This post first featured in the Modern Retail Guide to Fulfilment August 2020. To read the full ebook click here, or scroll to the end of the page to view on page-turning software.
It’s been a difficult and unprecedented time for businesses and customers alike. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, retailers had to introduce new social distancing and safety rules in the workplace, which led to a significant drop in productivity and efficiency levels for many businesses. As a result, consumers who were previously accustomed to next-day or even same-day delivery now had to wait several days to receive their goods.
But the tide is turning. Many brands have found ways to accommodate social distancing in their warehouse operations without limiting their efficiency, and major retailers that had previously paused next-day delivery options — like ASOS — are back to running a nearly normal service. If you want to remain competitive, it’s crucial you find ways to adapt your supply chain and warehousing operations to suit this “new normal”, so you can continue to meet customer expectations while also keeping staff safe.
In this article, Kelly Friel, from industrial tool and PPE supplier Zoro, shares some key advice for implementing social distancing and safety measures in your retail warehouse, while also ensuring efficiency.
Offer PPE and hygiene stations
Personal protective equipment (PPE) has become one of the most effective weapons retailers and warehouse owners have in the fight against COVID-19. The government’s official guidance puts great emphasis on using PPE to create a safer workspace so, if you haven’t already, you need to ensure that you have a consistent and sufficient supply of PPE products, particularly facemasks, visors, gloves, and antibacterial cleansers. Staff should be issued with these at the start of their shift, and should receive thorough training on how to use them correctly.
Another important aspect of staff hygiene is frequent hand washing. By installing additional sinks and sanitising stations close to the areas where staff spend the majority of their time, you can help ensure that operatives maintain a high standard of hygiene, without the need to spend time walking to and from your toilet facilities. It will also help to allow staff time for regular hand-washing breaks, so they aren’t tempted to skip this important step during a busy shift.
Find additional space
Adding more floor space will make it more feasible for staff to maintain a safe two-metre distance at all times during shifts. So, you could consider adding additional space to your warehouse using a mezzanine floor, or perhaps by using industrial warehouse tents to extend your existing premises. This way, you can spread your stock across a wider area, allowing staff to stay safely spaced. Such an approach can be particularly effective if staff stand at a single workstation for the entire duration of their shift, but you don’t currently have enough room to allow two metres between stations.
Naturally, whether or not this is going to be feasible will depend on the size of your existing facilities and your current financial situation. But, if it’s available to you, then this option will not only help you to remain competitive during the current health crisis, but will also ensure that your business is fully prepared for efficient warehousing and delivery, should the virus return in the future.
Implement a one-way picking system and redistribute stock
If adding more space isn’t possible, then you could look at your current floorplans and try to find a way to implement an optimised one-way system through your warehouse. This would allow staff to walk the full length of the warehouse without needing to pass one another, picking items as they go. After reaching the processing or packing location, they can then return to the start of the system to begin another cycle. This means that staff will not need to cross back on themselves, allowing them to maintain a safe 2-metre distance at all times.
However, this tactic does rely on the co-operation of staff in order to be successful, so the route will need to be made very clear, and employees must be thoroughly trained on how to use the new system. You’ll also need to make sure any best-selling items are spread across the entire length of the one-way system, or staff may be forced to spend a long time in a particular area, which could cause queues and bottlenecks that would make social distancing difficult and delay processes such as delivery.
Consider implementing robotic solutions
Social distancing rules only apply to human warehouse operatives, so one possible solution is to invest in collaborative robots or autonomous mobile robots. By placing these strategically, you can effectively ensure that staff do not need to come too close to one another during picking. For instance, you could assign one picking operative to a safely socially distanced zone, and then use AMRs or mobile robots to transport goods to a packing area. This allows the staff member to remain safely within their “bubble” for the duration of the shift, without reducing efficiency.
While they’re not exactly a cheap or quick fix, AMRs and other robotic solutions can have a very beneficial effect on overall productivity, and are already being used by warehousing giants such as Amazon and Ocado. In addition, they will help you to future-proof your workforce in case of future pandemics or lockdowns, so you may want to look into this as an option.
These are incredibly challenging times for retailers but, by being agile and creative in your approach, you should be able to find ways to keep staff safe at work while also meeting customer expectations. Remember to keep checking the government advice hub for the latest updates.
Please note: This guide is not exhaustive, and is only intended to provide an introduction to the topic of warehousing and delivery, so please refer to the latest government guidance on COVID-19 and workplace safety measures for more information.
Read the full Modern Retail Guide to Fulfilment August 2020 below.