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Six tips for efficient warehouse management

Container specialist Plastor shares some useful tips for increased warehouse productivity.

Warehousing plays a pivotal role in the supply chain and its importance is expanding all the time. The huge increase in online shopping and just in time manufacturing is driving the warehouse forward like nothing before and it doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. As warehouse storage is usually viewed as a cost, improving efficiency, maximising productivity and minimising waste is essential. That’s where good warehouse and employee management comes in. 

This is a compilation of some of the most effective management tips that have either driven efficiency improvements, reduced the time it takes to intake or fulfil orders or even improved overall profitability of a warehouse. 

1. Walk in their shoes

Paper planning only takes you so far and won’t always give the most accurate picture. Get your warehouse management to walk the floor on a quiet day or at the weekend. Have one of your most experienced staff walk them through how everything works and walk in their shoes for a little while. 

You can walk through a mock intake, a mock order pick and pack, truck load or process relevant to your industry. You can see first-hand the movement required to receive and store stock, to pick and pack an order and prepare for shipping. You can experience everything your teams do to prepare for shipping and gain valuable intelligence on how things really work.  

2. Measure everything 

How can you improve something if you don’t know what it is? KPIs, stats, performance measures, call them what you will. If you don’t know how long it takes to unload a truck, how long a piece of inventory is on the shelf or how long it takes to pick and pack an order, how can you seek to improve on it? Measurement is resource-intensive but you cannot make quantifiable changes without it. 

There are some key areas every warehouse should measure. Areas such as intake accuracy, order picking accuracy, inventory turnover, time to pick, fill rate and more. All can contribute to a clearer picture about what’s going on in your warehouse. 

Sharing those measurements with your team can also help buy-in and let you celebrate when they exceed them. Here it’s more about how you say something than what you say. Keep it positive, recognise top performers, use encouragement and incentives and efficiency should follow. 

3. Optimise movement and touch

While you’re walking in warehouse shoes, take a good look at workflow. How much do staff handle the goods? How often do they have to cross over themselves or walk back and forth when loading or picking? How can you minimise that movement so it all moves in one direction, towards the loading bay? Can picks be optimised to multiple picks at once? The more linear the movement and the less repetition, the less wasted energy involved. 

Optimising the path from intake to loading and using an ABC analysis can drastically reduce handling, time, footsteps and overall warehouse storage efficiency.  

4. Efficiency incentives

Every staff member in every industry is used to hearing about the need for efficiency and agility. Combine that with quality incentive packages for performance, attendance and for driving efficiency and you will see buy-in increase exponentially. It doesn’t have to be cash either. It could be a larger staff discount, away days, gifts or something else entirely. 

Idea incentives are also useful. Offering rewards for staff suggestions for better ways of working, more efficient storage methods, workflows or other tasks can provide valuable ideas and completely different perspectives. You will obviously get lots of pointless suggestions but that one diamond in the rough could make it very worthwhile! Incentivising staff has a huge psychological benefit as well as performance benefit. The more buy-in you get from staff, the more reliable and the more loyal staff will be too. 

5. Training

Training is an investment in the business and staff that will be felt in morale, retention and efficiency. It can be performed in house and doesn’t have to cost much at all. 

Regular training in short sessions can help make employees feel valued, keep their skills up to date, ensure the business is compliant with local laws, import and export rules, customer freight requirements and the myriad of other standards warehouses have to comply with. Cross-train too as it can offer resilience within your workforce for very little cost. 

6. Prioritise safety above everything

We all know that we have a duty of care to our staff but prioritising safety has far reaching benefits as well as immediate ones. If staff believe you have their best interests at heart, they will return that with productivity and loyalty. Increased awareness of risk helps avoid them as much as possible and reduce downtime associated with incidents and injury. 

Some clients ask about accident rates during negotiation and having a relatively clear incident book is a good measure of how you run your operation. 

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