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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   October 2008

Home, Sweet Office

Mortgage companies and their employees can benefit from teleworking arrangements

r_2008-10_johnston_spotWith the cost of gasoline hovering around $4 a gallon this past summer, teleworking has started to look more attractive for many employers and employees. And the advantages of working from home extend beyond commuter expenses.

In the mortgage industry, as more companies make advances in the area of automation and paperless underwriting, more employees can telework successfully and efficiently. For instance, a mortgage broker could participate in meetings via conference calls and can work on paperwork, handle calls and e-mails, or fax documents to customers from home. This broker still would spend some time in the office each week to meet with borrowers or co-workers and to comply with licensing requirements.

Mortgage companies and their employees can realize many benefits from teleworking arrangements. The key often lies in addressing the issues to make it a successful arrangement for employers and employees.

Benefits -- and challenges

A teleworking arrangement can benefit employees and employers. Employees save money not only on gasoline or mass transit but also on many incremental expenses such as dry cleaning or lunch. The time previously spent commuting can now be used for friends and family, and having fewer people on the road each morning and evening cuts down on traffic and air pollution.

Good teleworkers have a strong work ethic and are self-motivated and productive. They don’t need constant feedback, but they know when to ask for it.

It’s important, however, to recognize that every position does not lend itself to a teleworking arrangement. Positions whose duties require constant face-to-face interaction may not fit unless video conferencing is a possibility.

Employers benefit because they may find that they often can cut back on overhead expenses when employees work from home. They also can often expand their talent searches to include candidates who don’t need or want to relocate.

In addition, work schedules can be coordinated to accommodate customers in other time zones without requiring employees to travel into the office at odd hours, which can be a plus for companies with international operations. Teleworking also gives you the opportunity to make use of flexible work hours.

Above all, there must be trust on both sides of the equation. Everyone has to be invested in making this new arrangement work. Teleworking arrangements have challenges, though. First, employees must learn how to manage the everyday distractions that come from working at home or away from the office. They also must avoid overworking and feeling isolated.

Employers also have a number of logi-stical and organizational issues to consider. There are several possible teleworker arrangements that might work for your company, all with their own costs and requirements. For instance, employees who occasionally work outside the office likely will need different equipment than those who work from home full-time.

Also, employers typically must follow all necessary federal and state tax laws with the same standard for their regular employees, regardless of work location. Teleworkers, however, should consult with their tax advisers regarding the use of a home office.

Key issues

There are a number of issues a mortgage company must consider before setting up a remote workforce. These include:

  • Connectivity: Employers must understand what technology is needed to support their work. Know the bandwidth requirements for data and voice. Find out what issues can impact the available bandwidth in a residential neighborhood, and share that information with your employees who may experience slower systems during peak hours of residential usage. Vendor management is critical. At some point, you’ll be at the mercy of the Internet provider. Be aware of its service-level commitments and be prepared to follow up when you’re waiting for service. You also might want to think about a backup communications plan in case connectivity goes out at an employee’s home.
  • Systems training: Remote employees won’t have access to a co-worker who can drop by their cubicle to fix equipment issues. It could be helpful to create a user guide to help your employees set up their system and connect to the company’s network. In addition to issues that might arise from using new equipment, the actual applications that teleworkers use each day may function differently at home. You may want to set up some additional software training, if necessary.
  • Human-resources training: Teleworkers likely will experience some culture shock while adjusting to working from home, especially if they’re used to being surrounded by other people at the office. Verbal and written communication become vital when face-to-face contact is impossible. Through employee training, companies can prepare teleworkers to know these differences and can provide them with resources.
  • Scheduling and productivity: Many teleworkers find it hard to leave their jobs behind when they work from home, and they may feel guilty for taking a break. Managers should encourage employees to have a routine that allows them to step away from work from time to time. It’s also important to track an employee’s productivity and to keep managers informed of progress.
  • Management: This is a new environment for managers as well as for employees. Make sure that you can support your employees at home as you would if they were in the office. Will phone conversations be enough for interaction, or will you need to set up regular, in-person meetings? How will you handle team-building events or office social gatherings? Think of new ways to bring employees together.
  • Policies: You may find it helpful to create a teleworker policy with rules, guidelines and documentation. In doing so, be clear as to why positions are or are not eligible for teleworking. Also, consider drafting a teleworker agreement that outlines the commitment required from employees and managers. This agreement should set work hours and include a workflow plan.

Discussing teleworking causes employers and employees to think beyond traditional ways of doing business. Setting up teleworking arrangements is a bold move, but it can pay off significantly by boosting employee productivity, morale and loyalty while also lowering costs to the company and promoting innovation. 


 


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