By Consultant Lindsey Olson

With your eyes looking to the seemingly infinite possibilities that new technologies and automation can bring to your future DC while integrating with labor, it’s imperative to examine how your labor force can remain your greatest asset. In order to stay relevant and ahead of the curve among the competition, you will need to turn the challenges facing your future labor force into opportunities.

In the first post of our Future of the DC series, we looked at how labor integrates with automation and the unique opportunities that you could unlock in your DC by reexamining three components of performance. Today, as we continue our series, we are diving into the common challenges that your labor force might be facing, as well as the opportunities that can help you optimize this valuable business asset.

The Challenges

  • Monotony, repetitive movements, and stationary workstations: Less travel and “easier” work leads to less physically demanding but potentially more acutely tiring jobs for your labor force. Monotony can also lead to burnout and lethargy which can negatively affect output, utilization, and retention.
  • Technology: Even though technology provides a lot of benefits for operations, it also comes with its fair share of frustrations. For example, as DCs become increasingly more automated, your workforce will likely be interacting repeatedly with either a workstation monitor or handheld device in the workplace, requiring a more tech-savvy labor force.
  • A new generation: Millennials are the largest generation currently in the workforce, bringing with them a brand new set of expectations for their working environment. For example, they don’t want bosses, they want coaches, and they don’t want to fix their weaknesses, they want to develop their strengths. When it comes to engaging, hiring, and motivating this generation, the ways of the past aren’t necessarily the ways of the future.

The Opportunities:

  • Hiring: According to Gallup, millennial talent can’t be bought with trendy office spaces or hip perks. Instead, they’re drawn to companies that encourage learning, growth, and leadership; they need to know that they have a future at your company. Finding ways to provide new learning opportunities and securing the right associates will become harder as jobs get easier, but millennials are tech-savvy and can help with the adoption of new technologies in your DC as you transition into the future. Once you find the right people it’s important to surround them with good coaching and a culture that encourages engagement and feedback. Identifying and developing key associates to play an important role during peak season can provide opportunities for growth and leadership. When your labor force is located at stationary work stations rather than traveling over the course of the day, allowing them to listen to music or podcasts during the day could be a draw for many potential associates. These types of benefits could also give you an edge over other DCs that have safety concerns with equipment movement and travel that prevent headphones from being allowed on the floor.
  • Quicker training and more cross-training: With much of the variation and physical exertion removed from the jobs in automated DCs, the training and onboarding of new employees can be streamlined, quickly decreasing the negative impact of turnover on your operations. Associates are able to be trained in multiple jobs and can maintain proficiency across the positions due to the simplified nature of the work. This allows your operation to be more nimble by moving your associates around the floor as needed to accommodate heavier inbound or outbound days. Because of the monotony and physical repetitiveness in each position, rotating associates through jobs during a shift or over the course of the week can also increase engagement and reduce injuries.
  • Accountability: Automated DCs are ripe for building tight accurate multi-variable standards that not only supply supervisors with the data necessary to effectively manage their associates but also provide supervisors and associates with live performance data. This live performance data is available when working with a workstation monitor or handheld device and can give positive acknowledgment to associates doing well at their position, while also indicating to a low-performing associate and their supervisor that intervention may be needed. Live performance data does not eliminate the need for supervisor and associate interaction at any performance level. However, it can help inform supervisors on coaching needs in their area, help to head off problems early and identify valuable methods from exceptional workers to include in the standard operating procedures. Overall, live performance data can increase the accountability of each associate and supervisor while also increasing units per hour (UPH).
  • Incentives: With a well-run performance management program, incentives can be implemented to increase utilization, engagement, and retention while simultaneously driving down overall labor costs. Effective incentive programs can range from traditional pay-for-performance, earning bonus pay based on hitting or exceeding predetermined thresholds to a break-bucks program where supervisors can hand out certificates to be redeemed for food in the breakroom or company gear.
  • Gamification: When done thoughtfully gamification can lead to increased UPH and engagement and can help to overcome the monotony of positions in automated DCs. One of the keys to successfully implementing gamification in a DC is to ensure that the average employee can win. If you have 1,000 associates and only post results or reward the top 10, you’ll likely see a lack of engagement because the award seems so unattainable. It could even cause negative reactions that decrease engagement. However, there’s a wide range of ways gamification can be implemented effectively in a DC from video games at work stations driven from UPH, to a poster in the break room tracking progress, to a goal represented as a thermometer. Each level of fame can come with its own intricacies, but to make any of them successful the goals and targets need to be fluid and changing over time. Without variation in the program the game itself can become monotonous and lose vitality. Make sure you understand the goals of your program and remember that instituting a game in your DC won’t motivate every associate to be a top performer but can encourage incremental improvements.

Both the challenges and the opportunities outlined above are vital for the health of DCs in the future. By admitting the challenges you face, you can set up your operation to take advantage of the opportunities.

Want more insight into the future of your DC? Head over to our final blog post in the series to learn about the challenges and opportunities that leadership will face in the future as they strive to keep their DCs competitive and relevant.