How to Set Warehouse Workers up for Success this Holiday Season

There are several ways that retail and e-commerce companies can set their warehouse workers, and in turn their warehouses as a whole, up for success this season.

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The holiday shopping season is typically the busiest time of year for most warehouses and fulfillment centers, as retail stores gear up for swarms of customers grabbing for the same shirt, toy or newfangled tech device. Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), this holiday season is going to look very different for retailers, with many brick-and-mortar retailers only able to open stores in a limited capacity, with some not able to open at all. As a result, consumers are increasingly turning to shopping online, accelerating the adoption of e-commerce at an unprecedented rate, with experts anticipating that the 2020 holiday season will be both the longest and biggest of all time.

Subsequently, many companies are now mainly servicing customers via warehouse distribution centers in order to quickly fill online orders. Retailers' increased reliance on distribution centers or third-party logistics (3PL) providers to keep up with consumer demand has led to more pressure on warehouses as warehouse managers contend with the need for additional workers while at the same time, implementing social distancing measures to keep their workers safe.

Between the typical safety concerns associated with speeding up operations within the warehouse for peak season, COVID-19 safety concerns and increased online shopping, this holiday season is going to significantly impact warehouses and their teams. That being said, there are several ways that retail and e-commerce companies can set their warehouse workers, and in turn their warehouses as a whole, up for success this season.

Implement comprehensive social distancing measures, and come up with a backup plan

Safety needs to be the No. 1 priority in warehouses. A warehouse outbreak can have a devastating impact on warehouse workers and will halt warehouse operations. Since March, the vast majority of warehouses have implemented safety measures including strict social distancing regulations, providing personal protective equipment (PPE), temperature screening, sanitizing high-contact zones such as bins and breakrooms, installing plastic barriers around shipping stations and more.

While necessary, social distancing requires that workers be spread out which will inevitably negatively impact productivity as it will take longer to accomplish tasks and require more people. Warehouses can implement warehouse visibility software combined with wearable hardware solutions that allow management to track both the productivity and safety of their workforce with these new measures in place. By optimizing the workforce, warehouses will create a safer environment as well as maintain productivity.

Alleviate pressure on warehouse workers by exploring alternative channels of distribution

With companies anticipating higher holiday sales this year despite retail stores being closed, it is inevitable that warehouse distribution centers will be significantly busier than last year. Warehouse workers will take on the burden that is typically shared with in-store retail workers as they move faster than ever to fulfill the usual number of online orders that are routed to distribution centers during the holidays along with the orders that were previously fulfilled in-store.

Companies can alleviate some of the added pressure on warehouse workers this year by implementing same day pickup options. Companies such as Best Buy, Target and Whole Foods have turned their retail spaces into pseudo warehouses and their in-store employees into order-pickers. Not only is this model great for the “early bird” shoppers who want to get their shopping done early and quickly, but it’s also appealing to the procrastinators who wait until the last minute to scoop up whatever is left.

The companies who nail this distribution channel are going to alleviate some (but not all) of the added burden on warehouse workers and will have an easier time moving their holiday merchandise. 

In addition to increased compensation, provide competitive incentives for meeting goals

Competition for experienced warehouse workers is fierce this season — warehouse job postings have increased sixfold, while retail job postings have decreased by 14%. This means that retail and e-commerce companies need to work harder to acquire and retain those workers, and keep them from burning out due to the anticipated volume warehouses will be experiencing.

Companies have boosted salaries to attract those workers but that’s likely not going to be enough to retain the best workers. In order to keep workers motivated and hitting key performance goals, companies should consider creative ways of motivating workers. Providing competitive incentives will ensure that workers are engaged, as well as increase the efficiency of the warehouse as a whole. Examples of this could include:

●    Employee of the peak. Recognize the top performing workers of each division publicly in front of the entire organization with a physical award

●     Extra paid time off. Give top-performing employees additional paid time off to unwind after a grueling holiday season

●     Brand incentives. During peak season many are working in warehouses that manufacture or distribute valuable products. Reward top performers with different tiers of product as they reach their peak goals

While this holiday season presents retail and e-commerce companies with an entirely new set of challenges, with careful planning and retail and e-commerce companies can set themselves — and their warehouse workers — up for a safe and successful peak season.