The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent events taught us that the concept of “business as usual” no longer applies to distribution and fulfillment (D&F) operations. Even before the global pandemic, distribution center (DC) operators often cited the attraction and retention of a qualified hourly workforce as the leading collective challenge they face. These issues only increased once the pandemic hit, as competition for available labor increased exponentially alongside the spikes in e-commerce demand.
Because of these market conditions, many warehouses found themselves in a perpetual state of peak productivity — a situation that usually only occurs during the holiday season — which typically requires a 20% increase in staff to keep up with heightened demand. Coupled with the threat of illness outbreaks, DC operators also had to determine and implement new safety protocols to mitigate risks to workers’ health and limit productivity disruptions.
SHIFTING PRIORITIES FROM PRODUCTIVITY TO SAFETY
In light of the new social distancing requirements brought on by the pandemic, labor management software (LMS) platforms in D&F operations have been effective in addressing employee safety and well-being concerns, which have now becoming a top priority for DC managers.
In addition to this focus on health and safety for workers, the pandemic also brought about increased e-commerce and fulfillment demands. To meet these heightened demands, DC managers need to ensure worker’s confidence in the safety of their workplace. Building a culture of safety requires not only the implementation of new safety policies, but an understanding of their impacts on productivity and the various exceptions that may arise. DC managers can turn to an LMS to help address these new safety challenges by leveraging three fundamental capabilities that have been traditionally focused on productivity: influencing employee behaviors, tracking results, and driving employee engagement, ultimately enhancing productivity, reducing turnover, and mitigating workforce costs.
Influencing Employee Behaviors
Monetary incentives are typically one of the most effective tools for driving productivity. For example, an employee may strive to meet a performance benchmark to earn a bonus to their hourly salary. An LMS can help drive other key performance indicators (KPIs) by factoring in additional variables in the bonus calculation, such as picking accuracy rates and adherence to safety protocols. If an employee meets their productivity target but has accuracy issues or is not following protocols, then the LMS will be able to capture that and the worker’s bonus calculation may be reduced by a certain percentage.
DC managers can also use their LMS to monitor other performance factors related to enhancing employee wellness, including user-defined safety infractions. These infractions may include insufficient distance between pick locations, limited amount of time between shift transitions, or improper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). As these infractions accumulate, an individual worker’s bonus may be reduced proportionately or potentially removed altogether.
LMS helps DC managers reinforce specific best practice behaviors and achieve transparency on bonus calculation and KPIs. An LMS can help engrain desired behaviors into the workplace culture, providing a self-regulating mechanism for continuous productivity and safety improvements.
Peter Drucker, considered the father of modern management strategies, said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” An LMS is designed with this very principle in mind. Modern LMS platforms provide a performance baseline for DC managers to monitor and measure KPIs, helping DC managers make informed management decisions.
Take, for example, the enhanced safety protocols workers must follow as a result of the pandemic. These protocols could detract from their productivity targets. However, LMS can help DC managers account for this, ensuring that both productivity and safety levels are being met, while giving employees performance goals that are realistic and achievable.
DC managers can also balance resources and safety precautions with LMS performance data. For example, DC managers can adapt traditional work schedules by staggering additional, smaller shifts with workers who are most favorably suited for each shift. An LMS gives managers the ability to staff each shift with the skills and proficiency needed to meet expectations, while ensuring safety protocols.
Another critical management function is resource planning. Using an LMS, DC managers can develop staffing models that address potential labor outages and include contingency plans for a variety of scenarios. While unrealistic to plan for every possible uncertainty, LMS help DC managers predict, prepare for, and understand different staffing models, their benefits, and their drawbacks.
Plus, LMS can serve as an alternative contact tracing data source in the event of an illness outbreak. With the ability to draw data connections between the mobile enablement technology and the host system, some LMS are able to keep a comprehensive record of individual movements and activities throughout a facility. While it may not have all the capabilities of a formal contact tracing system, it can serve as a first line of defense at the onset of an outbreak.
Driving Employee Engagement
LMS platforms promote the fair treatment of employees by ensuring the objectivity of their evaluations and that they are given achievable performance expectations. With an LMS, employees can be sure that their performance ratings are based solely on their efforts and that they will be rewarded for exceptional performances. Employees also know that LMS will account for the new safety requirements and adjust its performance evaluations accordingly.
As a result, employees can work with the confidence of knowing that they are achieving their personal bonus goals, contributing to productivity and profitability, and helping to build a culture of safety.
LMS also help DC managers identify when individual workers are having challenges, such as not meeting their performance targets or adapting to new safety measures. By quickly identifying these issues through LMS, DC managers are able to quickly intervene and initiate coaching sessions that may help remove any barriers to employee productivity or safety. These conversations not only help DC managers identify opportunities to promote performance improvements, but show employees that DC managers are committed to their individual success.
Today’s market uncertainties required DCs to be both productive and resilient. A confident, healthy, and empowered workforce is essential in achieving that goal of maintaining peak productivity levels while fostering a culture of engagement in which employees can thrive.