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    March 4, 2021

    Remote Working and Logistics in Critical Times

    Is remote working even possible for a warehouse, let alone a good thing? Indeed, there will be times when you want to minimize the number of bodies in a warehouse for some time. Warehouse innovations not only make this possible, but can improve overall warehouse efficiency.

    The beauty of today’s warehouse management systems is how much they can streamline or reduce the workload in warehouses and fulfillment centers. Automation and integration allow many tasks to happen without the direct contact of an employee. This lays the groundwork for efficient operations on a regular basis. It becomes even more important when a company is forced to work remotely.

    When cloud-based warehouse management software is used correctly and to its full potential, it doesn’t matter if managers are in an office on the other side of the building, another corporate location, or even at home. All of the data they need to do their jobs is at their fingertips. Connect it to other links in the supply chain, and its usefulness multiplies.

    Managers need to ask themselves how prepared their warehouse is for remote work. There are times, for example, when it will be important to minimize the number of people in the warehouse at any one time (the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak is a case in point). It will be important for those that can to work remotely—but they can do that only if you’ve planned ahead.

    There are plenty of warehouse innovations that can increase overall efficiency now and position the company for a smooth transition to remote work if and when it is necessary due to a crisis.

    Remote Communication Keeps Everyone Up to Speed

    During the pandemic of 2020, companies have been forced to find ways to let some of their employees work from home. Within days, the use of teleconferencing products like Skype, Zoom, UberConference, and GoToMeeting became the norm for strategy meetings, staff check-ins, and vendor conferences. Companies that already used some of these methods of communication had a definite leg up on the competition. 

    But working remotely can go much further than just online meetings and group chats. When a crisis forces entire teams to figure out how to get their jobs done from miles away, companies that had embraced remote work beforehand can often proceed with business as usual. Those that have not may struggle to find their footing. 

    The national COVID-19 emergency in 2020 has made it clear to even the most skeptical managers that working remotely can work. Managers everywhere have been given proof that productivity does not need to suffer when people can’t be at the office or warehouse. Holding meetings and keeping in contact are just the tip of the iceberg for remote working.

    Counting on Real-Time Inventory

    Warehouses and fulfillment centers will have a hard time filling orders if they don’t know what’s on the shelves. Some emergencies will drive up demand for certain products, pushing fulfillment centers to the limit. Powerful inventory management software is crucial to meeting a sudden spike in volume. 

    Data collected by onsite employees using barcode scanners can provide everything a remote worker needs to keep an eye on inventory. They will see, in real-time, the quantity of any item in stock, along with its location in the warehouse. Combining inventory data with order information, they can group orders, create pick paths, and direct staffing assignments. Alarms can be set to alert management and initiate reorders when supplies run low.

    All of these tools are part of efficient warehouse operations no matter what. When they’re used consistently and their data is trusted for decision-making, it will be much easier to lean on them if operations need to be managed remotely.

    Workforce Management from Afar

    A warehouse or manufacturing plant can’t be automated completely. Workers still need to be there for many tasks. But if the nature of an emergency makes it difficult or dangerous for people to be on-site, the use of remote WMS technology can make it easier to make strategic decisions from somewhere else. 

    Daily reports, for example, can indicate the amount of work that needs to be done, and the staff resources that are available. Absences or a sharp increase in the workload can result in not having enough employees to fulfill the day’s orders. Data-driven decisions to bring in temporary workers or start the hiring process can be managed by anyone from anywhere. 

    The analytics and KPIs that gauge productivity can be examined and further decisions made based on them. Perhaps workers should be moved around to positions where they’re most needed, or an additional shift might be added to have the warehouse working overnight. 

    The important thing is that it isn’t necessary for someone to be on-site to come to these conclusions. A trustworthy WMS with accurate data can give a clear picture of everything that’s happening, and decisions can be made accordingly.

    Supply Chain Integration Tying Everything Together

    WMS data is valuable, and integrating throughout the warehouse and across the supply chain is even more so. Cloud-based software can make it possible to tie in a company’s information with that of its vendors and carriers. 

    Let’s say the WMS alerts a manager that a certain type of foam packaging material is running low and will need to be ordered soon. Integrated WMS can also tell them important information about the supplier of that item. For example, the vendor may be facing a shortage of the material and it will end up on backorder for several weeks. 

    The manager can choose to switch to a similar product instead or seek the usual packaging material from a different supplier. The important thing is that the decision will be data-driven and can be made before the backordered item can slow down the packing and shipping process or stop it entirely.

    Maintaining Customer Confidence from Anywhere

    Chances are, a regional or national emergency is going to affect not only a company, but also its customer base too. Wildfires, floods, weather events, or pandemics can have customers scrambling to buy certain items. If one company can’t meet their needs, they will go elsewhere. So while businesses are coping with a lack of resources, or staff shortage, they still need to maintain their customer relationships.

    Fully integrated software and real-time inventory visibility give a company the power to take care of its customers’ needs from anywhere. These abilities already exist with WMS even if staff usually works onsite. Recognizing how the data can be used and giving employees the ability to access it remotely will be a powerful tool in critical times. 

    When a customer calls, the data is handy to answer all of their questions about product availability, check on an order’s status, change or cancel it, or redirect delivery. Cloud-based software can allow reps to work from anywhere, continuing to support—and keep—their customers.

    A Checklist for Remote Work in Critical Times

    Companies that come out on the other side of a crisis in good shape are those that are nimble enough to assess the situation and adapt. Adjusting to something like remote work doesn’t mean a business has to fly by the seat of its pants. The processes that are in place can still work for a staff that is scattered in several locations. Here are some things to help prepare for remote work now:

    • Choose a WMS that is cloud-based, and therefore accessible from anywhere, rather than one that is on-premises or proprietary.
    • Integrate software, not only throughout the facility, but with vendors and carriers too.
    • Understand the data your WMS can provide. Trust it and use it to make data-driven decisions.
    • Fully optimize the warehouse or fulfillment center to eliminate redundancies and reduce the amount of manual work that can’t be done remotely.
    • Prioritize communication. It’s more important than ever when people can’t meet face-to-face.
    • Make sure employees have the right tools to telecommute. This may mean company-issued laptops, cell phones, etc.
    • Trust your employees. Hiring the right people for the right positions will give you the confidence that they will do their jobs even in critical times.

    Cloud-based WMS can be employees’ eyes and ears when they can’t be there themselves. The best time to implement warehouse management systems is before a crisis happens. When software and procedures have been tested and their data is trusted, going remote will be seamless.

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