(The New Normal) Larry Silver: The Future of Mortgage Professionals Reimagined for a Hybrid Workplace
Larry Silver is CEO of Superus Careers, Washington, D.C., where he and his team build impactful relationships between talented professionals and businesses, focusing on total fit and alignment. He has spent the past 20 years working with high growth mortgage operations and has recruited, trained, developed and mentored thousands of young professionals. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, where he teaches students the job search skills critical to obtaining internships and full-time positions. He also currently serves on the Advisory Board to the Dean at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
(This is the final segment in a four-part series, “The New Normal,” in which STRATMOR Group Senior Partner Garth Graham, NewDay USA Senior Vice President Pooja Bansal, Clarifire CEO Jane Mason, and Superus Careers CEO Larry Silver examine how industry employment changed last year and the pros and cons of moving forward with in-office, work-from-home or hybrid platforms.)
Record low interest rates were the main drive behind the mortgage industry’s record production in 2020 of over $4 trillion in origination volume. However, the seismic shift in remote work played a much bigger role in that production—and it’s that shift that will have a lasting impact on the industry for years to come.
While the country shut down last March, the mortgage industry remained an essential business and helped keep the economy afloat. For lenders, the initial trepidation over remote work quickly shifted to exuberance over employees who remained highly productive while working from home. Over the past year, we saw major investments in work-from-home infrastructure, efficient virtual collaboration, and workforce flexibility that ran parallel to efficiency—all of which created a complex scenario. Adding to the mix was the fact that talent acquisition now went well beyond geographic boundaries.
Working from home proved liberating for many people, either because they got more work done or they gained a better work-life balance. At this point, we can’t just put the genie back in the bottle. So, how will the mortgage industry manage the shift back to the office, or will they? Now that our face-to-face meeting-driven, paper-intensive industry has been thrust into the future, does it make sense to return to the past?
The answer is yes and no. The hybrid work model is here for good, but as this model continues to evolve, new complexities and challenges remain. For example, what exactly is a “hybrid” work model? How does it work, and who does it work for?
These definitions are still up for debate. According to PwC US Remote Work Survey, less than one in five executives say they want to return to the office the way it was before, but only 13% are prepared to let go of the office all together. Meanwhile, 87% of employees say that the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships.
Some lenders will simply define the new work environment as home workdays versus office workdays. Yet the devil is in the details. The majority of executives believe that to keep a strong company culture, employees should be in the office for three or more days per week. At the same time, the majority of employees prefer to be remote three or more days. Which will it be? And how do you keep track of it all?
Other companies have figured out that a hybrid approach is more job specific. For example, loan originators and processors rely on collaboration and energy—they feed off the buzz of working together. Post closers also handle live documents with wet signatures that take place in person. On the other hand, knowledge workers, for example underwriters, may be more productive in quiet environments, such as their homes. In addition, a lender’s ability to attract talent in these more skilled positions can weigh on the decision to keep those roles forever remote.
The bigger issue, regardless of hybrid approach, is redesigning the physical and virtual workspace to handle a new environment. Investments in further collaboration tools, virtual security for handling personal private information, training managers to manage a virtual workforce, and conference room connectivity are just a few of the considerations that lenders must navigate.
Also, how does work culture exist in a remote or hybrid environment? After all, culture does not disappear just because all employees are not working side by side every day. Leaders must nurture their culture and be deliberate in how they drive that experience across multiple work settings. They must also remain focused on how their company’s core values show up in a variety of channels.
The attention to the little things becomes more important. For example, lenders shouldn’t give up on engaging remote workers in hybrid settings. Including them in small talk before and after meetings as well as virtual lunches and happy hours can go a long way. It may take extra time and effort to ensure everyone feels valued and appreciated, and that may be different for every person, but it is worth it.
It’s also important to remember burnout and fatigue are real, even when working from home. Sure, having a one-minute commute is fantastic, but being just a stone’s throw from the office has its downside as well. That constant blue glow beneath your office door calling you back to your desk can have long term ramifications for your health. Let’s be real—with smartphone technology, those boundaries have been blurred for years. Mortgage lending is a customer centric business, and night and weekend work existed long before the world went remote.
For these reasons, it’s more important than ever to set up and maintain work-life boundaries, not just to improve productivity but to improve mental health. Companies should help and support their people with setting these boundaries.
To achieve success in a hybrid model, many factors come into play. Expectations, performance and coaching remain paramount in an industry that lives and dies on turn times. Furthermore, the growth and development of many production workers (loan originators, processors, underwriters, etc.) require a lot of knowledge sharing, which can be difficult in a hybrid model. Our industry is very complex, and you either need to be in close proximity to others to handle “quick question validation” or provide the appropriate resources for people to find the answers out on their own. Before the remote world, the good companies did both. Investing in these areas now, while enhancing training and development initiatives, will pave the road to success and retention.
Beyond the way a company is structured, there will be other variables to consider. Individual personalities, tenure, experience, and age are not simple as black and white policies and procedures. There is no one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter solution to the transition to hybrid work. Some of it will be trial and error.
But make no mistake, the hybrid environment is the workplace of the future. While the office is not obsolete, it will need to be reimagined, and industry leaders must consider many aspects of the employee and customer experience to do so. With a distributed workforce, company values will need to be demonstrated in new ways as well, and employees must remain engaged and held accountable.
All of this means executives must plan now to make investments that support hybrid working, regardless of how they define it. The organizations that get it right will thrive and be productive, and their employees will be successful as well. Those that mismanage the opportunity, on the other hand, will see business suffer. At the end of the day, it’s just another complexity for an industry where the only constant is change.
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at email@example.com.)