Residential Magazine

Cast Adrift

Navigate the rocky shores of remote work to find how it can benefit employers and workers

By Jay O’Brien

Even Andy Jassy is having trouble getting his employees back into the office — and the Amazon CEO is only asking for them to work on-site three days a week. The trend of remote and hybrid work accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and no business, large or small, has escaped the challenges being presented. The mortgage industry is grappling with the trend too.

Ninety-five percent of mortgage companies implemented remote-work policies in response to the pandemic, and 52% of them plan to continue or expand remote-work options in the future, according to a survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association. The consensus is that remote work is the new standard, but this has created a lot of controversy as companies across the country struggle with engagement and productivity among their remote workers.

“Remote work is here to stay. Originators and lenders actually stand to gain by embracing it as an opportunity rather than a threat.”

While the debate rages, it is important to remember that remote work can offer many benefits for both employers and employees, such as lower costs, higher productivity, greater flexibility and improved work-life balance. It also poses some challenges, particularly for mortgage brokers and lenders that need to engage and retain their remote workers. Companies may also need to entice employees to return to the office when necessary to support business needs and nurture client relationships.

Solving the equation of employee engagement is a task for any organization, and post-pandemic employee engagement is creating a new challenge. But there are solutions for mortgage companies that face issues in getting employees back to the office — solutions that can be implemented right now.

Strengthen communication

One of the main challenges of remote work is maintaining effective communication and collaboration among team members and clients. A recent Gallup poll showed a trend of increasing disconnection among remote and hybrid workers — pointing out that only about one in three respondents feel connected to their company’s mission, a share that has steadily declined since 2019.

Remote workers may feel isolated, disconnected or out of the loop when working from home. They may also experience difficulties in accessing information, sharing feedback or resolving issues. If you’re going to get them back in the office, you’re going to have to start by meeting them where they are, which means strengthening communication channels across the organization.

To overcome this challenge, mortgage companies need to leverage technology tools that facilitate communication and collaboration among remote workers. The obvious examples are videoconferencing platforms (such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams) that allow face-to-face interactions and meetings, and instant messaging apps (such as Slack or WhatsApp) that enable quick and informal communication and updates.

There’s some important questions to ask: Are you establishing clear guidelines for how teams can best leverage these tools for the inclusion of all? And could you set up regular types of engagement on these platforms to ensure that all employees are being activated in a manner that increases their sense of connection? It’s worth a look to see if anyone is being left out.

Also consider project management tools, such as Asana or Trello, that help organize tasks and track progress. Whatever tools are used, be sure to somehow tie them to key performance indicators, or KPIs, to help you measure productivity and engagement for how your particular organization is set up. In addition to using tech, lenders and originators also need to establish clear expectations and guidelines for communication and collaboration among remote workers, as well as standards for communicating to clients.

This can include setting regular check-ins and feedback sessions with remote workers to monitor their performance and well-being. You might look to create protocols that specify the preferred channels, frequency and tone of communications for different situations and purposes. Mortgage professionals should also encourage a culture of openness and transparency that fosters trust and mutual support among remote workers.

Recognize effort

Another challenge of remote work is in motivating and rewarding employees who may lack recognition, feedback or incentives. People may feel undervalued, unappreciated or unmotivated when working from home. They may also experience burnout, stress or boredom when working alone for long periods.

To overcome this challenge, companies need to provide recognition and feedback for remote workers who perform well or achieve their goals. Praise remote workers publicly or privately for their accomplishments or contributions. Provide constructive feedback for remote workers who need improvement or guidance. Celebrate milestones or successes for remote workers through virtual events or gifts.

In addition to providing recognition and feedback, mortgage companies should consider offering incentives for remote workers who exceed expectations. This can include bonuses, commissions, raises or promotions for remote workers who generate additional revenue or referrals.

Provide perks, benefits, rewards or recognition programs for remote workers who demonstrate loyalty, engagement or innovation. Create opportunities for career development or advancement for remote workers who show potential or ambition.

Achieve balance

The final challenge is to balance remote and in-office work for optimal results. Remote work may not be suitable or preferable for all tasks, clients or employees. Some tasks (such as appraisals, inspections or closings) may require a physical presence. Some clients (including first-time buyers, seniors or high net worth individuals) may prefer face-to-face interactions. And some workers — including extroverts, mentors or new employees — may benefit from in-person social interactions.

To overcome these challenges, mortgage companies need to adopt a hybrid model that allows for remote and in-office work based on different situations and preferences. Acceptance is the first step. Realize that as it stands, the focus must be on improving remote-work dynamics in order to move the needle on employees’ enthusiasm to come back on-site.

It can also be good to regularly point out improvements in the office, which can make employees feel safe to return and be in close contact with others. Meet employees where they are and adopt an exploratory approach together to find what works best for all concerned.

Allow remote workers to choose when and where they work, based on their personal and professional needs and preferences. Encourage remote workers to come into the office occasionally or regularly, depending on the nature and urgency of their client needs or individual tasks. Provide remote workers with the necessary equipment, resources and support to work effectively and comfortably from home or the office.

In addition to embracing a hybrid model, mortgage companies also need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing needs and preferences of their remote workers. For instance, solicit feedback from remote workers about their satisfaction levels, challenges or suggestions. Evaluate the performance, productivity and profitability of remote workers using data metrics. Adjust the policies, procedures and incentives for remote work based on feedback and evaluations.

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Remote work is here to stay. Originators and lenders actually stand to gain by embracing it as an opportunity rather than a threat. By addressing the challenges and adopting an exploratory mindset toward the solutions, mortgage companies can engage remote workers, improve productivity and entice them back to the office over time. This way, companies can create a win-win situation for themselves, their employees and their clients. ●


  • Jay O’Brien

    Jay O’Brien is the co-founder of Client Giant, an automated engagement platform for client care and employee happiness. A driving force behind the company, O’Brien consistently ensures unrivaled client experiences for business owners in diverse industries. Before launching Client Giant, O’Brien excelled as a leading real estate agent in California, earning accolades such as the 30 Under 30 award from the National Association of Realtors.

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