As the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the lives of millions of people all across the United States and around the world, the guidance handed down from health officials strongly suggests that people maintain social distance and refrain from spending time in crowds whenever possible. This has led to the wide proliferation of companies adopting work from home policies, and when working from home combines with kids being unable to learn in actual school facilities, it leads to understandable disruption in all facets of life for parents.
This is certainly no different for reverse mortgage professionals. From loan originators up through company presidents, these people have had to adjust to the pandemic’s new normal while also staying on top of all the responsibilities that come with working in the reverse mortgage field. Reverse mortgage professionals who are also parents recently explained to RMD how their lives have changed, and what it’s like to balance work from home in the reverse mortgage arena with parenting kids who also have to remain indoors.
For companies, leadership and understanding are essential
The necessity of working from home while also living as parents presents an abundance of unique challenges that largely preclude the possibility of a “one size fits all” kind of solution, and navigating that is challenging for any detail-intensive work including in the reverse mortgage business. This is according to Kristen Sieffert, president of Finance of America Reverse (FAR), a parent herself.
“I can speak from personal experience that it has been extremely challenging and there is no elegant way to balance the differing obligations,” Sieffert tells RMD. “Despite the extra load, our business continues to flourish, and it’s a true testament to how exceptional our team is. Their patience, hard work and resilience continues to drive our business.”
Understanding the unique situations that the pandemic has plunged employees into is important for maintaining morale, while also ensuring that there can be some kind of connection between the employees and the company in light of the advised isolation guidelines, Sieffert explains.
“We took a stand at the very beginning of the pandemic that we would be as flexible as necessary to support people’s unique circumstances and since then have been committed to finding ways to show our appreciation for our team,” she says. “In coordination with our family of companies, we will be hosting a virtual Recharge Rally as our way to say thank you for the extra efforts put forth by our team this year. We will be featuring well-known guest speakers and sharing some amazing content to help our team connect with one another and recharge their mental and emotional spirit.”
Navigating WFH in reverse
The difficulties that come with working from home and school closures managed to touch even those who may have been used to home-based work in the past.
“As an already remote leader and executive, my days from a work perspective were not much different, but with no school and no childcare, my work from home environment was altered drastically,” says Kimberly Smith, SVP of wholesale at American Advisors Group (AAG). “My husband and I both work full-time and the daily juggle of kids and work was challenging to say the least. I can remember an AAG wholesale team video call with more than 30 team members when suddenly my three-year-old flings open my office door, climbs on my lap, covers my mouth and tells me to stop talking.”
An undoubtedly disruptive occurrence at a business meeting, but Smith’s team was more than understanding, she says.
“Luckily my team at AAG is more of a family than anything and thought it was both adorable and hilarious,” she says. “I can recall many occasions over the past six months hiding in different rooms or closets in my house to get a moment of quiet to make important phone calls.”
The effect of working from home is undoubtedly challenging for everyone, but some parents are a little more well-equipped to handle it. That doesn’t do much to diminish the accompanying challenges, but it at least helps.
“It’s certainly been a time of adjustment for our family,” says Steven Sless, Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc. (PRMI)’s national reverse mortgage division manager and branch manager with the Steven J. Sless Group in Owings Mills, Md. “We transitioned to remote work in April and at first it was very challenging. My home office was on the main floor of the house, but with the kids home I quickly discovered that working on the main floor wasn’t ideal. Luckily we had a sitting area in the master bedroom that didn’t get much use so I set up my office/video studio there. Thankfully, my wife worked from home prior to the pandemic and we already had an office set up for her.”
Some parents are also finding unexpected roles for their kids in their work now that they’re all home together, according to Melanie Parks, VP of national field sales west at AAG.
“I’ve been able to incorporate my child, Mahaila, into some of my work activities to make it a little more fun for the team,” she explains. “During my summer management calls, we had a ‘Jokes by Mahaila’ segment, where she would give the team a joke or a riddle to solve. During a larger team meeting, we did an instructional video where she demonstrated how to make a Dalgona Coffee. These little things make a big difference in keeping the team engaged and create a fun environment. It also allows me to bring a little ‘home’ into the workplace and give the team a chance to see other parts of our lives outside of work.”
For others, the cumulative equation of helping out reverse borrowers on top of household tasks, schoolwork, cooking, etc. is daunting, but the adjustment is necessary even if it comes with less energy at the end of each day according to Jill Portilla, manager of borrower engagement at FAR. Still, there have been some elements of work which have been made easier during all of this for some.
“While working from home has its own challenges (think screaming kids in the background of a Zoom meeting!), it has made this situation easier,” Portilla says. “Avoiding my commute has saved me over 100 minutes a day and I have been able to put this time towards much higher priorities than sitting in traffic. FAR allowing us to work from home really has been a life (and sanity) saver.”
It’s been tough for industry participants to stay on top of all of their responsibilities at home and at work while both have been in the same place, but it hasn’t stopped them from getting things done.
“It’s like having three jobs,” Melanie Parks explains. “First, I must continue to run my sales team and be just as effective – or even more effective – since our volume is much higher. Second, I must not only get my child ready for school, but also check in throughout the day to make sure she’s on task with her schoolwork and not drifting off into ‘lala land.’ Third, I must continue to be a parent and tend to all the little nuances that come with having an adolescent child; like keeping them fed and hydrated and making sure their technology works. It’s been quite the experience!”
The challenges presented by the current situation are disruptive, but the fact that business is moving in a positive direction on top of contending with the new realities that come with working from home in the midst of a pandemic helps to showcase the resiliency of people in the industry, Kristen Sieffert says.
“Each day seems to bring unique challenges, opportunities, and a little bit of chaos,” Sieffert says. “I know many kids are still at home or are yet to be full-time at school so parents are juggling it all once again after the nice reprieve from summer. Our business continues to thrive, and the team continues to step up despite our kids being underfoot. I am always so humbled and honored to be part of our team, and in awe of our ability to truly pull together no matter what.”