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The global e-commerce industry could grow up to $2.7 trillion by the end of 2021. Jobs must be filled, and warehouse operations will likely accelerate at an unprecedented pace. Yes, robotics and automation technology can improve the efficiency of the workforce, but the people working in these warehouses still represent the backbone of the industry. 

The five factors that follow are vitally important if you wish to improve your management scheme and enhance morale in the workplace. Do not be afraid to make changes—even if you manage a “well-oiled” machine. Society is changing by the second, and making progress at work requires a few changes from time to time.

Focus on Employee Engagement and Retention

Given the recent boom in demand for warehousing, attracting and retaining talent has become increasingly more difficult. What’s more, this comes down to a lot more factors than simply salary and benefits.  

The more intangible factors include recognition, personal development and opportunities. Or in other words, engagement. An emerging trend in this field is the gamification of warehouse work. Similar to fitness tracker apps, these digital platforms have goals and milestones for employees to achieve. Once achieved, they’re rewarded with both virtual recognition, such as topping a leader board or gaining badges, as well as more tangible perks such as reserved parking spaces and gift cards. 

The idea is to provide positive reinforcement to workers, so instead of doing the minimum required for their paycheck, they go the extra mile and earn lots of small perks along the way.

Aside from the more fun and inventive engagement tactics such as gamification, managers shouldn’t forget the basics. Being present on the warehouse floor for a portion of each shift pattern, and taking a bit of time to check in with staff, is still one of the best ways to build rapport. This also helps nip in the bud any issues that workers may have, before potentially becoming a bigger problem. 

Forming Strategic Partnerships with Staffing Agencies

As warehousing demands continue to increase and seasonality continues to drive peaks, forming strategic partnerships with staffing agencies is becoming more crucial. A good agency that you have a long-term and trusted relationship with can be relied upon to provide quality hires as you ramp up to manage increases in order cycles. 

The more agencies you partner with, the more you’re spreading your risk. Think about an extreme but possible staffing scenario, where order volumes spike to the near physical capacity of the facility. How many additional hires would you need to manage this? How many hires could each of the staffing agencies you partner with be able to provide within a few weeks to a few months? 

This is also where building strategic relationships with the staffing agencies you work with are crucial, so you have confidence that they’ll prioritize your needs above other operators that are also trying to staff for seasonal peaks. 

When it comes to striking the optimal balance between permanent, directly employed workers, and agency temps, the 80/20 rule is a good one to work to. This ensures that the majority of the workforce are committed permanent members of staff “in it for the long haul,” while the remaining 20 percent allows you to easily scale up or down with seasonality. 

Implement COVID-19 Screening and Security

With all warehouse operators having spent the past 12 months getting their premises COVID-19 secure, now is a great time to think about your screening regimen and any improvements you should make.

A debate you may be having right now is what the best type of screening process is for your operations, especially seeing as experts expect COVID-19 to continue having an impact on our daily lives for the whole of 2022.  

There are two broad options available here: symptom screening or virus testing. Symptom screening is the far more affordable option compared to testing and has the least impact on your employee scheduling. App-based screening platforms enable employees to self-screen for symptoms before they leave their homes for the start of each shift. This can also be supplemented by temperature checks on arrival. 

Virus testing, on the other hand, will detect asymptomatic cases and early infections, but the costs can be prohibitive for many warehouse operators. And of course, you need to plan regular testing around shift patterns and consider what the pay implications are of asking employees to report to work 30 minutes before their shift starts to receive an on-site rapid test.

It’s little surprise then that screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms is a more practical solution for many warehouse operators, who are looking for a cost-effective way to protect staff while also lowering a business’s risk of litigation and, potentially, its insurance premiums.  

Reassess Demand and Reoptimize Processes 

Demand for specific goods has shifted enormously over the past 12 months, which has had a big impact on warehouse product velocity. So, the products that were moved most frequently in the recent past may no longer be the case. Therefore, operators need to ensure they’re regularly reassessing their velocity slotting, at a much greater frequency than perhaps they were pre-pandemic, given how volatile demand has been for certain products since. 

As demand levels shift, distribution centers must become a lot more agile, quickly reassigning priority shelving and circulation flows, and relaying this information to employees as part of the process. Employees will then have an easier job on their hands hitting targets if products are being more frequently reassigned to shelving based on up-to-date movement flows.  

Invest in Enhanced Labor Management Systems

With the high demand for warehouse staff pushing up wages, especially with the likes of Amazon paying above average and inflating wages in the areas where they’re based, cost savings will become more crucial than ever throughout 2021. To this end, many operators are focusing on enhanced labor management systems (LMS) to deliver much of these savings.

With the ethos shifting from using these systems to identify underperformers, to instead uncover ways to optimize the workforce, an intelligently deployed LMS can help distribution centers to achieve more with less.

A big focus now with LMS is measuring and comparing the performance metrics across different facilities within the same organization. A few years ago, this would have been prohibitively expensive for many, but thanks to cloud computing and SaaS pay-as-you-go models, this is now easily affordable. And once you can measure something, you can improve it, such as focusing efforts on underperforming facilities.  

But of course, it’s not just at the macro level that LMS are increasingly being used to measure performance; the focus is also on the level of the employee. AI is helping managers to demand forecast in real-time better than ever before, based on pick counts and other KPIs during each shift. So, 2021 could be the year that we start to see fewer managers moving staff around on the fly and instead begin to rely on predictive modeling.    

Ultimately, the past 12 months were focused on survival and rapid-adaption for many businesses. Now we’ve made it through the tough part, it’s time to take a pause, take stock, reassess processes, and then begin optimizing for the new normal. And focusing much of that attention on workforce management improvements is a great investment for any distribution center.


Adam Day is president & CEO of Time Rack, a time & attendance, payroll integration, and HR SaaS platform that provides warehouse time & attendance systems and HR administration services that create work-life harmony. Visit to learn more.