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The flow of items and traffic through a warehouse is one of the most crucial parts of a warehouse’s overall operations, but it’s one that can be subject to a number of changes and upsets.

Warehouse flow is perhaps most strongly impacted by external factors such as inventory levels, staffing levels, and overall product availability. And as we’ve all learned lately, even the most tumultuous holiday season has paled in comparison to the sort of increase in demand warehouses have seen during the last few months, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, your warehouse flow models and practices have probably been subject to great change in recent months. Inventory levels have been all over the place for both the expected and, er, less-expected products (who would have foreseen a glass shortage?) and it’s left a lot of warehouses unsure of what to do with their daily processes to compensate for these fluctuating inventory levels and product demand.

If your warehouse flow models need a little revising during the COVID-19 pandemic (as well as after, whenever that might be), here’s a few things to focus on:

 

Warehouse Flow Tips During COVID-19

 

Limit inventory movements per transaction

No matter how many (or how few) of a given item you may have on-hand, inventory movements are one of the biggest causes of miscounts, lost items, and mispicks during shipment. A good strategy for limiting inventory movements is to base them on transactions – transaction, in this case, means only moving items when their inventory status changes, such as being marked as sold, being returned to the vendor, or when they first come into the warehouse.

This can solve a few problems all at once. Liming item movement is one of the fastest ways to prevent lost items, which can be crucial during these times of potential shortages and vendor issues. Decreasing the amount of movement a given inventory item receives can help decrease the amount of traffic on the floor as well, since fewer workers will be needed to transport items to and from their destinations, helping to aid with social distancing and worker hygiene. Finally, this can help free up a lot of space on your warehouse shelves by making sure items are kept where they need to be for longer periods.

 

Order the exact quantities you need whenever possible

Speaking of issues with getting inventory in stock, you may be tempted to order a ton of everything you can just to have “enough to go around”. Counter-intuitive though it may seem, your warehouse is actually better off if you keep your inventories at the minimum necessary level, at least for the time being. Having a specified, limited quantity of items can help free up space on your storage like wire shelves and metal shelves, as well as helping to reduce the number of touches each item gets (as mentioned in the previous tip).

 

Manage dock arrival times

Limiting the amount of time a truck is in your dock can help with social distancing (by making sure the driver doesn’t come into close contact with your staff and vice versa), as well as making sure your items are processed in a more timely manner. This can help more items to get processed more quickly, and to lessen the risk of things spoiling or getting damaged by sitting on the dock too long.

 

Implement vendor compliance programs

It may seem like you’re playing “tough guy” with these policies, but setting up vendor compliance programs can actually reduce a lot of issues with inventory both now and in the future. Vendor compliance programs help you set KPIs and goals as to when items should arrive at the warehouse, how many of each item you can expect to get, and what sort of communication you can expect about shortages or delays in delivery.

By implementing these changes and precautionary measures now, you can help your warehouse work better during COVID-19 – and well into the future.

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