What a difference a year makes. A year ago, most of us were going through our usual routines. But that has changed dramatically as the pandemic has forced us to work from home. Indeed, the current public health crisis has probably reshaped some of our long-term work habits. As we enter a second year of telecommuting, many companies are reviewing their policies and procedures.
TO Caliber home loans, which I lead, we have helped our employees optimize their work from home experience. Here are some good practices we discovered:
1. Focus on safety: Prioritize the safety and health of employees. Caliber immediately formed a committee of people who worked in different areas of the business, from human and legal resources to sales and operations. This group is responsible for monitoring the evolution of the current pandemic and suggesting appropriate actions for companies. This committee meets regularly and has helped the company maintain a strong situational awareness of the crisis. In a survey, 41% of employees said they feel better about the crisis because of their company’s reaction versus 23% who were not so enthusiastic.
2. To communicate too much: During the first months of the pandemic, we communicated key updates on a regular and consistent basis. I recorded video updates and organized virtual question-and-answer sessions. Our Human Resources Director has regularly provided updates to our managers to disseminate the updates to their respective teams. Surveys show that about half of American workers want to hear directly from their managers, while 29% want to hear from the CEO. We have maintained a regular communication cadence, so that our employees are aware of developments.
3. Reward employees: 2020 was a banner year for the housing industry. Lenders posted record mortgage origination volumes and achieved record profits. At Caliber, we have given one-off bonuses to most of our employees to share the rewards with them. In a study, neuroscientists have found that anticipating a reward helps activate the reward center in people’s brains. So instead of waiting until the end of the year to pay employees a bonus, it may be a good idea to reward them more frequently, especially since they have to go through a difficult public health crisis.
4. Encourage breaks: Almost 60% of workers take less time off work during the pandemic and nearly 70% express a feeling of exhaustion. We want our employees to take time off work, so they can feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Last year we encouraged people by giving them extra vacation days. When it comes to managing burnout, we run all employee emails that cover topics like heart health, the importance of getting good sleep, and videos to help improve mental performance. We have also established a partnership with the Center for Brain Health on conferences and programs to help our employees understand the importance of mental health.
5. Enjoy the arts: Last summer, Caliber hosted and produced several virtual concerts with Grammy-winning children’s artists to entertain our employees, customers and their families. It was a great success and we were all able to share late afternoons of music and reverie. A few of our senior executives hosted the shows while wearing Hawaiian t-shirts, and it was fun for everyone to see them in this lighter mode. We have also local filmmakers commissioned to create short videos in which they touched on “What does home mean to them?” In addition, the creative community was severely affected by the cancellations of concerts and performances, so these initiatives were also a way to help artists.
Even though working from home presented a unique set of challenges, it’s likely here – to some extent. Some 60% of workers I don’t want to have in-person meetings even after the office reopens. While working from home is part of the new normal, let’s try to optimize it so that it works well for everyone.
Sanjiv Das is the CEO of Caliber home loans. Previously, he was CEO of CitiMortgage.