Much is written about how to improve workforce productivity. Most of what you’ll find when you look around online pertains to the use of information technology. From warehouse management systems to labour management systems; from route planning and scheduling applications to mobility solutions; from collaborative project tools to gamification—the list is endless.
In fact, we often become preoccupied with the impact of technology on workforce productivity in supply chain. As a result, some of the more fundamental (and often less expensive) improvement steps are easily overlooked. These basic measures can result in anything from a small productivity gain to a real step change.
That’s why in this post, I decided to highlight some workforce productivity issues which can be targeted for improvement without any significant IT investment.
Create an Environment Conducive to Productivity
There is a direct connection between the environment in which employees work and the outputs they deliver. Take a look at the working environments in your company and see if improvements can be made in the following areas:
- Cleanliness and tidiness: Clutter slows people down and reduces output. An unclean environment reduces engagement and in some cases may increase sickness absence.
- Lighting and temperature: Studies have clearly shown that employees are more productive under comfortable lighting conditions. Similarly, if employees are too hot or too cold in the workplace, their productivity will not be what it could be.
- Safety: Paying attention to safety in the workplace is vital, not only for the welfare of employees (although that should be the primary consideration), but also because even minor accidents typically result in employee absence. Absence impacts productivity in supply chain workplaces.
Engage, Communicate and Train
Given a clean, safe, well-lit environment, maintained at a comfortable temperature and with housekeeping properly taken care of, a workforce will be naturally more productive. The rest is about how the workforce is managed. An engaged workforce is a productive workforce, so you should focus on:
- Objective measurement of productivity, using performance indicators that are aligned with strategic objectives.
- Developing accountability through positive performance management and goal-setting.
- Improving two-way communication. Give employees a voice. Listen and where possible, act on the feedback they provide.
- Providing high-quality training for everyone in the organisation, including supervisors and managers. Cross-training can be especially valuable for increasing supply chain workforce productivity.
With all these fundamentals in place, many of the quick wins in workforce productivity improvement will have been covered off and you should be seeing definite improvement. That’s when it’s time to start really thinking about how your company can leverage assets, equipment and technology more effectively to make further supply chain productivity gains.
Work on the Workforce First
With the exception of fully automated facilities (such as automated warehouses), the first place to look for productivity improvements is among the functional teams that make up the workforce.
However, before planning significant expenditure on IT to boost workforce productivity, take time to work on the basics, such as effective management and an environment that lends itself to productive working. These were successful factors in productivity improvement long before the advent of business information systems—and they still hold good today.