Warehouse contingency plans: You hope you’ll never need them; but without one, you’re stuck.
As even the mighty Amazon is forced to grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks, warehouses everywhere are forced to pivot in order to cope with stay-at-home mandates, labor shortages, and massive surges in demand. This has laid bare the supply chain-wide need for comprehensive contingency plans — not only for COVID-19, but for emergencies of all kinds.
In this blog post, we’ll outline the three key steps to creating a foolproof warehouse contingency plan, so your business’ supply chain does not get disrupted.
The first step to create an effective contingency plan is to perform a risk assessment within your warehouse. Start by mapping out business-critical processes, procedures, technologies, and personnel to create a foundation for your warehouse contingency plan. At the risk of stating the obvious, these operations are the cornerstone of your business, and must carry on normally even in the event of an emergency. Next, imagine various worst-case scenarios and formulate a response for each. For example, how would your process for receiving shipments need to change in the event of a natural disaster? Regulatory compliance issues? A pandemic?
In addition to providing a foundation for your warehouse contingency plan, this assessment should also help you identify opportunities to reduce or eliminate risk before it even happens. For example, in the case of COVID-19, strictly enforced workplace sanitation and social distancing protocols can prevent employees from getting sick on the job.
Once you’ve completed your risk assessment, you’re ready to create your warehouse contingency plan. Whether it’s in response to a global event or something as simple as an equipment malfunction, every warehouse contingency plan should outline:
Now that you have a fully formed warehouse contingency plan, it’s time to enact it across all levels of your business — and in order to do that, you must first clearly communicate it to all levels of your business. After all, it hardly seems reasonable to expect your warehouse staff to respond appropriately in the event of an emergency if your senior leadership team never provided specific instructions for how to do so.
The best way to do this is to start by determining the different groups within your warehouse. For example, your site leadership team might consist of a facility manager, an HR manager, an operations manager, and various supervisors. This group should be separate from your senior leadership team, which might consist of VPs and C-suite executives. You might also consider bucketing your warehouse staff into separate groups based on whether they’re salaried, hourly, or temp workers or, alternatively, based on roles like receiving dock, inventory control, and shipping.
The next step is to create a tiered chain of communication so that individuals in leadership positions have a clear understanding of whom they’re responsible for delivering information to. A typical warehouse organizational structure will look something like the following:
Now that you have the “what” and the “who” of your warehouse contingency plan, the next step is to figure out the “how” and the “when.”
Let’s start with the “how.” There are any number of ways to communicate your contingency plan to your warehouse staff, however, with so many moving pieces in a warehouse environment, it’s important to think through a few cornerstone elements.
Knowledge Base and Documentation: Your knowledge base should consist of documentation that your employees can refer to for guidance on how to respond to different disaster scenarios. For example, every COVID-19 response plan should include:
Therefore, your warehouse contingency plan knowledge base should include documents with specific instructions each of these topics. It’s also recommended that you create an employee FAQ that your staff can refer to if they have additional questions about your contingency plan. An important note: These should be considered living documents and should be regularly updated with new information to ensure accuracy.
Communications Cascade: An effective communications cascading process will reach all groups across multiple channels. Meetings — be they stand-up meetings, work group meetings, or town halls — are another effective way to communicate your warehouse contingency plan to your staff. This method of delivering information is not only more immediate, it also gives employees the opportunity to ask questions and gain a better understanding of how to proceed. We also recommend that you incorporate visual communication wherever possible, since studies show that 67% percent of employees are better at completing tasks when communicated by video or by text with images rather than plain text alone. Ideally, your warehouse contingency plan communication effort should be multi-faceted so that messaging is consistently reinforced.
Given that the CDC’s social distancing requirements have made it impossible for staff to meet in person, it might also make sense for you to invest in technological solutions that make it easier for your employees to communicate virtually, such as instant messaging or video conferencing services.
Reinforcement: With the “how” out of the way, the “when” is fairly straightforward: You should communicate your organization’s contingency plan to warehouse staff well in advance of an actual emergency. There’s really no way to accurately predict when disaster might strike, so it’s important that your employees be prepared no matter what. Communicate with your employees early and often, whether that’s once a month, once a week, or even every day — however long it takes for the information to really sink in.
Engagement: Most communication efforts are minimally effective if there’s no two-way dialogue. It’s important that you create a feedback channel and use the resulting information to develop active next steps. Surveys, quizzes, train-the-trainer events, role playing, suggestion boxes, contests… There are countless ways to establish a two-way dialogue to reinforce the understanding of and get your employees to engage with your contingency plan.
Testing: Contingency planning and business continuity are all about preparation and diligence. Although it might seem like overkill, creating mock scenarios in which key staff are required to activate certain elements of your contingency plan can prove invaluable should you ever have to actually enact it. From practicing technology fail-overs to being able to pick and process orders manually to moving large groups of people to a safe area, there are any number of ways to practice your warehouse contingency plan ahead of time in a controlled environment.
We know that times are tough right now, so whatever your supply chain needs, Legacy SCS is here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have about warehouse contingency planning, or if you’d like to learn about any of our third-party logistics services or solutions.
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