As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, forward-thinking companies are testing new technologies and processes to protect the safety of front-line workers and drive sustained productivity.
Companies worldwide are grappling with the rebuilding phase of this pandemic, strategizing on how best to adapt operations to enhance employee safety while also addressing fast-changing business demands to deliver strong results while ensuring customer satisfaction.
Following are some top trends companies are exploring to increase front-line worker productivity, speed, and effectiveness via technology and refreshed business operations.
Revolutionizing delivery authentication
The common practice of providing a signature on a delivery driver’s mobile device to obtain a certified package is no longer ideal in today’s world, given the ease in which germs can spread. One new solution companies are rolling out to protect both the front-line worker handling the package and the recipient involves barcode scanning to avoid direct contact. With this trending approach, the delivery driver scans the barcode on the package and then hands it to the recipient. Then the package recipient can use his or her own mobile device with camera functionality to authorize and certify that he or she has received the package while eliminating any contamination from handling a shared mobile device.
Reinventing the role of brick-and-mortar spaces
Retailers specifically are looking at creative new approaches for reutilizing brick-and-mortar square footage, given that consumers are gravitating toward e-commerce. One trending approach is providing the front line with more space and moving logistics farther up the supply chain. Some retailers are shifting toward ‘dark stores’—determining that they are better suited to meet customer demand by closing the store to the public and instead converting the space into a mini-distribution center to fulfill e-commerce orders.
By adjusting their supply chain to address demand, this retail strategy enables inventory and workflow to be organized in a manner that keeps employees safe and consumers satisfied while addressing critical needs at every step of the process. Other retailers are opting to increase the footprint of ‘back-of-store’ while remaining open to the public, allowing for additional items that are traditionally only sold online to be stocked in-store, driving increased inventory levels that better support in-store customers, fulfilling e-commerce, and rapidly growing ‘buy online, pick up in store’ demand.
Prioritizing frictionless checkout
Some consumers still prefer in-store shopping, while others prefer to order online and pick up curbside. Consumers expect limited engagement and interaction with employees, which provides a definitive health benefit for front-line workers as well. Removing friction (‘pain points’) from the shopping experience helps drive productivity and business growth, as friction impacts both front-line workers and shoppers—and ultimately a company’s bottom line. Adopting social-distancing measures has caused retailers to consider ways to limit touch points and customer engagements around the checkout process. Empowering associates with technology to quickly provide customers with service, or answers to questions, helps keep employees and customers safe.
Enabling safety with mobility
While mobile technology for the front-line worker is now a mainstay for most businesses, the pandemic has highlighted that there is an opportunity for even more value. In retail stores, mobile devices are enabling the pick process that is needed as shoppers shift from in-store purchases to online shopping and curbside pickup. Retailers that leverage mobility can also ensure the curbside experience is seamless by providing alerts to associates on arrival, leading to the instant handoff of merchandise.
Additionally, mobility is providing retailers with a way to meter customers, creating a safer shopping environment and providing associates with a communications tool that helps ensure they can move safely through the store. Mobile solutions also enable associates to receive real-time communications and information about product availability or the company’s latest health procedures. In addition to retail stores, warehouse workers are safer because of mobile solutions that offer proximity sensing and contact tracing.
Transportation and logistics companies, field-service providers, retailers, and other businesses with warehouse environments can benefit from implementing new safety precautions and shifts in distribution and manufacturing operations like those mentioned above to keep the front-line workforce as productive as possible.
Anees Haidri is global retail strategy lead with Zebra Technologies