By Craig Summers, above, Managing Director UKI, Manhattan Associates
It’s no secret that at its height, COVID was exceedingly hard on employees across all industries around the world. For companies that were lucky enough to survive the disruption caused by remote working, furloughs and layoffs, employee engagement and well-being have become priorities for management since.
While employee burnout and turnover are a small but unfortunate reality of 21st century workplaces, warehouse workers in particular experienced significant pressure during the pandemic, having to process extreme volumes of orders in a quick and safe fashion, in order to maintain (crucial) customer satisfaction levels.
The surge in online orders during this time highlighted the importance of productivity, but also highlighted a greater need for a truly engaged, committed and happy workforce—a need which remains today, with more than 110 million online deliveries expected in the UK in 2023, up from 85 million in 2020 at the peak of COVID.
However, as the effects of the pandemic have started to wane, new obstacles have come to the fore in the form of rising costs, labour shortages and warehouse systems that are no longer fit for purpose. Never more so than today perhaps, it’s critical that employees are motivated and well equipped to carry out their work.
Although managing a warehouse as an SME can on occasion seem overwhelming—especially with increasing company costs and the requirement to meet shifting customer expectations—there are ways to ensure operations are seamless, and employees stay happy and productive all at the same time. Here’s how to do it:
It’s game time
Many warehouse management systems are stuck in the past, with employee engagement still equating to posting arbitrary performance ratings on bulletin or leader boards and offering subjective rewards. Lacking creativity (and objectivity), it’s no surprise that these techniques have limited impact on employee engagement within the warehouse or any other setting for that matter.
However, thanks to the many advancements and innovations in warehouse technology over the past few years, there are solutions to lacklustre efforts by upper management. One of the simplest and arguably most effective ways businesses can boost employee morale and productivity is through properly thought-out and applied gamification processes.
Similar to fitness apps on our smartphones, gamification turns tasks into competitions. Workers have instant access to information using technology that can connect them to management and showcase their performance, as well as receive real-time feedback. Through mobile devices, they can seamlessly connect to other technology and systems—from picking to packing and slotting—within the wider warehouse setting, meaning managers get the full picture of an employee’s efforts throughout their shift.
By adding gamification tactics to everyday tasks, employees feel recognised for their extra effort. It has been shown that the more engaged and visible the employee is, the higher the retention rate, and the more empowered they feel to achieve new personal records and reach their full potential.
Turning to the latest tech
There have been thousands of tech advances in the past decade, but let’s be honest: most occur in the consumer world. Over the last few years, however, B2B technology has come under increasing pressure to keep up with the relentless wave of consumerisation. The warehouse has been no different.
While technology, such as automation and robotics, has been in place for some time now (enabling staff to focus on tasks that machines can’t complete), more advanced solutions that incorporate AI, machine learning and the continual innovations provided by microservices, have combined to make new people-first approaches like gamification possible.
Out of necessity, supply chains function around the clock, but minimising delays and maintaining productivity while managing employee well-being and engagement are no longer mutually exclusive concepts.
And while labour shortages continue to impact businesses—especially those on the smaller side—around the world, technologies which can pool the skills of both human and automated resources onto a single platform are providing effective workarounds to the current staffing crunch.
New ways to boost engagement
Technology is by no means new to the warehouse environment, but it is, out of necessity, evolving at a rapid pace. Utilising a unified supply chain approach not only helps with important warehouse operations, such as stock management, inventory visibility and order fulfilment, it crucially helps managers to engage with staff in an authentic and valuable way (while seeing real-time performance data) to provide them with the feedback and confidence they need to excel at their jobs.
Employee engagement capabilities aren’t meant to replace the day-to-day interaction between leaders and their team, but rather, facilitate a more streamlined and positive communication process.
While it’s every company’s goal—large or small—to protect the well-being of its employees, it can be tough when it comes to the seemingly relentless pressures of the warehouse environment. Thankfully, gamification can help to achieve this.
Make no mistake, it is difficult in uncertain economic times, but with the right tools, SMEs can not only find new, more efficient ways to run their operations, but ensure their workers feel appreciated and empowered too. While we can’t predict the challenges ahead this year, by using data-driven gamification tools, we can predict that keeping employees engaged, productive, loyal and happy won’t be an area you’ll need to worry about in 2023!