What a difference a year makes. A year ago, most of us were going about our normal routines. But this changed dramatically as the pandemic forced us to work from home. Indeed, the ongoing public health crisis has likely reshaped some of our work habits for the long term. As we enter a second year of working from home, many companies are revisiting their policies and procedures.
At Caliber Home Loans, which I lead, we helped our employees optimize their work from home experience. Here are a few best practices that we’ve discovered:
1. Emphasize safety: Prioritize the safety and health of employees. Caliber immediately formed a committee of individuals who worked in different areas of the company, from human resources and legal to sales and operations. This group is charged with monitoring the developments with the ongoing pandemic, and suggesting appropriate corporate actions. This committee meets regularly and has helped the company maintain strong situational awareness of the crisis. In one survey, 41% of employees said that they feel better about the crisis because of how their company responded versus 23% who weren’t as enthusiastic.
2. Overcommunicate: In the initial months of the pandemic, we communicated key updates in a regular and consistent manner. I recorded video updates and hosted virtual Q&A sessions. Our chief human resources officer regularly provided updates to our managers to disseminate updates to their respective teams. Surveys show that about half of U.S. workers want to hear directly from their managers, whereas 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 sector. Lenders saw record volumes of mortgage originations and made record profits. At Caliber, we gave spot bonuses to most of our employees to share the rewards with them. In one study, neuroscientists found that the anticipation of a reward helps activate the reward center of people’s brains. So instead of waiting until the end of the year to pay employees a bonus, it can be wise to reward them more frequently — especially as they’re having to navigate a difficult public health crisis.
4. Encourage Breaks: Almost 60% of workers are taking less time off from work during the pandemic, and close to 70% express feelings of being burned out. We want our employees to take time away from work, so they can feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Last year, we encouraged people by giving them extra vacation days. As for dealing with burnout, we circulate all employee emails that address topics such as heart health, the importance of sleeping right, and videos to help boost mental performance. We also partnered with the Center for BrainHealth on lectures and programs to help our employees learn about the importance of mental health.
5. Enjoy the arts: Last summer, Caliber organized and produced several virtual concerts with Grammy-winning children’s artists to entertain our employees, clients and their families. This was a big hit and we were all able to share late afternoons of music and reverie. A couple of our senior executives hosted the shows while wearing Hawaiian t-shirts, and it was fun for everyone to see them in this more lighthearted mode. We also commissioned local filmmakers to create short videos in which they addressed “What home means to them?” What’s more is that the creative community has been severely impacted by the cancelations of gigs and performances, so these initiatives were also a way of helping artists.
Even though working from home has presented a unique set of challenges, it is likely here to say — in some capacity. Some 60% of workers don’t want to conduct meetings in person even after offices reopen. As working from home becomes part of the new normal, let’s try to optimize it to work well for everyone.
Sanjiv Das is the CEO of Caliber Home Loans. Previously, he was the CEO of CitiMortgage.