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The secret language of the warehouse

Voice technology is transforming workers’ ability to understand and carry out instruction regardless of their native language, according to Darrell Williams of Honeywell Vocollect Solutions

In an increasingly diverse workforce, language differences pose a significant barrier to both productivity and team morale. But rather than try to stifle cultural difference, technology can help bring together a seemingly disparate workforce, unifying them on the same goals.

According to a recent study by PMP, the recruitment firm places 25,000 warehouse workers in the UK every week. These workers come from a total of 98 different nationalities. In peak times, warehouse hires can go up to 35,000, says the study. Faced with tight deadlines, a warehouse manager is hard-pressed to get the best out of this large, fledgling workforce. But how to do so without compromising morale or quality of delivery?

Some have explored the idea of forcing all workers to learn and speak in English. There have been ill-fated attempts to implement this in the past, and few have been successful. Aside from showing cultural intolerance, establishing a single common language could prove incredibly time-consuming.
Still, a warehouse manager must still find a solution that works for everyone, and ensures deadlines can be met. It’s for these reasons that technology has become an increasingly vital component in employee workflows.

Giving workers a voice
In a process-driven environment such as the warehouse, what’s needed is a system that allows each employee to work in a way that is comfortable and familiar, right away, while keeping their focus on the task in hand so they can perform to their maximum ability.

Voice technology has emerged as an efficient way to meet all of these needs. Via a wearable headset and microphone, workers can receive process instructions, and respond in their chosen language. Communicating directly with the warehouse management system, this process of ‘call and response’ is the quickest and most efficient way to direct employees around the warehouse.

Industrial Voice technology is a cut above consumer grade products such as Siri in terms of maturity, capability and reliability. Through a purpose built voice recogniser, the system can seamlessly handle languages and dialects, while adaptive voice technology ‘learns’ to accommodate the changes in speech patterns over time of each individual.

This is in stark contrast to commercially available voice technology, which works to pre-programmed voice patterns and general expectations of what words should sound like. These systems are widely available and used in many broad applications, from ticket offices and on-line banking, to help desks and customer survey applications. However they cannot deliver the business critical performance, the essential first time every time recognition, in the varied environmental conditions that today’s multi-national workforce operate. And when any error potentially costs you a customer – that’s a risk few can take.

Consider, for example, that there are 35 dialects in Germany alone. And any mis-pick in a workflow, or valuable seconds lost due to the need for repetition, represents significant disruption to warehouse efficiency levels and profitability.

As with so many processes in business, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach and catering to the individual is becoming a must.

Benefits to employee and employer
By using a trained voice recogniser, any worker can be almost instantly understood. This levels the playing field in the warehouse, enabling all workers to concentrate on the task in hand rather than struggling with issues of integration. This delivers benefits to both the employee and the employer. The former, able to perform their role to their optimum ability attains a greater level of job satisfaction – and is therefore likely to stay within that role longer than otherwise. This in turn reduces the employer’s headache of finding a replacement, whilst benefitting from a higher-performing workforce.

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