With fulfillment centers facing down a proverbial tide of year-end business, productivity and efficiency soar to the top of managers' wish lists. Eager to receive these must-have gifts for your company? Here are five ways to prepare for the winter storm of orders without breaking a sweat or investing in expensive new warehouse technology:
1. Optimize How Your Items are Stored.
Even if you're already using the prescribed techniques, such as pallet racking, examine where your high-sales items are located. If you have access to metrics - or even just anecdotal observations - place items that often sell together beside one another in the warehouse. Every moment of indecision or aisle-switching is a speed bump for efficiency when demand hits high gear, so prime your pickers for success by stacking the deck in their favor, location-wise.
2. Examine and Use Individual Strengths.
While warehouse floor workers should, ideally, be equally capable in cross-proficiency performance, that's a very unlikely scenario. Chances are you have a few stars that are extremely fast with picking, while others excel at straightening, paperwork, packing or other warehouse duties. Before things shift into high gear for the year, take some time to quietly observe each employee as they work, and schedule private conversations with each to get self-assessments of their own work habits; a hybrid of these two data points will guide you in employee placement.
3. Incentivize Great Performance.
While you don't want to undermine the work-for-pay balance, there's nothing wrong with tying a few carrots on the stick when crunch time approaches. A recent Penske whitepaper emphasizes the potential benefits of a work floor program that recognizes and rewards employees that consistently go above and beyond expectations. The slightly competitive aspect will help motivate your team to do their best, even as the mid-season fatigue looms. It's important to keep both halves of the effort - recognition and reward - at the forefront, as quietly handing over incentives won't have the same motivating effect as presenting them in front of an audience, and vice-versa.
4. Organize Your "Landing Pads."
Could a new employee walk up to a current workstation in your fulfillment center and find everything they need without hunting? If not, a little housecleaning may be in order before the holidays. If you have broken or reluctant scanners, dirty recharging stations or cluttered surfaces, you could be negatively impacting productivity according to Cerasis' Jennie Dannecker, Restocking simple "analog" supplies like pens and first aid kits will also prevent workflow-clogging scavenger hunts as your floor gets busier.
5. Ask Your Employees for their Input.
It may seem simplistic, but your employees are the ones physically on the floor all day. If they have to reach to uncomfortable heights to get to a certain bin, or have consistent issues with scanners not picking up shelf tags, they'll be the ones you can count on to explain the problem in detail. In addition, they've probably been eager to offer constructive criticism, and your open-door discussion will help cement loyalty and team-building in time for what's likely one of the busiest periods you'll handle all year. This doesn't mean you need to fix every problem right away, but if you hear similar complaints from several employees, it's a good sign that something needs to be looked into.
Making it through the holidays doesn't have to mean coping with the ever-present migraine of an inefficient fulfillment center or disorganized staff. Use these 5 tips to get more out of the resources you already have at your fingertips; your metrics, your staff and your holiday performance will benefit from this added planning and smart prioritization.