the right investment, the modernised warehouse could become a powerhouse!

What sort of unconventional perks would you consider offering to warehouse employees? Tell us at blog@zebra.com or on social media.

Warehouse and Distribution, Transportation and Logistics, Manufacturing,
Mark Jolley
Mark Jolley

Mark Jolley leads the RFID Solutions Sales team for Zebra technologies in EMEA. This team utilizes Zebra's next-generation solutions to improve productivity through innovation and thought leadership, with a large emphasis on real-time data analytics and best practices. The team focuses on active and passive RFID technologies, including UWB, BLE and UHF products, which allows a customer to select the right technology for its use case.  Prior to this, Mark worked across many of the large post and parcel companies to transform organizations with the implementation of new mobile Zebra technology.

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