The Four Best Practices for Optimal Warehouse Layout

January 30, 2019

Deciding how to design a warehouse layout is a step of vital importance—it can make or break the productivity, safety, and overall success of a warehouse. The layout of your warehouse needs to maximize available space, allow for limited travel time, provide easy access to product, and create a safe work environment. While it can be challenging to design a layout that fits all needs, proper analysis of business objectives and practices, as well as a dedication to safety and a cultivation of productive procedures, can help you come up with a design that is optimal for success.

1. Define the Warehouse Objectives

The very first step you must take in designing the warehouse layout is identifying objectives and goals. You need to clearly define the market it is distributing to, the types of products carried, the ideal amount of product that will circulate in a day, and the expected lifetime of the facility (how long it will be in use before needing to expand or move to another work space).  

Getting specific on these details will better help you approach the design process of the warehouse. For one, it will ensure that all team members are on the same page and aware of what needs to be achieved with the warehouse design. It will also help you make design decisions that allow for the most effective use of space and resources.

2. Determine Requirements for Optimal Function

Beyond taking an analytical look at the objectives of the warehouse, you need to decide what is required for the proper functioning of the building and business. Certain logistics and processes of the work space will need to be identified before creating the design. This includes:

  • The number of employees who will be on the floor.
  • How much product will need to be stored at a time.
  • The amount of movement for incoming and outgoing products.
  • Specific additions that need to be implemented and the quantity or space needed for them (loading docks, gantry cranes, temperature control rooms, office or conference rooms, etc.)

These requirements will all impact how you decide to make use of the available space. As you are designing the layout, you want to ensure it provides enough room for these processes and items to work effectively, efficiently, and comfortably. You’ll also want to create a space where you have some room to grow, expand, and evolve the design as you see fit—you won’t want to be functioning at full capacity from the start. Taking an initial inventory of the requirements will properly inform you on how to design the warehouse layout.

3. Create Clearly Outlined Work Spaces

As you begin to draft the layout, you will want to create a design that clearly defines the different work spaces in the warehouse. Clearly outlined work spaces help maximize efficiency, keep the warehouse organized, and minimize any safety issues that could be detrimental to both productivity and the wellness of employees.  

Loading and Unloading Docks

The docking area can create a lot of congestion in the warehouse, so it is important to create a spacious and well-defined area that fits the needs of your incoming and outgoing processes. The loading and unloading areas should be separated from the other areas as much as possible, to allow for ample room for movement of the incoming stock. Since you will have an idea of how much product will be coming in and out of the warehouse, you should use this knowledge to inform your decision on how much space and how many docks are necessary.


The reception area will require an adequate amount of space for employees to appropriately inspect incoming inventory. Since the reception area is the next step for incoming stock, when deciding how to design the warehouse layout, it is necessary to plan for enough space to avoid any congestion between these areas. This is vital for safety, productivity, and accuracy in assessment of goods. If there isn’t enough space for incoming inventory, it can cause a bottleneck at the loading docks, wasting employees’ valuable time as they wait for things to clear up. It can also create a physical barrier that doesn’t allow for optimal safety. Furthermore, if employees are feeling rushed in their inspection to get things moving, they may miss out on properly identifying damaged products or problems with the inventory.

The needs for handling of incoming inventory may also influence the size of the reception area. Depending on the type of product, it may be necessary to split pallets or separate certain product before moving it to the appropriate storage area. Ample space will be needed to both inspect incoming inventory and split up the products before storing, if necessary. This will allow for the most accurate inspection and storage, and close the margin of error.


The storage system will depend on the type of product you carry. Of course, you will want to expertly make use of vertical space to increase possible capacity. In order to maximize all that is available to you, you can use vertical space by either stacking product or using racking units.

When it comes to organizing stock, it is important to do so deliberately. Take into account the type of product carried and how it will move in the warehouse—this will inform you on how to design the warehouse layout for optimal storage. While this may change as operations take off, it is helpful to analyze which products you anticipate will be the most popular and account for the most movement. These items should be placed towards the front of the storage space in order to cut down on travel time. You should also determine whether any like-items will be commonly shipped together. These should be placed near each other to, again, cut down on travel time and allow for more productivity.


Depending on warehouse needs and operations, a separate picking area may not be necessary or productive—the picking may simply be done in the storage area. A separate picking area may be needed when outgoing product needs to be arranged or configured in a different way than they were stored.


Like the reception space, the dispatch area should be clearly separated from other space in the warehouse to avoid congestion and keep up productivity. If there is ample space, it is beneficial to have a separate unloading dock area with a nearby reception space, and then another loading dock area with a nearby dispatch space. This helps to keep these processes separate and allow for easy movement. A shared loading and unloading dock is still possible, it can just create more challenges with coordinating arriving and departing vehicles in the docking area, as well as incoming and outgoing product in the reception and dispatch spaces.

4. Define the Flow

As you are determining how to design your warehouse layout, it is important to establish the movement path early on.  

A one-way flow is regarded as the most efficient and safe movement path in a warehouse. This could be a straight line, or a clockwise or counterclockwise path. Regardless, a one-way flow helps to ensure safety and eliminate congestion in the warehouse.

The flow will of course affect the overall design and layout of the warehouse in the planning process. Once it is physically constructed, it is important to create movement paths with signs, floor tape, or whatever works best and creates a clear direction. This will help employees adhere to the movement path, and ensure overall safety.

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