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How to Best Manage Labor Planning Through Changing Freight Demand


How to Best Manage Labor Planning Through Changing Freight Demand

Managing and implementing a labor program through changing freight demand can be challenging for warehouse officials and supply chain and logistics companies. With the unpredictable economic nature of freight demand that started slowing midway through 20221, it can be difficult to accurately forecast the amount of work that needs to be done, leading to potential overstaffing, or understaffing.

However, these companies need to understand that developing a labor program is a journey, in which identifying proper standards is accomplished through steps, and change management with associate involvement is key to ensuring organizational adoption. With the right strategies in place, companies can effectively develop a labor program to ensure that they are prepared through this fluctuating freight demand. 

Track Activities On The Warehouse Floor 

One of the key strategies for managing labor planning through changing freight demand is measuring labor performance by tracking the activities being performed by staff on the warehouse floor. By analyzing historical activity data and trends, companies can gain insights into the expected patterns of demand and adjust their labor planning strategies accordingly.

For example, companies can utilize analytical data by setting up activities with a goal time and travel time, as well as monitoring the data flows from the warehouse management system (WMS). This can provide companies with the insights needed to calculate the overall labor performance percentage and allow them to identify trends in specific lanes or routes and modify their operations to optimize efficiency.

Make Data Actionable

Another important strategy for managing labor planning through changing freight demand is simply making the labor data completely actionable from the enterprise level down to the individual.  This ultimately gives flexibility within the company to accurately review labor performance, which ensures that they have the necessary flexibility to adjust to changing demand.

Whether it’s looking at labor performance by warehouse, by activity, or by shift, companies can see this data daily and make changes if needed to help manage the workload. Only looking at per/hour metrics tells just one side of the story, whereas measuring performance through these key areas can also ensure companies have the visibility to manage different types of freight, which can be particularly helpful during peak periods.

Track Indirect Time

Logging unmeasured time to find operational waste is also a significant strategy companies need to look more closely at when managing labor through changing freight demand. Indirect activities, including cleaning, admin time, battery changing, labeling, and breaking down pallets all decrease time that can be spent on more important warehouse floor tasks and the time the operation is spending on these unmeasured tasks can often create a “black hole” in the company’s financials. 

By logging these indirect activities and analyzing the data of the time being spent on these activities, companies will be able to find wasted or improved opportunities more readily for the workforce, which will ultimately lead to time being spent more efficiently and more money being saved annually. 

Manage Your Budget

Just as tracking indirect labor time is important to lowering costs through changing freight demand, tracking the number of hours users are spending in the warehouse in general is also important to manage overall budget. When utilizing a WMS to manage company budget, real-time hours data can be allocated between time and attendance systems to find the number of downtime or overtime hours in a given day, week, month, etc. 

Even more so, changing freight demand can also hinder how long it takes a user to clock in until they start their first task as well as the amount of time overtime hours are being worked. Companies need to be looking at the expected hours the user works versus the actual, used hours as well in order to avoid overtime errors. Managing the budget is critical, as companies can quickly and efficiently adjust their operations to respond to unexpected changes in demand or unexpected disruptions if needed.

Provide Standardized Views

From the enterprise/region to the warehouse and the shift down to the individual, all aspects of warehouse operations need to have standardized views from the different levels of the company. For example, the enterprise/regional company executives need a more overarching view of the warehouse sites to fully evaluate the labor performance, including how hours are being spent. Warehouse officials would then take a holistic view of the entire, specific warehouse operation to understand which shifts are underperforming and how the budget is being tracked. 

Looking at the shift perspective, the focus has to be on monitoring individual performance, indirect time being used, and other areas where the individual can improve. The individual then has to assess their own performance to provide real-time analysis and feedback to the shift, warehouse and enterprise/regional personnel. 

Incorporate Expected Travel Time

Last, but certainly not least, incorporating expected travel time for each activity in the WMS will provide a more accurate reflection on how long each shipment takes to allow for better performance metrics, streamline operations and better manage labor resources.

For example, companies can implement configuration functionality to easily map and configure travel time​ to reduce the travel time. By reducing travel time, companies can free up labor resources to decrease downtime that would otherwise be used to manage inventory or just wait for inventory to arrive or depart the warehouse. 

Managing labor planning through changing freight demand is a challenging task, but with the right strategies in place, companies can effectively navigate these challenges. By tracking activities on the warehouse floor, making data actionable, tracking indirect time, managing the budget, providing standardized views and incorporating expected travel time, companies can optimize their operations and ensure that they have the necessary labor resources to meet changing demand. With these strategies in place, companies can be well-positioned to succeed in today’s dynamic supply chain and logistics industry. 

About The Author:

Mike Babiak is the Director of Operational Excellence for Longbow Advantage, the industry-leading supply chain execution company behind The Rebus® Platform and the global leader in warehouse software and consulting. For more information, visit