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Finding Balance In A Hybrid Work Environment

Some Intriguing Solutions

Nicole McCrary
Nicole McCrary
hybrid working

Over the past two years, more companies have discovered a hybrid approach to the workplace may be the answer to maintaining a strong company culture and keeping team members satisfied and content. We’ve seen here at Cherry Creek Mortgage that operations — and loan volume — maintained a healthy balance of success during the pandemic and in a remote environment.

As we slowly open our offices again, however, some are finding there may also be a personal advantage to being in the office as opposed to working from home. Could personal growth within a company give the employee who is seen working in the office an advantage over another?

The nature of different roles within a mortgage organization makes this question particularly intriguing. Remember that, well before the pandemic, most loan officers worked outside of the office meeting with real estate agents and clients. Many of those originators have since moved up to branch managers and executives. Meanwhile, underwriters, loan processors, closers and branch managers also had goals to achieve; however, their work took place primarily inside the office.

As a member of the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association (CMLA) Leader Advisory Board, I hear from a variety of people with different industry perspectives on this issue. Among CMLA members, we also hear about the successes taking place and strategies companies used to achieve that success.

From my own perspective, leadership and growth are personal traits and not necessarily tied to a company’s bottom line. An employee’s character and focus on a company’s overall mission are observed in the office and are reflected through participation in industry organizations and community events.

But as all industries contemplate hybrid work environments, does leadership and growth require an in-person connection to staff, or can technology still improve personal communication and connections among colleagues across the country?

To delve deeper into this topic, I’ve asked four experts to answer the question: “What are the most important qualities people need today for leadership, and how can they grow to become leaders in today’s hybrid work environment?”

I think you’ll find their answers insightful and perhaps surprising!

Katy Uhl
Chief Human Resource Officer, Cherry Creek Mortgage

Katy Uhl

Although there are many important qualities associated with leadership, there are a few that I believe are absolutely essential to establish a good leader. The first is the foundational element of respect. Many people get into leadership roles and somehow believe their new title makes them more important or better than the employees they manage. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all bring varied experiences, strengths, and potential into the work environment, and we should all be valued and respected.

Operating from a place of respect will always change the interaction and open the conversation. We often hear the phrase, “Respect must be earned.” I disagree — I think respect is a given, but it can be lost.

Number two on my essential list is communication. We usually associate good communication with verbal and written skills. However, listening is the most important function of good communication. The goal of every interaction should be mutual understanding. If we don’t listen to understand, what we say may be rendered meaningless. Take the time, or make the time, to communicate with your team, your peers and your leaders, and truly listen to what they have to say.

Next on my list is flexibility. Things change fast in our industry; consistency is rare and sudden chaos is inevitable. Avoiding or being reluctant to change is ineffective and only increases stress. A good leader is open-minded and confronts change. A flexible and easy-going approach and the ability to adjust and maneuver is crucial. Flexibility doesn’t come naturally for everyone, but it can be learned, and it can be enacted. A flexible mindset will open the way for creative thinking and alternative solutions.

There are other qualities that lend themselves to leadership which we look for when promoting employees into higher positions. For example, after we’ve checked the boxes on job requirements and industry knowledge, we look for problem solving capabilities, reliability, communication skills, and the ability to influence others. These key qualities are often witnessed only through ongoing interactions in the workplace. If leadership is your goal, hybrid and remote work environments can limit opportunities for others to see these qualities — but they don’t have to.

As with most things, intentionality is important. Look for opportunities to illustrate your skills and seize them. Don’t be silent on conference calls—share your thoughts and ideas, and follow up with a well-considered email to the decision makers. Take the opportunity to participate in team projects and initiatives. Be proactive and always have your eye on the goal!

Dawn Elmore
Head of Strategic Initiatives at Sourcepoint

Dawn Elmore

The essential leadership qualities needed today in our more hybrid, “work from anywhere” environment are very much the same they’ve always been. For me, servant leadership is the most effective. That’s made up of being an active listener—really listening to understand—and humility—not being a leader because of the “power” that one has, but because of the will to inspire and motivate others.

It’s critical that people see their leader as transparent and one they can trust. The team must believe their leader always has their best interest at heart. However, it’s also critical to be compassionate and empathetic. Yes, we all have our job to do and that’s the expectation. At the same time, we all have other people in our lives who are important to us, including spouses, children and grandchildren, as well as outside activities and responsibilities. Things happen that sometimes disrupt our normal schedule. We all want to know that our leaders understand that we share other priorities with work and will support us through navigating the game of life.

Servant leaders are also committed to helping people grow, which becomes more challenging in today’s virtual environment. As leaders, we need to stay very connected to our teams. How are they feeling? Are they excited about the projects they are working on? What aren’t they doing that they want to do more of?

This means making catchup meetings intentional and making sure that “connect sessions” are happening at least a couple of times a week. When we were in an office it was easier to run into someone while getting coffee and then turning that encounter into a quick chat. But now that we are virtual and not seeing each other in person as much, we must make spending time with the people on our team one of the critical “musts” on an already demanding schedule of to-do items.

Lauren Pilon
EVP, Administration and Business Operations, LoanLogics

Lauren Pilon

Leading effectively requires a certain set of skills that can and should be applied each day. Over the years, I’ve found there are some vital traits that are key to being a successful leader.

Most important is being an active listener, particularly now that more organizations have shifted to hybrid work environments. I strongly encourage leaders to have weekly one-on-one meetings and ask questions to really get to know employees on both a business and personal level. This can improve the quality of the individual feedback you receive and strengthen the relationship.  It can also lead to more productive group meetings, problem solving discussions and creative solutions. 

Integrity is another essential skill for great leadership. Treating people fairly and with respect, as well as providing honest feedback, instills trust in your team that you have their best interest in mind. Whether it’s video conferencing or in person, leaders should engage all employees and motivate each to participate in team discussions and take an active role in problem solving.

Lastly, when in a leadership role, it’s important to have confidence in yourself. Trusting your instincts, making tough decisions with conviction, and leading by example will help inspire your team to grow in their own self-confidence. However, it’s equally important to also understand that everyone makes mistakes, including you. If you make the wrong call, take responsibility for it, accept the outcome and learn from the experience so that you can make the right call next time. 

Not every individual can be a good leader. But those who take an interest in and listen to their employees, act with integrity and convey self-confidence can lead their organizations through the good times and bad times. Work hard to develop these skills, and you’ll have the ability to make a difference not only for your team but for the entire organization.

Jane Mason
Founder & CEO, Clarifire

Jane Mason

In today’s environment, being adaptive as a leader is key. Over the past year, we have gradually transitioned from working at home to a hybrid work environment, and the results have been great. Our teams are happier and more productive, so much so that we will never go back to an office-only workplace. As a leader, however, you need to be flexible and open-minded for a hybrid workplace to succeed. That means if something isn’t working, you need to be willing to try a different approach.

For example, our team members can split their time between working in the office and at home. But when things get challenging in the workplace, as they always do, we meet at the office to work through the solutions. Otherwise, our teams congregate together in our beautiful office spaces when they want. We have joint application development (JAD) sessions, where we bring in lunch and socialize.

During these transitional times, leaders also need to be present and give their managers some autonomy over how things get done. You should look and listen carefully to your teams and let them own how they want to motivate each other and deliver the solutions and products that everyone can be proud of. This not only makes work much more rewarding for everyone, but it also creates a stronger organization that your clients can feel, which generates trust and loyalty that helps the business grow. You may be surprised at how well leaders within your organization can motivate each other when they have your trust and the flexibility to get their job done, even if it is not within a 9 to 5 timeframe.

There are other leadership traits that apply in any workplace, hybrid or not, but deserve mentioning because they are so essential. For example, leaders should focus on creating a culture of constant learning and challenge the people around them to find ways to do things better. It’s equally important to recognize who responds to this challenge and come up with ideas that contribute to the company’s growth. On the flip side, if you aspire to be a leader and you are given the opportunity to contribute and have a voice in the discussion — take it!

I also believe kindness is an essential leadership trait, especially today. Keep in mind that it’s a very active job market and talented people have no shortage of job options. Good leaders understand this and do what they can to make sure everyone in their organization feels challenged, fulfilled and appreciated.

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine July 2022 issue.
Nicole McCrary
Nicole McCrary,
Nicole McCrary

Nicole McCrary is vice president of compliance, Cherry Creek Mortgage

Published on
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