Residential Magazine

Piece Together This Puzzle

Working from home can be a good fit for your team

By Carolyn Garris

This past summer, Stanford University reported that a whopping 42% of the U.S. workforce was working from home full time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this may mean relief from long commutes, crowded public transportation and full business attire, the remote-work reality has created many challenges for businesses, including mortgage companies.

IT teams now have dozens or hundreds of locations (home offices) to support instead of traditional offices. Human resource departments and managers are trying to navigate the needs of the business while allowing individuals to help their kids with school or work through the mental health challenges that have been a common experience during the pandemic. 

The mortgage industry also must ensure the safety and integrity of sensitive client information while making sure borrowers can safely close on time. All of these demands can place a huge burden on company leadership and individuals who manage others within the organization. Here are some recommendations on how to keep your teams engaged and motivated so they can perform at their best. 

Reimagine gatherings

Prior to the pandemic, companies found regular opportunities to connect outside of the workplace. Whether it was an annual table tennis tournament, a summer barbecue, parking-lot ice cream or another way to celebrate a record month of business, many companies made it a priority to have a little fun. 

It’s just as important to make fun a key part of engaging individuals while working remotely. Although virtual happy hours and team-building sessions aren’t a perfect replacement, they give your employees a chance to connect, unwind and feel like a team again. 

For example, create a fun weekly theme for staff meetings and ask your team to participate. They may enjoy having a chance to put together a virtual-meeting background or dress up for their dream vacation. Activities such as playing conference-call bingo for prizes or wearing pink for a day to support breast cancer awareness month also helps to shake things up. 

Think about what your organization holds dear and how you can weave these priorities into regular meetings, so your team can still have the fun they used to enjoy in the office or outside of work. Additionally, encourage them to stay in touch with industry colleagues and networking organizations that are relevant to their career development. Many organizations have transitioned to virtual networking and events, and they may offer various webinars and online conferences. Even in a digital world, your team can still find the career-growth options they expect.

Think about what your organization holds dear and how you can weave these priorities into regular meetings, so your team can still have the fun they used to enjoy in the office or outside of work.

Recognize efforts

Gone — for now — are the days of walking up to an employee’s desk on your coffee run to quickly congratulate them for a job well done. In the era of working from home, recognition must be deliberate. 

You could try a reward system that allows team members to earn points for outstanding work. They can then redeem these points for a gift card or a prize. This is a great way to ensure your colleagues get the kudos they deserve and that they are able to celebrate with something that’s meaningful to them. 

On top of a recognition system, create a monthly appreciation toolkit for managers. This toolkit provides suggestions and resources for virtually thanking individual team members on a regular basis. From gift cards to kind and motivating email messages, these simple gestures go a long way in keeping everyone feeling appreciated. 

Provide support

It’s not realistic to expect your team to be happy and productive working all day from their couches or kitchen tables. Make sure to provide access to the proper equipment for a fully functioning and comfortable workstation. Part of this equation is access to a remote IT team that can help sort through connectivity issues, use of shared drives and more. 

It also is possible that your employees are now working on different devices — such as personal computers — so cybersecurity measures must now be stronger than ever to keep your clients’ information safe. It’s a smart step to implement new technologies that safeguard data, such as virtual private networks, fraud-prevention software and more. 

Don’t expect your employees to figure this out on their own — give them the tools they need to feel supported and ready to succeed. This might equate to a new line item in your company’s budget, but it’s one that will be well worth the investment. 

Connect individually

Aside from social activities, it’s crucial to make sure there are plenty of touchpoints between team leaders and employees. For example, if your company has multiple branch locations, consider opting for “virtual branch visits” instead of skipping visits entirely. This can help keep a sense of normalcy alive. 

You also should be aware of the need for quick communication opportunities during the workweek. Now that in-person chatter is off the table and face-to-face meetings have shifted to Zoom calls, it’s possible that many of your team members are holding onto questions they’d normally ask by popping into your office. Leverage regular staff calls, virtual office hours and messaging platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or Google Hangouts. Even if you’re only using chat apps to share that you’re stepping out for lunch or to tell the team good morning, these are helpful tools for keeping everyone in touch.

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to include a bit of humor. Share comical memes with team members to keep everyone smiling. A collaborative work environment isn’t something you want to let slip away in the face of this year’s challenges — it just takes a little extra planning and effort to keep it alive. 

Mortgage teams may be busier than usual these days, so finding the right balance between work, play and team meetings is likely to be an ever-changing issue.

Remain patient

Stress levels at work and home are higher than usual. Everyone seems to have a little (or a lot) more on their plate than they did in the past. To get through this experience, everyone will have to do it with patience and understanding. 

Whether it’s troubleshooting network issues or dealing with a barking dog during a call, let your team know that you get it and that you’re not expecting perfection. This will let them know they have your support so they can bring their whole selves and their work-from-home environment to the table. 

While working remotely, each person has to create and utilize the systems and environment that are best for them, just as they would do in a traditional office setting. Mortgage teams may be busier than usual these days, so finding the right balance between work, play and team meetings is likely to be an ever-changing issue. 

Company leadership and managers can support employees as they navigate this new terrain by connecting as frequently as is beneficial. They also can ensure there are fun opportunities to come together with co-workers outside of the business day, and they can backstop employees with an understanding and supportive culture that provides the necessary tools for success. ●


  • Carolyn Garris

    Carolyn Garris is the senior marketing manager for Bellevue, Washington-based Evergreen Home Loans. She has worked remotely for more than two decades and is currently tasked with shaping the organization’s monthly communication toolkit to support home-office managers and managers at 70-plus branches. Garris also sits on the company’s associate appreciation committee, which is focused on ensuring recognition across the organization for all employees.

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