Time for change: logistics yearn for more flexibility on the job

by Peter Frerichs
Quelle: Shutterstock

"Industry 4.0" automation affects us through robotics, automated warehouse management, networked factories and the digitization of basically each and every process. This is a good thing. The past has shown that automation leads to prosperity.

That is why it is important to start thinking about the requirements of a future-oriented work environment. The title "Neue Arbeit ist mehr als alte Arbeit mit Internetanschluss" (New work is more than just old work with an internet connection) of the German business magazine Brand Eins summed it up pretty well: it is not just about small steps, renewing hardware or starting a new process here and there. It is rather about a fundamental change in structures and mindsets.

In areas such as logistics and production, which, especially in medium-sized companies, often still operate within long-established structures, the change towards innovation sometimes appears to be too complex a task. How then can we combine logistics and agile work methods? The survey "Jobwandel durch Digitalisierung - Wie betroffen ist die Logistik?" (Job transformation through digitization - What are the effects on logistics?) by INFORM and LOGISTIK HEUTE has dealt with this topic. 172 German-speaking employees and managers of different logistics disciplines have answered questions about their demands towards the work place of the future and the influence of digitization on their particular area of work.

Wishes and Reality

In the survey, 86 percent of participants stated that their company has already begun adopting modern work concepts. This includes, for example: flextime, home office and agile project management. Still, at 81 percent, the desire for more flexibility in the workplace is quite high. The consequential implementation seems to be problematic in companies.

This might be resulting from the fact that not all departments are suitable for a job transformation. The participants of the survey consider Transport and Production as unsuitable for agile working. The reason being shift work and the necessity of being on site. In contrast, there are tasks that can be carried out at least in part from any location, such as supply chain management, which 64 percent of participants of the survey consider more suitable.

Let intelligent software perform routine tasks

Without specialized support from IT systems, the job transformation does not work. This was stated by 93 percent of the survey participants. They regard the use of software foremost as a chance to automate routine tasks (87 percent). Many companies are already setting a positive example in their planning divisions: the company NORDWEST Handel AG from Dortmund, Germany, for example, almost tripled their inventory manager's processed items from 4,500 to 12,500 by implementing intelligent IT. "Planning these amounts of items is not really possible without such a tool that highlights urgencies and provides possible ways to react", says Stefan Richlick, Division Manager International Purchasing at NORDWEST Handel AG. For today's inventory managers, this resulted in a profound upgrade for their work: by implementing an optimization tool, they are able to fully concentrate on their specialist tasks. Each day, NORDWEST Handel AG supplies over 1,000 independent, medium-sized wholesalers with goods, mainly from the areas of building services, steel, tools, industrial supplies and components.

Job enrichment in logistics

The example of NORDWEST shows that the implementation of software also adds to the fulfilment of employees' wishes for meaningful work. This is what 61 percent of the participants hope for from their future job. About the same amount hope for more appreciation from their employer. About half also wish for more self-determination and only 24 percent want a democratic leadership culture. 33 percent view the transformation of work as a means of countering the shortage of specialists. 43 percent believe that faster decision-making processes will be a result.

Starting modernization

The desire for a job transformation is evident: in logistics, it is defined by more flexibility, meaningful work and modern concepts. Turning employees from "affected" into participants in this transformation process is both an opportunity and a challenge. In order to remain competitive, however, less and less departments will be able to avoid digitization and the modernization of their working concepts. Being able to rely on the correct IT and software systems can be an important support for companies.

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