Managing staff remotely can boost productivity

For Brokers, COVID-19 has had a huge impact on business, and the “new normal” for mortgage professionals is evolving every day. As a lead up to Broker Connect, MPA’s virtual forum dedicated to the mortgage industry and creating digital connections, we look at the issues that lenders, aggregators, and brokers around Australasia are focusing on, asking questions about, and overcoming to help clients through this difficult time. 

 

For many brokers, transitioning their workforce to a home office environment has been one of the great challenges of COVID-19.

Not so for Louisa Sanghera. Setting up her brokerage as a mobile service about six years ago, the director of Zippy Financial was well placed to withstand the challenges of social distancing.

MPA spoke with Sanghera about how she successfully set up a work from home business model that put her ahead of the game during the pandemic.

A brave new world in broking

When Sanghera set up Zippy Financial, she copped criticism from other brokers and aggregators, who told her that her home-based model would hold her back.

Recently, she has received a lot of interest from her peers on the way she set up the business after its potential became heightened through COVID-19.

According to Sanghera, there are several benefits to running a business this way – for her staff, herself and her clients.

“You can focus – you’ve no distractions. I think you get through a lot more work,” she says.

“We’re saving hours of time each day not having to travel backwards and forwards to work.”

Her staff tend to start work earlier in the day or finish later in the afternoon because they don’t have to worry about a long commute.

Now that Sanghera herself is unable to meet with clients in person, she has seen an even bigger jump in productivity.

“I’ve never been so up to date because I’m literally not having to sit in traffic trying to get from one appointment to another,” she says.

“I’ve been able to do a lot more work. My workload’s up by 50% just by not having to travel to see people.

“I also think that there’s a massive benefit to the clients,” she says, explaining that video conferencing via Zoom has allowed her to deliver even better customer service. The feedback we’ve had is that they actually prefer it.”

Clients have told Sanghera that it is much easier for them to interact on Zoom or Skype because it means they don’t have to worry about preparing the house for a visitor beforehand.

“The clients are absolutely loving it. It’s better customer service to be able to offer them that. It saves them time and it saves us time.”

Managing staff remotely

Within her team of five staff members, Sanghera has refined her systems and processes to a T.

“We’ve basically written our own manual,” she says.

Everyone’s role in the company is written into this manual as well as every task the staff members undertake. She says this ensures everyone follows all the systems and processes in the same way.

“If a new person comes in, we spend a lot of time training them to work the way that we all work,” she says.

The company uses Trello in order to separate and delegate tasks. This enables staff members to know exactly what they need to do each day as part of a team environment.

Effective communication is vital, she adds, explaining that the company connects via Teams throughout the day.

She also speaks to each staff member individually and, in a pre-COVID-19 environment, would often take staff members on the road with her when meeting with clients.

“I think it’s important to communicate regularly as a team; to brief, debrief and talk through any issues that you’re having,” she says.

“I think we’re a close team even though we’re all an hour and a half apart.”

She takes her staff members out for a social gathering once a quarter in order to build the team. She also takes them to awards nights so they can celebrate together.

Making sure staff are doing their job

When recruiting new staff, Sanghera ensures the HR company who lines up the candidates is clear in communicating the expectations of the business.

“We’re very upfront and direct and tell them what we do and don’t accept being based at home,” she says.

She makes sure new recruits have a suitable home office, away from audible distractions, before taking them on board.

“The last thing you want is somebody’s dog barking in the background. It looks unprofessional,” she says.

“Right now, with COVID-19, you can get away with that. Once we’re out of COVID, I don’t think it’s suitable.

“The clients don’t need to know that we’re not in an office working together – and ours actually don’t. We don’t advertise that that’s how we work.”

The company also provides each staff member with the equipment they need to do their job, such as laptops, monitors and mobile phones. A monitoring software called Time Doctor is installed on the laptops, which allows her to see what staff members are working on and how long they are spending on each deal.

“You can take screen shots every five minutes or every ten minutes so you can actually see what they’re working on,” she says.

This helps, not only with measuring staff productivity, but also, with cashflow and costing considerations.

She also checks the phone bills of her staff members to see where they have been making calls from. This allows her to see if they have been travelling around during the day when they should be at home working.

“Although you’re working on trust with staff, there are checks you can put in place to ensure that they are working at home.”