Scaling Your Warehouse Post-Pandemic
Some severe economic indicators are disrupting business right now, so we all need to be ready to turn on a dime and adjust to plans that are reactive.
1. Evaluate changing regulations, guidance, and safety standards. Good warehousing always includes understanding the rules by which you must operate—not just for compliance, but for the health of your employees and their families.
2. Know who you lost to layoff/furlough. In most warehouses, especially smaller operations, reliable workers end up performing a lot of tasks. Sometimes, those tasks bind together or gloss over operating challenges. Evaluate your team, identify who is no longer there, and dig into their roles and responsibilities.
3. Expect shifting sands. Leaders and managers should let returning staff know that every day will be an adventure, and cultivate resiliency in their teams. Priorities and focus will shift, so the best guidance we can give our teams is to be open to change. Offer them confidence that you'll be right there with them.
4. Prioritize your operations. Facilities may not have the staffing to support 10 number-one priorities, so be ready to communicate the risks to operations that move down the list. A common prioritization is picking, packing, receiving and putaway, and inventory control activities (e.g., cycle counting, consolidation). The focus is on immediate fulfillment activities, then refilling the warehouse, and finally ensuring inventory validity. Allocate your resources to accomplish those goals in that order, be transparent on the costs of this type of focus, and be ready to adjust.
5. Stabilize your own suppliers. As much trouble as you're having, imagine your own vendor's warehouses. Corrugated, cleaning/office supplies, and even availability of trailers or containers, are all affected by the same challenges you face. Check and verify. If new lead times are needed prior to placing orders, ensure you understand and communicate them.
6. Create a personnel plan. Decisions around headcount can be difficult, but usually the need is apparent. It is a challenge to know who and how many to hire and when, so it is worth a strategy session with your leadership to understand the trigger points for bringing on temporary or full-time employees.
7. Tighten up fulfillment accuracy. If you're delivering into the retail channel or direct to consumers, take a fresh look at your shipping accuracy. Your business worked hard to earn that sale during a recession, and the costs to correct a mistake will only be amplified. Reducing errors will yield greater than normal benefits to your financial performance.
8. Set goals and give updates. The workers you've managed to retain are probably the strongest employees you have. With that team, and in this environment, you might ask for better individual performances or facility goals than you've ever had. Use your strongest team to accomplish the most work.
9. Decide if it is time to invest. Cloud-based warehouse management systems (WMS) find their value in letting you do more with less. Now is the time, as order volume and a recessed economy may create a window for this improvement.
10. Keep a keen eye on your goals. Celebrate every win. Managers are under tremendous stress and every hourly employee is just as burdened. We have an opportunity to run warehouses tightly and professionally—and use every dollar and every man-hour to its fullest.
SOURCE: Don White, CEO, SnapFulfil North America