The pandemic has changed everything, including how warehouses are staffed. It revealed vulnerabilities in the warehousing industry’s capacity to react to supply-chain interruptions. Two years in and lessons are still being learned, but there are some key takeaways regarding how warehouse staffing has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reputation of warehouses as good employers took a hit during the pandemic, exacerbating an already challenging labor market. The news media were full of stories about COVID-19 spreading through warehouse workforces, spotty compliance with CDC guidelines, employees being forced to work when ill, and other unscrupulous business practices. Although these problems were not widespread, and most warehouses took proactive measures to ensure worker safety, the insinuations stuck.
Striving to keep warehouse staffing costs to the bare minimum has become counter-productive as warehouses cannot attract and retain good employees. Some major retailers have raised wages and added benefits in an attempt to keep their warehouses appropriately staffed. More and more employers will need to do the same in order to stay ahead of what has become known as the “Great Resignation.”
Most people prefer to work in clean conditions, but the pandemic emphasized how critical it is to provide an environment where workers can do their jobs without fear of contagion. A warehouse’s commitment to sanitation could become a major selling point for workers during and after the pandemic.
Social distancing is a challenge for many warehouses, where floor space is at a premium. Measures like one-way paths, staggered break times, and physical distancing between stations will continue to be of great importance as the pandemic persists. Even if the threat of COVID-19 dissipates, workers will likely continue to expect their employers to provide an environment that allows them to maintain physical distancing.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, warehouses that traditionally picked entire pallets to ship to retail operations found that the e-commerce boom was driving a need to pick by the piece and ship to an end-user. Although there is increasing automation of the picking process, picking remains one of the most labor-intensive aspects of warehouse operations.
Despite the gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions, many consumers have developed an e-commerce habit they are unlikely to shake any time soon. Piece picking and the need for sufficient pickers to keep products moving through the supply chain are likely to be persistent trends for the foreseeable future.
Despite advances in automation, warehouses will always need people. The challenges of putting together a dexterous team of workers have never been greater and could substantially limit the time and resources available for producing a product and selling it to customers.
A good 3PL provider might be the best warehouse staffing solution available. With a deep talent pool of skilled workers and managers, and the expertise to optimize both human and technological assets, outsourcing staffing to a 3PL provider like Brown West Logistics could be a game-changer.