Across the country, everyone is facing the same challenges: How do I get more done with less? Less space, tools, time — and, of course, fewer people.

What If You Can’t Find Enough Workers? The lack of available talent is a consistent problem and isn’t getting better. Facilities are more diversified with multiple languages being spoken, which is wonderful from an equity standpoint but unfortunately can result in communication issues. Compounding the problem is the fact that human resource centers were not prepared or trained on how to work with a diversified group. Many are still operating like they were 10 years ago. It’s time to change. All data will need to be translated for your workforce. In the facility, all signs and special instructions need to be posted in many languages. If you have more than four different languages spoken in your facility, consider using a QR code for translation. Of course, this may require a need for all workers to have the ability to scan the code.

What If You Are Still Picking with Paper?

Paper is the least productive picking process. Consider the time it takes to find locations, areas, etc. You may want to color code areas besides naming them. Making sure the locations are easily discernable is key. Reducing any amount of search times adds to your throughput. For example: reducing the following processes could speed up the team increasing through put.

Readily available pick list (no returning to order desk): 10 minutes +

No searching for location: 1-3 minutes

Opening of boxes (area is ready and preset for picking): 20 sec

Product available when picker is there to pick order (wait time is costly): 5-20 min+

Right product in slot. Make sure the replenishment task includes

verification of replenishment. Picking the right slot but not the right product is not

only time-consuming but costly if the QA process doesn’t catch it: 5-20 min+

Removal of shrink wrap, banding, trash, etc. can be fulfilled by a

housekeeping person and not the picker. When order pickers are

required to do it all, it severely slows the process, affects throughput,

and tires the picker affecting rates later in the day: 1-5 min

HINT: Some companies have found great success by adding special needs staff. The Downs Syndrome Association may be of local assistance in helping you hire dependable and reliable staff to do this job each shift. This workforce boosts morale, and they feel a part of the workforce family: a win/win.

In the heat of summer, make sure you have good air flow, available water stations, and cooling towels. The heat slows productivity and job focus, creating errors. If the temperatures really soar in your location, you may want to consider starting the day shift one hour early.

What If Your Company Has Not Embraced Technology: How Do You Start?

First, break it down into chunks and do an ROI (return on investment) on each. Examine your worst problems; sometimes ROI is greatest in these areas. Don’t forget to put in the cost of not upgrading, as this usually opens management eyes. By breaking it down in chunks, you are limiting the risk, spreading out the cost, and limiting the change management.

This will give you a strategic plan to “catch up” and bring your facility to the 21st century over a period of three to five years. Make sure you include the risks regarding:

-Lack of qualified people

-Added space because technology is not available to optimize space.

-Reduced throughput

-Risk of growth potential for new sales. Old facility can’t handle increase.

-Increased cost in shipping rates since systems aren’t available to optimize shipping. Software and automation have advanced dramatically over the past 10 years. Just make sure that you keep a backup plan in case the system goes down.

What If You Know What You Need to Make Changes, but You Aren’t Sure Where to Start?

There are several options:

1. Call on an independent consultant that has no bias to software or material handling equipment.

2. Work with a material handing distributor; just know the solution they recommend will probably be one they represent.

3. Go directly to the solution provider that has a solution you think might work and get quotes from multiple vendors, learning as you go.

What If You Need a Software Solution but Don’t Have a Large Budget?

The cloud WMS/TMS solutions have matured over the years. If you choose one with expertise in your industry, they may be more likely to have the functionality needed. There are many companies today offering a subscription-based software solution. These systems allow you to pay as you go with a monthly fee.

What If You Choose to Do Nothing?

The cost of operation will continue to escalate as you try to remain competitive to attract talent. Throughput and productivity will continue to suffer and your company’s competitive edge will diminish.

DTC (direct-to-consumer) companies will continue to improve and perfect their processes in order to retain and grow their piece of the consumer pie.

As stores close and consumers continue to get more comfortable with purchasing online, DTC will continue to increase. There will continue to be a “click war” among the big online retailers and boutique retailers. Service will be the solution for the winner and focus moving forward.

Susan Rider, President of Rider & Associates and Executive Life Coach, can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2022 issue of PARCEL.