As the potentially devastating impact on the economy of Coronavirus lockdown becomes as big a worry as containing the virus spread, the government has exhorted manufacturing and some retail businesses to open up again and those employees unable to work from home to return to the workplace.
However, restarting is proving considerably more complex than the initial shut-down. While obviously a partial return to work is welcome news, there is clearly no prospect of a return to ‘normal’ right now. Newly reopened businesses must prioritise protecting their workers from COVID-19 infection, which means in most cases using PPE, managing social distancing, introducing staggered shift patterns and more.
Most warehouses have continued to operate at some level, whether or not they are in the ‘essential’ goods space, and so for them, this is the new ‘normal’, but as their manufacturing and retail customers come back on stream, they too will face the challenges of gearing up to manage increased volumes, while observing required health and safety guidelines.
UKWA is acutely aware of this and has been hosting free to attend webinars, in partnership with Associate Member companies, to support members – and the wider logistics community in managing the change and bringing workers back from furlough.
Critically, businesses opening up again will release much needed warehousing space as outbound flows resume, particularly for those virtually full of static stock and consequently struggling with significantly reduced income. Resumed activity will restore revenue streams for hard-hit operators.
On the other hand, social distancing will undoubtedly have a negative effect on productivity in our industry along with ever other sector. Processing times in the warehouse will necessarily be longer, in turn impacting on lead times. This situation is likely to prevail for the foreseeable future and everyone along the supply chain will have to adjust expectations accordingly in the new ‘normal’ world in which we find ourselves.
Customers will have to recognise that reduced productivity and longer lead times will not mean reduced costs; indeed if anything end-users will have to absorb the costs of the new ways of working. Margins are already cut to the bone in our industry and ensuring the safety of workers to keep manufacturing and retail supply chains flowing should not be a cost laid at the door of logistics and warehouse operators.
For too long retailers have been driven by consumer expectations to deliver anything and everything next or same day, free of charge. Perhaps one of the silver linings of this COVID-19 dark cloud will be a collective recalibration of priorities, a better understanding by consumers of the essential work carried out by this industry and an appreciation that excellent service must be paid for.