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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   May 2018

Managing the Modern Workforce

Supervising production gets tricky when originators can work from anywhere

Managing the Modern Workforce

In an age when most everyday tasks can be handled electronically, and more jobs are being taken over by intelligent automation, who needs people to be in an office? The majority of mortgage originators have tablets and cellphones, and barely even need to get in a car anymore.

Yet originators are still at the forefront of the borrower experience and remain the face of the company for both clients and partners. They need to face their borrowers and referral partners, but do they still need to face their teammates?

To a certain extent, we all need some semblance of face-to-face interaction in our work life. We are human after all. In a mortgage company, however, how do we accomplish this imperative while still providing our top performers with the benefits of working from anywhere?

Providing for the possibility of remote workers has numerous benefits, both for the company and its employees. It can help with talent acquisition, provide flexibility that can keep employees happier and improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

There are downsides as well, however. Company culture can suffer. Teams may find it hard to gel. It also can be tough to identify and correct issues. Fortunately, there are tools that managers and team leads can use to alleviate some of these concerns.

Benefits of remote originators

Let’s start by discussing what can go right. All successful mortgage companies are interested in attracting good sales talent. They do this by offering great benefits, culture, or money. To attract the best, however, companies should not tie people to one location. Imagine the best processor in the world lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and your company is based in Philadelphia. Unless you are a remote-friendly company, that probably won’t be a good fit.

Consider also that regions are diverse and local culture is relevant to loan origination. An underwriter in Bakersfield, California, for example, may not know why a basement is “kind of a big deal” when processing a loan for a home in Salt Lake City. For national companies, it helps to have teams that understand the needs of the region, especially if originations from across the country take place in centralized locations.

Recruiting remote workers can make economic sense as well. Employees living in major metropolitan areas often demand higher salaries to pay for a higher cost of living, independent of experience or education. A company that supports hiring remote teammates, may be able to pay them handsomely for their local market expertise while still saving money. Consider also that space is expensive. A remote team may allow a branch to lease a smaller office space or, in some cases, no space at all.

All successful mortgage companies are interested in attracting good sales talent. 

Remote working can make employees happier. Working in their pajamas and being able to attend to home-based tasks during breaks can encourage loyalty and love for the company in many employees. The lack of long, grueling commutes also can be a major contributor to the prized work/life balance.

Working from home also can help focus an employee’s attention. We may not want to admit it, but people socialize at work. Many people find they get a lot more done at their home office because they never feel obligated to find out (or overhear) what a teammate did over the weekend.

Finally, hiring remote originators can provide an edge over the competition. Originators who attract business via video, social media or concentrated phone time can generate leads much more efficiently via a home-based workstation than by driving from place to place.

Drawbacks to the plan

The biggest drawback to a remote workforce is its effect on company culture. Culture is so hard to capture in the first place. How can any culture remain intact if teammates are not present to experience the mood of the office, or be guided by senior teammates in cultural tenets? This question must be answered before any company considers hiring a remote workforce.

Employee engagement also is a hot topic in this discussion. Too often, remote employees fall victim to being “out of sight, out of mind.” This goes beyond supervisory issues. If someone is bored, there is no energy present from other teammates to perk that person up. If someone is frustrated, there is no sounding board present to help talk that person down. Remote employees can just sit in their own toxicity, and no one is the wiser until it is too late.

Related to this issue is the effect that working remotely has on social skills. It’s no longer news that people today are losing valuable social skills because of increasingly individualized technology. A team is a group of individuals working together to complete joint tasks. The rapport that causes this successful behavior is partly involved with sharing “energies” firsthand.

Plus, very few people can identify socially with customers and teammates via electronic communication without having previously established some rapport. This is over and above the simple fact that many people just do not have the personality to work from home. They may lack personal focus or may not have the willpower to stay on task without a supervisor present.

Finally, it can be tough for remote workers to meet customer service metrics. Every company has a certain way they want their customers treated. Without extensive training and some level of accountability, making sure these standards are met is nearly impossible.

It is important to build a strong rapport with remote workers by having daily discussions via video chat.

Who will overhear the team’s closer giving a title agent an earful and stop it before it gets out of control? How do we make sure new originators are making the right phone calls to the right leads if no one hears the exchanges? Moreover, how do you have confidence those calls will go as planned without the ability to step in if it goes sideways?

Managing remote workers

The good news is there are ways to overcome all these obstacles. Let’s look at some tips for setting up a successful remote team and reaping the benefits.

The first thing to do when establishing a remote workforce program is to set expectations and hold teammates to them. Hold regular one-on-one meetings for accountability and set work schedules on shared calendars so everyone knows who is working and when.

In addition, standard metrics and reporting for remote workers should be the same as for on-site teammates, and customer service metrics must be included in training and in accountability. Consider using sample e-mails to demonstrate expectations and monitoring recorded phone calls for quality assurance. Then, set individual and team goals and follow up with regular checkups to monitor progress.

It is important to build a strong rapport with remote workers by having daily discussions via video chat. During interactions, watch tone and body language for tells of disengagement, and use instant messenger with an activity monitor to ensure people are at their stations as expected.

Next, nurture teamwork by encouraging a buddy system that matches teammates for support and acknowledging those teammates who help others. You also can consider having regular on-site days for the whole team to build team rapport or tie successes together with group goals. Make sure to acknowledge remote teammates the same as you do on-site teammates by issuing certificates of achievement as well as by providing impromptu support and recognition.

Finally, make culture a priority. You can involve remote teammates in team lunches by delivering meals to their remote location. Make sure to invite them to special office events like holidays and birthdays.

If charity is part of the company’s culture, encourage local contributions by posting photos of everyone’s involvement on the company website. If open communication is important, acknowledge each person’s ideas in a forum everyone has access to. Touch on culture every day and do whatever you can to focus energy on company goals.

•  •  •

Perhaps being a part of a remote workforce is just a vision to you at this point — an idle wish about a workplace of the future. You may be excited about the prospect or fearful of working “alongside” remote teammates you hardly even know. Just remember that your role has not changed, only how you participate in the team’s synergy. Be brave and learn to embrace change, if nothing else. The future is coming.


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