The way we work is changing rapidly. The role of a business includes the responsibility and duty to equip its faithful employees with the skills and know-how to transition to fulfilling new jobs and careers. That is how we think as a company, and also forms my message to executives everywhere: consider doing what’s right for the folks that got you here.
Today, Boxed is launching one of the world’s most highly automated CPG-focused fulfillment centers. This will make us several hundred percent more efficient in filling orders out of our New Jersey facility. Three and a half years ago when we first started Boxed, I couldn’t have imagined something I would be more proud of than the announcement we’re making today. But what makes me even prouder is that moving to an advanced fulfillment center has not led to us cutting jobs. Instead, we’ve been able to hire many of our part-time fulfillment center staff as full-time employees with complete benefits.
So, how did we get here?
Forty months ago, with a tape gun in hand, we were shipping out of my garage. Soon, we had our first fulfillment center and now, we have a network spanning the country running software that we built in-house. That’s hundreds of thousands of units received, picked, packed, and shipped every day, all thanks to an amazing team in each of our facilities.
These fulfillment centers form the beating heart of our company. If our fulfillment centers are not running like clockwork and customers are not receiving their orders, we don’t have a business. Fulfillment center work is hard work, it’s physically tough and it’s the most important function in our company. It’s the reason we require every employee to know how the sausage is made—from General Counsel to CMO to engineer to data scientist—and to work in the fulfillment center as part of their onboarding at Boxed.
The hard work that our fulfillment center team members put in each day is the reason we considered the impacts that automation would have not only on our business, but on our people as well. It is an issue at the heart of our economy and central to the future of the American worker, and it has been on our minds here for a long time. Undoubtedly, automation would be a monumental step forward for volume and efficiency, but it also opens up the potential for lights-out facilities — buildings where lights aren’t necessary because there are no humans on the work floor.
Many have predicted that we are almost hopeless in the face of this automation onslaught. On paper it is hard to argue against that assertion when there are such efficiencies to be gained. It is easy to draw a line through a name to save a few bucks, but doing the right thing is never as easy. The right thing in our case, is to minimize the impact to as many lives as possible, while sharing in the efficiencies that automation affords us. Instead of eliminating jobs, we have chosen to see automation as an opportunity to equip team members with the skills and experience needed to excel at our new facilities, and to build the foundations for a successful career even beyond our company.
Take Veronica, mother to kids 17, 8 and 4, who joined our team last September as a part-time order picker. At her last company, in a similar role, she had no opportunity to move up. Now she’s a full-time packer, with full benefits, and she is learning how to work with state-of-the-art robotics and automation systems. She’s excited for the opportunities that may come from transitioning to a skilled position, and not worried about losing her job. She told us that her voice is heard here at Boxed, and that she feels like family, something she’s never felt before at other companies, and that makes all the long days, nights and weeks, often away from my own family, all worth it.
I don’t have all the answers on automation. I recognize that we are lucky to be in a position where for us, it’s more about being able to handle capacity, than it is about cost savings. With that said, what I do know is that we will always err on the side of what is right and fair for the folks that got us to where we are today. If retraining instead of eliminating means giving an employee a better career path, then that is an investment we will make.
Chieh Huang, CEO, Boxed