Touring a warehouse on a golf cart
Sep 21, 2023

TeamSense Road Trip – Making the Invisible Hand Visible in Third-Party Logistics (3PL)

Distributing more than 2 million pallets per year, with 40 people

This is the third story from our TeamSense Road Trip to visit prospects and customers around the country. Check out Episode 1: “Putting Out Fires, One Call-Off at a Time” and Episode 2: “Build It and They Will Combine” so you’re all caught up.

Monday and Tuesday of that week, we visited manufacturers and toured their factories. On Wednesday, our barnstorming tour took us to a Third-Party Logistics (aka “3PL”) customer. This company moves the goods after they come out of factories.

A Warm Welcome

We pulled up to a massive warehouse with dozens of semi-trailers outside and train tracks running next to the building’s loading bays. From the outside, the massive warehouse looked to me like it might be empty. Nobody was outside.

The feeling on the inside was totally different. Our host, Eddie, ran HR for the warehouse. He began introducing us to his team, and one woman greeted us with, “TeamSense!?! We love TeamSense!”

I’ve lost count of how many on-site customer visits I’ve done in my career, but I’ve never been greeted with “We love your company!” I felt like a rock star, but knew that–in my second week on the job–I hadn’t personally done anything to deserve that attention.

Warehouse Tour Big Smiles
Touring the 3PL Warehouse

The Invisible Hand of Supply and Demand

In order to explain where I think that love bubbles up from, let’s set the stage with the crowd-pleasing theme of Microeconomic Theory. Bear with me. Adam Smith is the OG of supply and demand, and his famous book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, has stood the test of time in many ways. The Big Idea in that book is “The Invisible Hand”. Smith broke it down like this:

“[Each individual]...intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it.”

Translation: we work for our own self-interest and the invisible hand of demand tells us all what to make and where to move it, and that tends to be good for society.

I learned this lesson in school, but something about it always rubbed me the wrong way. It’s invisible hands that move things, not an invisible hand. In Adam Smith’s time, the invisible hand implied a God-like “unmoved mover” and most aspects of the supply chain were invisible to most people. Cell phones, wireless networks, QR codes and ERP software did not exist. Adam Smith gave a lot of examples about wool and sweaters.

What I saw as we drove around the warehouse, was the talented, synchronized work of 35-40 logistics workers–seventy to eighty hands–moving 2.1 million pallets of food every year. Those hands gripped steering wheels and honked horns as team members zipped around the floor in lifts and stackers. They honked every time they approached an intersection to warn their co-workers and avoid collisions. Those were the hands that re-wrapped damaged pallets. They were the hands that opened loading bay doors and signed delivery manifests.

Attendance Management is Different in Third-Party Logistics

The employee attendance math here was different from the math at the fire engine factory and the combine factory we’d just visited. In those factories, one might not notice if 80 people weren’t there (about 9% of the team across hundreds of acres). These warehouse operations were optimized in a different way. These team leads would notice 6 people missing out of 35. Things slowed down.

In fact, the HR team measured attendance down to the hour, with a monthly average goal of less than 47 hours per day in absenteeism. They tracked that goal by month–with green for every month below 47 and red for months above that limit. The team had been in the green every month since implementing TeamSense for call-offs and attendance management in March. When things go red, the HR team needs to find and train new team members, to add extra capacity. Training for each new employee takes two weeks and costs $12,000. It’s a balancing act to get staffing just right.

Absenteeism and Morale
Morale and Absenteeism are part of the same equation

What happened on the days when workers called off more than 50 hours and couldn’t be in the warehouse? Notice that the tracking poster is called “Morale” not “Attendance”. When absences average above 47 hours/day, the train cars and semis don’t stop–they keep rolling up and rolling out. The warehouse team feels more pressure to deliver the same performance with fewer hands. This puts stress on other company goals (tracked with the same visibility as Morale): Cost, Delivery, Productivity, Quality, or Safety.

Eddie and the HR team have been doing this for years. They know all the ways that Morale is connected to their other goals and objectives. They measure everything that they can with amazing precision. But LOVE? Not tracked. Not on a poster. Hard to measure and hard to track.

Visible Hands, Visible Hearts

During our tour, Eddie told us about a team member who was driving to work when her car broke down on the shoulder of a major highway. She sent a text message with TeamSense to call off and let HR know she wouldn’t be in on time. The team asked her where she was, checked that she was safe, sent a truck to push her car out of danger, and brought her to work. That’s love.

Coincidentally, that same day, Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida. We weren’t in Florida, but we heard news from another customer located at the nexus of Hurricane Idalia’s landfall. That company used Team Sense to quickly send out a survey to all of their team members. Even through floods, hurricane winds and downed telephone poles, TeamSense’s text-based messages still reached team members’ mobile phones. The HR team quickly configured a Safety Check Survey and sent it out to all of their affected staff.

Idalia Safety Survey 2
Reproduction of safety survey sent by TeamSense customer during Hurricane Idalia in Florida

Within 2.5 hours, they had close to a 100% response rate. They knew that their team members were physically safe, although many were without power or were stuck in place, some with severe damage to their homes. Those team members sent their appreciation back to the HR team on TeamSense:

"Thank you for the text!!!"

"Is there anything I can do to help anyone? Other than no power, my family is safe."

"Great job!"

"This is a great feature of TeamSense."

And lastly, some levity, given the situation:

"I need some more pool floats; all of mine just blew away."

TeamSense is More Than a Call-off Line

Sure, the TeamSense call-off solution helps factories and warehouses run efficiently. More importantly, we help our customers establish and maintain digital communication with hourly employees. We are part of the solution that makes thousands of invisible hands more visible to each other and the companies they work for.

I'd submit that these stories about rescuing employees with broken-down cars or offering emergency support during a hurricane are actually more about “invisible hearts.”  In the end, both large and small businesses rely on people helping people. We are proud that TeamSense enables incredible humans to show how they care. 

“TeamSense!?! We love TeamSense!” Invisible hands and invisible hearts: seen and heard.

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