How well does your warehouse work?

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A new survey exploring the connection between workplace wellbeing and productivity appeared last week in my newsfeed.

The company commissioning the study was a lighting company keen to establish if there’s a link between good, modern lighting and the health, alertness and productivity of warehouse staff. 

Its findings won’t be known until Spring but one thing we do know for sure about this sector is that workforce turnover is far higher than average so anything that helps keep staff engaged and fulfilled has to be welcomed.

Retaining staff, especially a younger workforce, is a real challenge when jobs like picking can be repetitive. One way to make it more appealing is by equipping staff with technology that they’re familiar with, the sort they use in the home. Of course, I’m talking here about Android.

Its familiar interface is fast and easy to use and workers can get up to speed in hours as opposed to days. New Android touchscreen devices can help operations work at full speed, by capturing multiple barcodes in one scan. And their camera technology can help record the condition of returns, or put augmented reality within reach. 

Mobile Android devices like those from Zebra are rugged, and include features like hot swap batteries and fast charging that enable workers to maintain productivity. And let’s not forget the more pressing reason to migrate to Android; Microsoft is ending its Windows support from 2020.

Digitising the supply chain to make it more accurate, more productive and more cost effective seems logical to me yet we know from studies* that 55% of organisations still use pen and paper to manage omnichannel logistics. 

Now while that may be fine for native workers it’s not so good for the migrants that make up nearly a quarter of warehouse operatives. Understanding the language and what’s written down can not only affect productivity but also add to employee stress and churn. Adopting voice recognition devices can help, especially multilingual ones, as they can complement face to face training as well enable workers to pick orders in their native tongue.

Back in 2015, Honeywell and YouGov claimed that by 2020, nine in ten distribution centre operators across France, Germany, the UK and US expected to adopt new mobile devices and voice direction technology. It was seen that this technology would enhance occupational safety and wellbeing in warehouses. 

Now, I’ve got no figures on adoption rates but reckon we’re a long way off those numbers. Indeed I was quite depressed to read† that while half of organisations consider supply chain digitisation to be one of their top three priorities, most are still struggling to get projects beyond the test stage (86%).

And further research* would seem to echo this. Supply chain executives might have highlighted the key technology disruptors but are taking a wait and see approach when it comes to actually investing. Next-gen technologies are being implemented more as tests to determine their ROI rather than full scale roll-out.

And while this is understandable, legacy mobile operating systems and green screen applications were developed before ecommerce existed. They just cannot handle today’s order volumes, delivery times or security threats. Sitting back is not an option, for either the sustainability of the company or the staff it employs.

* Source: The future of fulfilment vision study by Zebra

† Source: The digital supply chain’s missing link, Capgemini Research Institute

Richard Gilliard

Renovotec is the UK’s largest independent rugged hardware and maintenance, software and services company. Managing Director Richard Gilliard has helped lead the organisation for over 25 years, supporting customers across many sectors including warehousing and distribution, transport and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, seaports and field mobility. Richard's drive is to enable firms through…

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