COVID-19 made working from home the new normal in 2020, but just as much of white-collar America has not returned to the office five days a week, today’s home-lending industry workplace has a different look.
Three years since the pandemic sent workers home, many of the Best Mortgage Companies to Work For have incorporated policy changes that resulted from that era. Lenders and servicers are finding ways to balance employee needs while maintaining high productivity, helping contribute to their favorable ratings from staffers.
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Of the 48 companies on this year’s list, more than 80% indicated they offered either a hybrid or remote work policy to varying degrees. More than half on the list said they either were almost entirely remote or encouraged staff to come to the office, but set no attendance requirements.
A high level of production, especially as originations boomed in 2020 and 2021, may help to explain why some companies are open to allowing remote work.
“We were getting the equivalent — if not improved — higher levels of efficiency out of people,” said Jonathon Barnes, president of VanDyk Mortgage based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “They were comfortable. They were relaxed. They know what they have to do.”
But the value of face-to-face collaboration for specific projects hasn’t been forgotten.
“We managed to be really effective during COVID when there was no in-office,” said James Polinori, chief marketing officer at Geneva Financial. “But you lose some of that magic when you’re brainstorming.”
The value placed on personal interactions ranks high among the reasons leaders still want some in-office presence. Having team members together a few times a month, is seen as essential to strengthening a company’s brand and culture.
The focus on collaboration is key to the hybrid work arrangement First Heritage Mortgage developed. The Fairfax, Virginia-based company asks local staff to come in two to four times weekly, with company leaders designating Wednesdays as a day for the entire network to work from the office, whether at headquarters or one of its branches in 14 states.
Combining required attendance with greater flexibility is also now necessary for businesses in the return to office post-COVID. A mid 2022 survey from Flexjobs found workers prioritized work-life balance over salary by an almost two-to-one margin. The job site also found having flexibility in a workday was overwhelmingly listed by 56% of workers as the top way workplaces can better support their employees.
“In this environment today, people need that flexibility,” said Chip Lowe, digital marketing manager at First Heritage. Teams have made sure to align their schedules ensuring at least one members is available in office each day to serve colleagues and clients. The occasional perk or event also helps to bring staff to headquarters.
Companies with no mandated attendance, like Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based lender Acopia, said the shift of the past two years had paid off for them in employee satisfaction and output. While the idea of bringing workers back into headquarters has been revisited from time to time, leadership has yet to find compelling reasons to do so.
“Each time we have to remind ourselves to ask the question — why?” said Joey Davidson, president of Acopia. “Productivity hasn’t suffered. Efficiency hasn’t suffered. People are telling us they have a better quality of life.”