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Boy, 2020 was a year, wasn’t it?

There’s no denying that 2020 impacted the entire world of business, from storefronts to offices to restaurants and everything in between. Warehouses, and their associated supply chains, were absolutely no exception to this, and many of our warehouses saw major changes to their operations, layouts, and the like as we all fought to keep up with 2020.

The experience could be considered, charitably perhaps, a learning experience. 2020 taught us all to be a little more flexible and versatile when it comes to our warehouse operations, as many changes needed to be made pretty quickly to keep things operating smoothly. (Or, at least, as smoothly as possible.)

But this all leaves one lingering question – what’s in store for warehouses in 2021? Even as we all try to pick up the pieces from 2020, what does the future hold for our warehouses? And, perhaps more importantly, is there anything we can do to get out ahead of these potential issues?

 

Warehouse Trends in 2021

 

Greater agility with supply chains & inventory

No matter how hard we all tried, it felt like there was no way we could predict just which items were going to become hot sellers, nor could we predict which ones were going to be impossible to come by. As a result, we all learned to be a lot more agile with supply chains, inventory sourcing, and inventory management.

This agility will carry forward into 2021, and the future. Supply chain modeling and sales level measuring will become even more frequent – and important – through 2021, as a way for warehouse managers to better predict popular items, potential supply chain issues, and alternative fulfillment sources for needed items. By monitoring supply chains more closely, and sourcing alternative vendors before they’re needed, inventory replenishment can be achieved more quickly and efficiently than before.

 

Optimized, sustainable facilities

Environmental concerns are among the largest priorities for warehouse management these days. As more businesses seek to find sustainable methods for doing business, warehouses are turning to a number of new solutions to help reduce their environmental impact, keep their workers safe, and maybe save a little money on their utility bills in the process.

As 2021 progresses, expect to see more warehouses adopting sustainable practices throughout their facility. These changes can be minor, such as upgrading their industrial LED lighting or readjusting their warehouse shelves to allow for better flow of heated or cooled air, to major ones like upgrading their insulation to cut down on emissions and wasted energy. Whatever work your warehouse may need done, a focus on green facilities will continue through the year 2021.

 

Increased focus on employee health and safety

In the past, the term ‘warehouse safety’ tended to refer to the physical protection of your staff and inventory. After what we’ve all learned about the spread of potentially dangerous illnesses through confined spaces over the last year, a greater focus will be placed on social distancing as well as the standard falling/crushing dangers faced in a warehouse.

Things like industrial guard rails and pallet rack safety guards aren’t going anywhere, but nor will they be the sole focus anymore. As warehouses widened their aisleways and redesigned things like entryways and break rooms to promote social distancing, many warehouses may not see a return to the old days of everyone being cramped on the shop floor at one time. Social distancing and disease prevention as a concept will continue long after the current pandemic is over, and may go a long way to curb the danger of contagious illnesses going forward.

 

Increased demand for last-mile warehousing

The ecommerce boom of the previous year has taught us that customers are almost always willing to take you up on your offer for expedited delivery, even if it costs a little more. These days, though, fast delivery requires more than just getting your products out on the last shipment for the day – it requires strategic placement of your warehouses.

Last-mile warehousing, particularly those built near population centers or suburban areas not that close to an existing warehouse, will be a huge boom for businesses in 2021. If your warehouse is close enough to a populated area that could use a little help distributing orders, you might be able to open yourself up to new opportunities for serving as warehouse space.

 

Redesigned offices

With all the thought that went into redesigning the shop floor for safety during the pandemic, there’s another area of warehouses that needs just as much thought and time put into it – the office. Warehouse offices are crucial to the overall success of the warehouse, even if it doesn’t quite share in the glory of the rest of the work being done, and constant work needs to be done to keep these workers safe as well.

Warehouse offices will continue adhering to the principles of social distancing well through 2021, even after the office staff begins returning to work (assuming they’re all still working remotely, as is the case with most warehouses). Office furniture will be spread out farther through the area, overall capacity will be reduced, and start/break times will be staggered to avoid crowding a given space, much like on the warehouse floor itself.

While warehouses may be a constantly evolving entity, these trends are likely to become more commonplace in 2021 – and beyond.

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