Driving effectiveness into communication strategies has never been more critical
It’s probably an overstatement to say that all American eyes are on the business of warehousing. But then, the role of warehouses in the twin worlds of business and economics has never been more prominent. Warehouses are in the news, or standing just behind a lot of recent news. Two factors are contributing heavily to this: more recently, widespread shortages of a wide range of goods; and, longer-term, the Amazon Effect.
Challenges Facing Communication in the Warehouse?
Approximately 96% of Americans work in an occupation other than transportation and warehousing. And so it’s probably safe to say the majority of these have seldom if ever set foot inside a warehouse. Historically, at least, it’s also unlikely they’ve devoted any significant part of their mental bandwidth to thinking about warehouse operations, warehouse management, or warehouse employees.
But today, the world is different. We may not be living in the “new normal” that so many people anticipated for the post-Covid years, but it does seem today’s reality is a “current normal.” What’s been most disruptive for most Americans in the “current normal” have been the tenacious bottlenecks in the supply chain, reflected in product shortages and price increases. This is related in large part to staffing issues caused by a shortage of warehouse workers and even in some cases by excessive operational downtime.
Supply chain issues aren’t the only factor elevating the role of warehouses in the public consciousness. Amazon has 110 active fulfillment centers scattered across the United States. These average 800,000 square feet, almost 50 times the size of the average American warehouse. The company’s Mt. Juliet, Tennessee facility tops the list at 3.6 million square feet. It’s nearly impossible to drive past an Amazon warehouse without ones’ attention being drawn by the spectacle.
As a result, the large majority of Americans who don’t work in the logistics business have probably given more thought to warehousing and inventory management in recent months than they had in their entire lives to this point. (For the record, transportation and warehousing accounts for around 6 million jobs in the United States, while total employment currently hovers just under 150 million.)
When all eyes are on you, there’s no better time to shine.
The easing of the worker shortages, which will inevitably occur, should be accompanied by plans to further streamline operations and create still stronger engagement among both new hires and long-time staff members. And a big component of those plans should be centered on implementing better workplace communication strategies – between co-workers, between different departments, and along the entire chain of command.
How to Use Effective Communication in Your Warehouse?
Poor communication as an organization, and poor communication skills among individual team members, is one of the biggest barriers to a business’s success. In a survey of large companies (i.e., with over 100,000 employees), the average annual loss due to poor communication was pegged at $62 million. Another survey found that two of the four most significant issues caused by poor communication are failure to complete projects on time – or at all – and missed performance goals. Simply put, poor communication disrupts the workflow. This latter study also found that the biggest barriers to good communication are differing communication styles, unclear responsibilities, time pressures, and lack of strong leadership.
Of course, these are all related to problems in how the audience interprets the communication, or even whether an individual makes the effort to communicate at all. But when focusing on a warehouse work environment, while each of these are just as relevant as they are anywhere else in the business, there’s another, more basic barrier to effective communication: noise levels that prevent people from hearing what’s being said, much less how they say it.
5 Ways to Optimize Warehouse Communications?
The following tips will help any warehousing operation develop more effective communication:
1) At the organization level: This is all about mass communication. The organization should find an internal employee communication app that’s right for its needs and implement a program that encourages regular check-ins. These enable everyone to message colleagues in both real-time and in on-app discussion. They’re effectively a social media platform, customizable and exclusive to your organization.
2) At the individual level: Anyone can benefit from training designed to improve their communication skills. Among the habits that should be reinforced include active listening, staying on-message, appropriate body language, and even something simple as maintaining eye contact.
3) On the warehouse floor: This is about making sure the message is heard – not just in the abstract sense of I heard the words but I didn’t hear the intended message, but simply making the words themselves audible in a noisy environment. The company should invest in a wearable wireless communication system, and ensure that everyone who sets foot on the warehouse floor is equipped with a personalized unit. These consist of a set of earphones or earbuds that fit comfortably under a safety helmet along with a two-way transceiver/receiver combination, and are far superior to two-way radios or other alternatives. This is critical, not only for basic communication regarding processes and workflow, but for everyone’s safety.
4) This technology is impactful because its benefits are clear. It doesn’t just amplify the speaker’s voice; it carries the speaker’s voice directly to the listener’s ear, almost literally circumventing the noisy environment in exchange for a direct path from the former to the latter. And its implementation isn’t remotely expensive nor time-consuming.
5) While a clear chain of command is present in every warehousing work environment, there should be a process for warehouse employees to give feedback for ways to improve communication methods. The best ideas usually come from the frontlines of the workforce. Encourage that source of information by making a standard work process to make it easy to collect.
The wave(s) of the future
Warehouses may or may not fade from the public consciousness in the coming years. Amazon warehouses may become so commonplace as to no longer be noteworthy. Supply chain issues will eventually be solved, and as so many institutions do, warehousing will likely emerge stronger for having met the challenges.
Businesses are discussing, and in some cases already implementing, changes to policies, processes, and technology related to supply chain operations. “Just in time” inventory management, increasingly popular over the last few decades, is already being questioned as a result of its role in reinforcing supply chain bottlenecks. Improvements in logistics technology, never slow to evolve, are being adopted far more rapidly as firms see a greater incentive to do so.
And more effective communication will be as critical as any other evolution of policies, processes, or technologies. A two-way headset communication system can have an impact that belies its seeming simplicity.
All of which may well help position the warehousing field as a leader among American business sectors. Warehousing is not responsible for supply chain issues; but it can take responsibility for leading our way out of those issues. And the favorable publicity will halo onto all stakeholders.
Please contact us today to find tour guide systems that will help improve communication at your facility!