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The Visible Value Blog

Wake up and smell the coffee – it’s time to modernise the warehouse

Posted by Mark Jolley

August 30, 2018 at 8:14 AM

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Technology and logistics are moving at a phenomenal pace, yet the warehouse work culture is still stuck in the past. Compared to the modern day office and spotlight on well-being, the warehouse is archaically depressing. Granted, it’s an industrial hub and not exactly a creative ad agency, but that doesn’t mean a welcoming and stimulating environment should be curbed. The warehouse team are 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 soulless hangars that can be freezing cold, boiling hot, noisy and dim, with too much artificial lighting and barely any home comforts. Typically there is a clock on clock offmentality and low motivation. There may be banter but also a general lack of team spirit, collaboration and loyalty. A more comfortable, enjoyable and flexible environment might reverse some of this negativity and nudge employees to bond and perform to the best of their ability.

The warehouse floor is busy, somewhat dangerous, 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, many warehouses are not keeping up with the times. The next generation of workers who’ve 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 If the warehouse technology is slow, unreliable or outdated they will become despondent and eventually leave, resulting in high staff turnover.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 and who cares if there is a high turnover of staff – there isn’t really a shortage of labour. 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, 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 wasted and the product deemed a failure. A total waste of everyones 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 they are surely more likely to proactively offer feedback or report a fault. Whilst product training can help, improving moral nurtures a positive attitude, boosted in part by a welcoming workplace.

So how could 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. So 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 moral, increase productivity, reduce lethargy, absenteeism and sickness (including sick building syndrome), which we know can save organisations thousands. 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 prevent injury, sickness or even mental illness. It might take a while to catch on, but even some prisons offer this so why not try it? The future warehouse should be more powerhouse, less workhouse.

What sort of unconventional perks would you consider offering to warehouse employees?

Would you trial free breakfast, coffee bars or reward schemes?

The warehouse needs to change!

Topics: EMEA, Warehousing, Warehouse Management, Warehouse