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The Visible Value Blog

Getting your seasonal workers up to speed quickly

Posted by Maria Casu

August 9, 2017 at 10:27 AM

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Warehouses are predicting a 42% increase in SKUs and 70% increase in volume of items shipped by 2020[1]. And with customers demanding ever fast delivery and flawless fulfillment the pressure is on to deliver. Temporary workers are crucial to ensuring that warehouses can cope – especially around peak times that are becoming ever more extreme. Some of our larger customers can employ hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers at these times.

Assimilating these operatives into your operation, making them feel a productive part of the team, and helping them get to work quickly is a challenge. We spend a lot of time observing teams in warehouses and some of the issues we see with temporary workers include: a lack of familiarity with workflows; difficulty in using picking technology and time lost to dealing with exceptions. Our Warehouse 2020 Vision research found that it takes an average of 53.6 hours to get workers fully productive – meaning it typically takes two weeks before workers are up to speed and able to achieve the right level of performance and accuracy[2]. Clearly this is too long.

So what can be done?



I recommend focusing on four areas.

  1. Augment training: There’s no getting away from it, you’ll need to direct core staff away from their tasks to train new people. But you can augment this training – and reduce the time needed to deliver it – by using video. Videos can talk through how key apps work, the mobile devices that teams will be using, and include 3D plans and maps of your site to help build build operators’ awareness of your space – even before they hit the floor. The videos can be watched from the same mobile devices they use in the warehouse.
  1. Use intuitive devices: Those of us who’ve worked in warehousing for years still retain an affinity for the green screen – and it’s remarkable how many of these we still come across. But today’s workers, especially milennialls, expect their work technology to be as every bit as rewarding to use as their home devices. It’s not an unreasonable expectation, and given that younger employees especially are nimble users of technology, you can expect a significant reduction in training time when moving to intuitive devices. For example, we offer a range of sleek, lightweight – yet robust devices – built around Android. The operating system drives 8 out of 10 mobile devices in the world, so chances are your people will be able to just pick up and use them. Sure they’ll need some training on your apps, but we see some major reductions in training time where Android is used. Zebra customer, Reynolds Catering Supplies, reduced training time for their workers from two weeks down to around half a day by using Android-based TC55 touch computers – you can take a look at their video here.
  1. Help your teams work in more natural ways: What do I mean by this? Alongside our handheld computers and scanners we also provide wearable computers and ring scanners. These devices allow your teams to keep their hands free at all times and for some roles – especially high-intensity picking, the technology feels to the user as if it’s seamlessly augmenting their movements to boost productivity. What’s more, we also offer voice picking technology that can turn your usual on-screen instructions into voice-guidance – in virtually any language. When paired together, voice tech and wearable computers help people flow through their shift in a much smoother way with research showing that productivity can rise by as much as 15% and accuracy by 39%. I actually think this figure is a little on the low side based on what I’ve seen with customers – but it’s impressive nonetheless[3]. Also, in my experience it’s much easier to move to task interleaving when using voice guidance and intuitive technology together and this will further boost productivity. Indeed, 51% of warehouses expect to adopt interleaving by 2020, that’s a 300% increase on 2015.
  1. Ensure supervisors can communicate with staff easily and quickly – and vice versa:
    Too often workers can’t communicate with each other, supervisors or managers in real-time across the warehouse floor due to a lack of integrated communication systems. Without access to mobile voice and data communication tools, managers are forced to spend a large part of their day tethered to their desk or office instead of out on the floor, supervising employees and spotting productivity issues. It also leaves seasonal warehouse workers particularly vulnerable when exception-based scenarios happen, such as empty stock locations or spillages. By leaving the warehouse floor to go wandering off in search of a supervisor, critical order fulfilment time is lost, resulting in a backlog of orders, delayed shipments and missed KPIs. By utilising devices that have both voice and data capabilities and are built to endure the harsh environment of the warehouse, managers can remain on the warehouse floor to protect productivity and throughput and still access all business systems and workers with the push of a button. Employees can communicate with their own portable, handheld or wearable mobile devices, eliminating time lost walking to and from telephone stations on the floor or being distracted by a loud and unintelligible overhead tannoy.


Every warehouse is different, so it’s hard for me to give you an overall figure for productivity gains when adopting these technologies and practices. It’s important to note too that often the roll out of new technology initiates a complete review of workflows and this contributes to time savings. But it’s fair to say you can expect see efficiency gains of around 15% in areas like picking and a reduction of warehouse downtime of around 27% as a result of using mobile, collaborative solutions. 

Find out more on how to enhance productivity in your warehouse with the latest Zebra report, Reinventing the Supply Chain: The Future of Fulfillment Vision Study, which demonstrates how the next generation of supply chain technologies are altering e-commerce fulfillment as we know it. 



[1] Warehousing 2020: Building the Smarter Warehouse, Global Vision Study, Zebra Technology

[2] Warehousing 2020: Building the Smarter Warehouse, Global Vision Study, Zebra Technology

[3] Multi-modal Picking Usability Testing - E-Commerce; United States Ergonomics; July 31, 2015


Topics: Warehouse, Productivity, mobile devices, EMEA, Android, Warehouse Management, Warehousing