Chris Joles of Planet Home Lending: Returning to Work: How Technology Can Help Employees get Back to the Workplace

Chris Joles is Senior Vice President and Enterprise Risk Officer with Planet Home Lending, Meriden, Conn.

Chris Joles

During the past 18 months, the mortgage industry has shifted from a majority on-site workplace environment to a work from anywhere (WFX) environment. Lenders did an amazing job at the start of the WFX movement to quickly get employees transitioned home. Companies were forced to make swift decisions about IT security, team and company communications, business continuity and the steady flow of regulatory, legislative and health orders.

Even though companies and employees are used to WFX, we need to consider the outlook for heading back to the office, or more generally, preparing to work from wherever we are or our employees are. This includes managing employees who decide that since they never have to return to the office, they are going to AirBnB-it around the country or the world.

Regardless of whether WFX stays in place or not, there are risks and concerns companies must evaluate. Some of the most important factors to evaluate are IT security, employee productivity, business continuity, operational flexibility and regulatory response.

IT Challenges Never Stop

Finding balance can be challenging for information security professionals, and WFX increased the difficulty level significantly. Invasion in the office can be surrounded by multiple layers of security including a company virtual private network (VPN), two-factor authentication and even locked doors.

The pandemic forced people out of those security bubbles and companies had to secure remote networks, protect data accessed on laptops, ensure the security of devices and communications, while addressing traffic limitations on existing systems. Companies can build on these added security measures as they prepare to either return people to the workplace or allow them to continue to WFX.

During the mandated WFX, organizations had to maintain a continuity of communication while relaying information through the employee networks in a secure manner. In the new WFX environment, these systems will help employees continue to collaborate. Companies will need to have a system in place that has version control and a system of record. If someone is working on a loan file, they need to know where they left off previously or what the clear hand-offs and take-aways are.

While video conferencing became a way to stay connected and engaged, it also was another avenue that had to be monitored and secured. People were relying on video platforms to be secure until they were not. Most of the systems used, including Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Teams, experienced issues. This is not going to be the end of those issues. It is important to be sure meeting participants are aware of who is on the meeting, control how invites are forwarded and not share meeting information publicly.  

Addressing Productivity Issues

Productivity is also an area that companies need to address, including planning for productivity drops in those who transition back to the office from the environment of WFX. Technology helped companies address productivity concerns while people worked from home and can continue to assist in efforts to maximize productivity in a WFX world.

The truth is some employees work better in the office. Just like there are also employees who work better, faster and more efficiently in the WFX scenario. These are factors companies should consider when making crucial business decisions around returning employees back to work. Technology can help managers effectively review productivity data to make this decision and determine if a new system can ensure productivity does not slip. This is not meant to be an invasion into employees’ work habits and privacy. Tools can help guide employees to stay productive and assist managers in collecting data to make informed decisions about how to best use their employees.

Business Continuity Is Important to Consider

Technology that offers continued transparency and communication also will be crucial in addressing the issues around WFX and even at different corporate locations. With team members in various WFX locations business continuity must now track the weather events or Internet outages in far more places. If my company office is Tampa, the company knows to send me (and everyone else working in that location) Central Florida hurricane alerts. What happens if I begin working remotely from a home office in Minneapolis, and continue to report to my manager in Central Florida? I still need to know about Central Florida hurricanes that could influence office operations and coworkers. Does my company now also need to send me winter weather advisories for Minnesota?

The power could go out or the Internet could go down for one employee, which could result in one team member not attending a meeting virtually to share vital information – creating a larger problem. This kind of scenario makes having a backup plan very important and employees and companies need to think differently to identify and successfully navigate these challenges.

Asking employees to spend more time thinking through and documenting alternatives is going to generate some interesting learning, as will the trial and error of learning what worked in different situations. If the power goes out, an alternative plan to get to somewhere with the appropriate resources available is an important part of the equation. Having the ability to transfer over to a mobile device for that software update that inevitably happens during a meeting with the executive team is also another way to make continuity happen. This takes some planning and time to ensure that these backups are in place and now, as the WFX environment becomes the Work From Any Device (WFAD) environment.

Operational and Regulatory

Additionally, companies need to be able to bring employees back in the offices from a facilities and technology perspective. Do you have enough room for returning employees? How is  business continuity keeping up with employee movement? Proper understanding or regulatory requirements and employee education will be key.

Technology assisted companies in reevaluating their business continuity and operational resiliency plans during the height of the pandemic. Technology was front and center when companies needed to create additional ways to respond to customers, who had more time on their hands to take care of personal items and, therefore, could reach out to companies at times they typically could not. One example of this is artificial intelligence and bots supplementing call centers by offering another avenue to get answers to frequently asked questions. These efficiencies were created by technology and should not be overlooked as the users may change their work environment.

As companies consider the new working environment, making sure there are security measures in place and educating employees will go a long way in creating clarity for everyone. Clear communication about expectations from the company and the employee are needed. While the “new normal” might look different than pre-pandemic, it can work to our advantage if we take the lessons we learned and build on them.

(Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policy, or position of Planet Home Lending LLC.)

(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; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at