Todd Sheinin of Homespire Mortgage: The Future of the Mortgage Office–Redefining the Workplace in a Post-Vaccine Environment
Todd Sheinin is Chief Operating Officer for Homespire Mortgage, a national residential mortgage lender. Homespire has been included in Inc. 5000’s List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies and recognized as one of the “Best Mortgage Companies to Work for” by National Mortgage News. For more information, visit www.homespiremortgage.com.
With the effects of the pandemic now stretching into a second year, many mortgage companies are beginning to feel the pressure to have employees return to the office. However, while returning may seem like the right move on the surface, it is important to consider the reasoning behind this decision and whether it is completely necessary.
For some, it could be they miss the connection and comradery within the sales or support teams. For others, it might be skepticism towards remote work in the mortgage industry, reflecting a philosophy that you must be physically in the office to be present and productive. While some of this may be understandable, the reality is that accepting and supporting a remote environment does not mean ignoring the importance of working together, only redefining how it is achieved.
What Employees Want
Last year, our company surveyed staff asking if they wanted to come back into the office. Answers varied but a sizable portion were in favor of returning. However, earlier this year we asked again, and this time the results were quite different, with the overwhelming majority stating they wanted more remote work options. Furthermore, all respondents shared the sentiment that they’d prefer not to be in the office 100% of the time going forward.
Just as the pandemic shifted how mortgage professionals work, it also shifted their expectations for the workplace. Whether it’s commuting concerns or lack of family time, people are now much more interested in jobs that can mitigate these issues.
Some mortgage companies that are pressing for a complete return may be feeling compelled to follow industry trends or the lead of some of their competitors. However, with the impacts over the last year, it is almost certain that remote work policies will become a major factor in both maintaining and recruiting employees. Companies that show they are listening, that they will work with staff to offer flexible work polices while staying connected and supporting them, will be much better positioned to attract and keep top talent.
Additionally, adoption of a remote or hybrid approach has broadened the scope of hiring. Companies can now recruit and place key roles from literally anywhere in the country, even for those previously considered in-office or headquarters-based. With most staff no longer in the office full-time, companies have a less compelling reason to require a production manager or head of underwriting work under the same roof. Additionally, no limit on a talent search radius means a significant increase in the available candidate pool, greatly increasing the opportunity to find the best person for each position.
Remotely Productive Mortgage Teams
One of the biggest concerns and challenges for maintaining a remote workforce is ensuring productivity. However, so far this fear has been largely unfounded (or at least exaggerated). According to a recent survey from Fannie Mae, over half the respondent lenders reported seeing increased productivity and lower operating costs associated with their remote workforce.
Perhaps the most “not so obvious” reason for this increase in productivity is the increase in employee happiness. While people do miss some of the office comradery, most are generally finding the benefits of a remote or hybrid workplace very appealing (and often less stressful). Even the most skeptical, traditionally office-oriented team members are showing little desire to come back in full-time. With reduced commutes alone, team members are finding they can do and help more. The time they used to spend sitting in a car for two-three hours every day is now a bonus to leverage both personally and professionally, making them happier and more productive.
What’s more, handling issues for remote employees is little different from in-office. Are goals being met? Are employees actively reporting and tracking progress? Bottom line – these activities can easily be measured directly by success and/or slope in much the same way as they have always been. For those companies that may want stricter oversight, there are tools that can connect directly with their LOS and other critical programs and apps that can help track access and determine true activities from a simple log-in. However, the most effective method is staying closely connected with remote employees and working with them to ensure goals are being met.
Redefining “Better Together”
There are valid concerns when it comes to employee connections in the remote environment. Virtual is not the same as in-person. However, most companies experience similar issues as they grow and geographically spread across the country. As in both, it is very important to listen to your people to determine how best to manage and maintain those relationships.
Hosting frequent and/or standing virtual events and get-togethers is a great way to maintain team connections. Whether it’s through onscreen team building games, entertainment, or even specialized activities like live, online bartending sessions where employees receive the ingredients and accoutrements via mail and make their own drink alongside their teammates, these offer terrific opportunities for staff to connect and work together. Interspersing these with the occasional in-person meet-ups or happy hours at the local level can also help further strengthen these relationships. Likewise, do not overlook gestures like sending gifts or swag items to staff (something as simple as a t-shirt can help them feel connected and appreciated). Those little touches can generate big impacts in this environment.
As comfort levels increase for travel, visiting key personnel on their terms and turf is also important for building and maintaining relationships, even if it is no longer as frequent. Additionally, companies must be open to a certain level of flexibility as the situation is still going to be fluid for some time. Plans may need to be altered or postponed as health concerns shift due to Covid variants. Likewise, companies really need to pay attention to team members’ comfort levels when it comes to these issues. Communicating they understand their concerns shows the company not only values its employees, but it is proactively committed to their safety.
Many companies are now also finding they no longer need large physical offices. Companies that were exploring office expansions should really consider their needed footprint and how that capital might be better spent elsewhere. Maintaining, or even downsizing to smaller spaces large enough for key administrative and operations staff could be a much better move. Focusing on spaces that are functional and comfortable (rather than extravagant) allows companies to curb unnecessary expenditures, saving them significant costs. These funds can then be reinvested in other ways that directly benefit both the company and employees (a much better use of these dollars, given the current environment).
The mortgage industry’s work environment is changing, and those shifts can be challenging for many companies. While there are some legitimate cons related to remote work, at this point, the pros still outweigh them (and there are plenty of effective ways to lessen the cons, as well). Companies that are open to this change, that make it a point to listen to employees and make efforts to embrace flexible policies while staying connected, will be much better positioned for success as we move forward.
(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.)