Eric Carter, Solutions Architect at Indigo Software explains how WMS software could make all the difference to achieving this important work/life balance goal.
Working in a warehouse has always been hard work. It is often physically challenging, involving a lot of walking, potentially some heavy lifting and there may be extreme temperatures to deal with. It can also be emotionally challenging, with pressure to achieve certain targets without making mistakes. The reality of working in a busy warehouse makes the prospect of offering a 4 day working week rather complicated and yet, many organisations across all sectors of industry are testing its feasibility.
Of course, a 4 day working week is not a new thing. Many businesses have for years employed people working longer shifts using simple ‘4 day on’ working rosters, with variable night / day shift patterns. What is changing and accelerating is the potential for employees to move to a standard 4 day week, without extending their current working day to mitigate the day off.
Currently over 3,300 workers at 70 UK companies, ranging from a local chippy to large financial firms, are working a 4 day week with no loss of pay, in the world’s biggest trial of a new working pattern. The pilot, which will run for six months, began in early June 2022 and is being organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the thinktank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College in the US. Warehouses don’t operate in a vacuum, so it is only a matter of time before operatives start asking for similar benefits. And why not?
Many experts argue that working 4 days a week is the optimum for people to achieve full productivity and also improve their levels of wellbeing. Given that warehouses can be tough places to work and the required skills are in short supply, could this be a potential way to achieve all round improved effectiveness and reduce churn rates? It will be interesting to see what the results of the trial demonstrate. Many businesses took good advantage of the flexible furlough scheme and so workers often had more time off during those pandemic hit months.
The current 4 day working week trial is based on the 100:80:100 model – 100% of pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity. Using technology in areas such as process automation and planning can play a key role in helping to ensure that productivity levels remain at optimum levels.
Another very important element is how to ensure customer expectations are met when adopting a 4 day week. One example, an automotive company in the study, is using a rota system over 5 days for its operational staff in the warehouse and customer service whereby they need to be in on Monday / Tuesday and then will alternate when they have their day off on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The study’s organisers believe that now, with good skills less widely available and attitudes towards work changed by the pandemic, businesses need to acknowledge that today’s ‘frontier for competition’ is not necessarily about more money, but improved quality of life.
Can a WMS help you transition to a 4-day week?
Given that warehouse resources are in such short supply, finding additional ways to ‘do more with less’ and make the warehouse more productive without having to employ more staff is essential. Using Warehouse Management System (WMS) technology to control warehouse processes instead of a paper-based management system has a big impact on daily order completion volumes and it is possible to process up to a third more shipments when processes are technology driven. This is achieved because a WMS system will automate and standardise all inventory movements, optimise picking methods and track inventory locations. It also supports the introduction of automated replenishments to keep picking processes running at full speed and will lower miss-picks and error rates, because quality checks are built into every process.
These improvements are highly significant and could be a game changer for warehouse managers considering the viability of a flexible 4-day working week. We can say this with confidence because typically, our WMS clients report being able to re-deploy their warehouse workers to other areas of the business or being able to cope with peak periods without having to hire in extra operatives after implementing Indigo WMS.
The same logic applies to switching to a flexible 4 day week. If a WMS allows a third more order throughput to be handled with the same number of operatives, shifts could be spaced out over a rolling 4 day working week period, without seeing order completion levels drop. Instead, operatives could be better rested and more productive when they are working. They are certainly likely to be more satisfied and loyal towards their employers as well. It could be a far more attractive and financially sustainable perk than simply increasing wages. Salary increases can only go so far to motivate employees and tend to spark pay wars.
A WMS will also identify the best way to organise the warehouse, with items grouped together according to sales frequency, sell-by date, and through dynamic location management, stock can be stored wherever there is available space. In doing so, it is possible to achieve additional cost efficiencies and avoid supply disruption problems because up to 30% more stock can be stored in the same warehouse by making better use of available space.
If you would like to explore how a WMS could be the missing link to implementing a flexible 4 day working week in your warehouse, contact Indigo Software.