Going the Extra Mile to Engage Your Warehouse Workforce to Boost Productivity

Guest Post By Eric Miller, JLT Mobile Computers

Maximizing productivity is the holy grail of warehouses, but there are lots of things that impact the ability to run operations efficiently. Ask yourself – what’s the greatest productivity asset in your warehouse? Your fleet? Your IT equipment? Your warehouse management system? While all these factors are primary contributors, the real key to running an efficient and successful operation are your employees, so keeping your workforce engaged, motivated and happy should be high on your priority list.

Your workforce is your most important asset

No warehouse operation runs itself. It’s the workforce that makes it all happen on the shop floor and in the trenches. It’s the expertise of longtime employees that keeps a warehouse running like a well-oiled machine. It’s their experience and familiarity with the business that matters, their dedication to their work, their ability to pass on knowledge and train new staff as your operation grows and prospers.

Your workforce knows how long it takes to pick an order, where the network blackspots are, how to deal with cranky computers and all the other little details that must be negotiated to meet deadlines and get the job done.

Working with your workforce

Tapping into the wealth of information and experience that your workforce represents is an opportunity. You can learn a lot from your workforce and their knowledge can help you increase warehouse productivity in many ways. Working together makes staff feel worthwhile and appreciated, helping them to feel interested and engaged in their jobs.

Listening to your workforce and acting on their suggestions, however, is not enough. Providing the right tools for the job is crucial, too. We all know how difficult it can be to complete a task with inadequate tools and gear that has become obsolete. It’s frustrating, stressful, and work takes more time to complete. That’s how your workforce feels when they have to deal with old, unwieldy computers or inexpensive consumer tablets that were not built for the demands of a warehouse environment.

Identifying productivity-killing equipment

Providing the right equipment for the job makes a big difference to workforce productivity. So schedule meetings with your teams and ask them what works and what doesn’t.
You may learn that devices simply are not suited for the purpose. They may not be rugged enough for the job at hand, affecting reliability and causing downtime. Displays may be difficult to read because they are too small or not bright enough. Older devices may no longer be able to keep up with modern demands. Software may be cumbersome to use and operate. Generic applications may be ill-suited for warehouse operation. Vehicle-mounted systems might be in the wrong position and difficult to adjust. Wireless systems may be unreliable, resulting in errors and delays. And there are hundreds of small things that all add up to frustration and lost productivity.

Handling change

Proactively identifying computing equipment shortcomings will get you on the right track. But the job is only half done. When investing in new warehouse devices and technologies, enlist the help of your workforce in setting the decision criteria, the selection of vendors and the choice of software and devices. After all they are the ones who will be using them.

Involve the workforce, and not just the IT department, in the testing phase. Invite them to use new equipment and solutions on site to see what works for them and what doesn’t. Enlisting your staff in the decision and testing process will make a big difference. Not only do they bring the user’s perspective to the table, they will also feel a sense of ownership: they helped in selecting new and better systems, they weren’t just imposed on them.

Going the extra mile

Work is work and making a living. Better technology isn’t everything, but it helps get work done quicker, with less stress, and with less chance of inadvertent errors. Work with optimized tools and equipment is more interesting, more engaging, and it can foster a sense of pride in having helped make it happen. Veteran staff will appreciate to see their experience and advice result in better tools. The younger part of your workforce, who grew up with smartphones and tablets, will appreciate your effort to keep software and devices up to date.

The result is win-win-win. Your customers will be impressed with the improved service, accuracy and speed of delivery your operation’s optimized technology provides. Your employees will appreciate having the right tools to get their jobs done, tools and systems they helped develop and select. And your entire operation will benefit from the kind of productivity an engaged and properly supported workforce can provide.