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The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced nearly every aspect of American life, education, and business over the past year – and warehouses are no exception.

The various changes brought on by the coronavirus seemed to attack warehouses from several fronts. An increase in ecommerce shopping, brought on by a lack of availability in brick-and-mortar locations (as well as consumer hesitancy to visit stores as often as they used to) has stretched warehouses and inventory to their operational limits, while the various shutdowns, health regulations, and safety requirements of the new social distancing era have brought about massive changes in the way our warehouses – and, more importantly, our warehouse teams – get work done.

Understanding these changes will be critical to the near-future survival of your warehouse, but it can be tough to know where to start and what to focus on.

 

Warehouse Design During COVID-19

 

A focus on the people

As the pandemic experienced its various peaks and valleys, a number of changing, often contradictory safety recommendations, guidelines, and regulations would come into play. While it may have been hard keeping up with them all at times, the goal behind them all remained clear and unchanged: keeping people safe.

It’s not unfair to say that, in the past, warehouse design was focused on fitting as many items as possible inside whatever space you were allotted, to better allow for fast shipments and item processing. As social distancing continues to prove itself as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however, many warehouses are looking into ways to help keep their workers safe, even if it means a reduction in overall inventory space.

Many warehouses have turned to widening the aisles between their pallet racks, shelving units, and other forms of industrial storage. While this may cause some minor headaches as far as inventory level and picking speed, it does allow for the benefit of greater distancing between staff members, and better adherence to social distancing protocols. This tends to be combined with a change in picking routines – fewer people than ever are on the shop floors at one time now, and the people that are there are spending much less time trying to pick orders in order to make sure they’re not crowding out anyone else in the area.

 

Reassessing old processes

Similarly, the processes that these workers follow have undergone a number of changes in the name of preventing disease and keeping your team safe. Through the use of algorithms, or good-old-fashioned route planning, many warehouses have been mapping out new routines for workers to pick items, pack items, or receive incoming items off the truck. As local and federal guidelines mandate a reduction in the number of people that can be in any given building at one time, your remaining team members will need to practice safer interactions with the inventory – and each other – to get things done.

Entry times will change as well. Many warehouses have begun to implement staggered start times to help encourage distance between workers, and avoid a big traffic jam in the entryway at the start of the day. The same is being done with breaks, to avoid more than two or three workers on lunch at any time, reducing the potential cross contamination of anything communicable.

 

Making the building itself safer

While many of the changes seen in warehouses reflect the way work is done, the warehouse itself can be a massive part of the process. For example, consider your current ventilation system. Many experts agree that safe, consistent airflow is key to reducing the spread of germs and illnesses, which brings up an important question: when’s the last time you cleaned out your warehouse vents? As the seasons change, proper heating, cooling, and airflow will be more important than ever, and keeping these vents clean and safe will be crucial.

Certain spaces will need to be changed or altered during the pandemic, as well. Consider creating an entryway in your warehouse where each worker can have their temperature checked, in a way that won’t let them touch anything that can be brought back inside the warehouse just in case their temperature rings too high to let them keep working.

 

Additionally, in areas like break rooms and locker rooms, certain high-touch surfaces will need to be replaced with the safest and most germ-free option. Use NSF shelving and epoxy coated shelving to help reduce the risk of germs lingering on surfaces that many workers may need to encounter.

Many of these changes may linger well after the pandemic is over – but if it keeps your workers safe, it’ll be more than worth it.

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