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Warehouse Associates Note Positive Workplace Changes

Technology Use at Warehouses Having Positive Impact

May 20, 2022
Warehouse associates are becoming more comfortable with their employers’ use of advanced technologies.

Warehouse associates are also becoming more comfortable with their employers’ use of advanced technologies, according to a new study from Zebra Technologies Corp. While less than half (45%) say their employers have increased wages or offered bonuses amid labor constraints,   most (80%) feel positively impacted by the situation.

Employers are improving work conditions in other ways, such as giving them more technology to use on the job and leveraging technology to create more flexible work shifts.

In fact, an overwhelming 92% of warehouse associates agree on some level that technology advancements will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers, even in times like these when supply chains are strained, demand is surging, and there’s increasing pressure to meet tighter deadlines.  

Nearly nine-in-10 warehouse operators agree they must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy, with 80% confirming the pandemic has prompted them to evolve and modernize more quickly. To achieve that goal companies are turning to wearables as well as mobile printers and rugged tablets. They are also using mobile dimensioning software that t automates parcel and carton measurements.

Additionally, 27% of warehouse operators have already deployed some form of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) today. Within five years, that number is expected to grow to 90%.  

“We’re seeing a positive shift occurring in the supply chain and, specifically, within warehouses,” said Mark Wheeler, director of Supply Chain Solutions, Zebra Technologies, in a statement. “Most decision-makers believe investments in automation far outweigh the risk of doing nothing, and they are becoming more comfortable integrating all sorts of new technologies into their current operations and infrastructure.”  

Top Warehouse Challenges 

 A number of factors are causing challenges for warehouses. They report that they are having a harder time getting customer orders out the door on time than they did three years ago. They are also struggling to maintain inventory accuracy and visibility.  And rising transportation costs are taking their toll on over 40% of warehouse operators spanning manufacturing, transportation, wholesale distribution, logistics and retail. This may not be surprising given respondents indicate their shipping volumes have increased more than 20% on average over the past two years.  

 To address these issues, between now and 2025, over eight-in-10 expect to increase the number of stock-keeping units (SKU) they carry and the volume of shipped items. They also plan to expand returns management operations, offer more value-added services, and increase their physical footprints, with both the number and size of warehouses increasing.   

While 61% of warehouse operators also want to increase headcount within the next year to right-size their workforces, they admit finding and training workers in a timely manner remains a big challenge. As a result, over eight-in-10 decision-makers agree they will have to rely more on automation in the future.  

Balancing the Scales: Augmenting the Workforce with Automation  

While most warehouse operators will deploy AMRs for person-to-goods (P2G) picking, material movements and other automated inventory moves, more will invest in software that helps automate analytics and decision-making. They want to raise worker effectiveness and efficiency and reduce labor costs.  

“As the pace of operations accelerates and workflows become more complex, warehouse operators have found the average time to get workers to full productivity is 4.7 weeks,” said James Lawton, general manager, Robotics Automation, Zebra Technologies, in a statement. “Right now, decision-makers feel the most important labor initiative is to reduce unnecessary tasks so associates can focus on more customer-centric work. If warehouse operators automate through AMRs and workflow optimization software, it will be easier to scale operations and meet service level agreements as customer demands and labor availability fluctuate.”  

Job Satisfaction – and Worker Retention – are Byproducts of Automation 

Nearly eight-in-10 warehouse associates say walking fewer miles per day would make their jobs more enjoyable, even if they had to pick or handle more items, and many strongly believe AMRs could make warehouse jobs less stressful.   

 Companies should take note, as only 41% completely agree implementing warehouse technologies such as robotics and devices can help attract and retain workers even though most associates:  

  • who work alongside AMRs today confirm they have helped increase productivity and reduce walking/travel time (80%), reduce errors (73%), and enable advancement to new roles or opportunities (65%).  
  • claim they are more likely to work for an employer that gives them modern devices to use for tasks versus an employer that provides older or no devices (83%).   

“Automation is the great equalizer, especially when labor is constrained or during unexpected surge periods or seasonal peaks when it may be difficult to scale the workforce quickly,” added Wheeler. “What’s interesting is associates feel more strongly about this than warehouse operators right now.”  

Five-Year Technology Outlook for Warehouse Operations 

Eighty-five percent of companies say they have implemented mobility so front-line workers can capture each inventory move they make, and most feel they are optimizing the use of their devices to fit the task, safety, and ergonomics.

However, warehouse associates (84%) and decision-makers (79%) are concerned they will not meet their business objectives unless more technology investments are made to improve operations, with associates in the transportation (92%) and logistics (88%) sectors feeling most strongly about this need.

As a result, more than six-in-10 decision-makers say they will invest in technologies that increase inventory and asset visibility within their warehouses and overall visibility throughout supply chains over the next five years.   

Nine-in-10 expect their use of sensor-based technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), computer vision, fixed industrial scanning, and machine vision systems to become more prevalent over the next five years.

As businesses invest in advanced technologies that enable more visibility, real-time guidance and data-driven performance, they’re focusing on increasing team productivity and better utilization of assets, equipment and people, which equates to improved worker well-being and overall market competitiveness. However, it will become critical for warehouse operators to become more thoughtful about how they implement and integrate technologies as they increasingly digitalize workflows and scale systems.

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