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WFH, hybrid or back to the office full time? How the industry is dealing with the new world of work – MT Finance Supper Club

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  • 22/06/2023
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WFH, hybrid or back to the office full time? How the industry is dealing with the new world of work – MT Finance Supper Club
In a post-pandemic world, getting the right working balance is paramount, in terms of company morale, industry education and work-life balance. But whether it’s five days in the office, working from home or a hybrid model, finding the solution is no easy task, according to a panel of lenders, advisers and brokers at a Specialist Lending Solutions Supper Club, hosted by MT Finance.

On 4 May, MT Finance held a Supper Club in London’s Park Row restaurant with lenders, brokers and distributors in attendance to discuss a wide range of topics around the role of specialist lending, education in the market and how those in the sector can work better together.

One issue that sparked particular debate was the thorny topic of working from home and the hybrid nature of work that has emerged since the pandemic.

While there were splits among the panel on what would work best, the majority agreed that for newcomers, and even their more experienced counterparts, time in the office was invaluable.

 

Learn from those on the frontline

One adviser noted that there had been a huge influx of brokers into the industry since 2020 who were not used to being in an office environment and who did not know how to advise in this more complex macroeconomy that has arisen since the disastrous mini Budget.

He said: “One of the major challenges with education is that you have people coming into the industry who just want to work from home and the issue is you have all your experience in the office.

“That education and learning is so much harder when you are not listening and learning from other people around you.”

Another advisor noted that “culture was all important” and working from home posed a risk to business.

He said: “To fully understand your business, you need to be with people, at least at the beginning of your career. You are going to lose that culture if everyone works from home.”

One lender at the Supper Club told the panel that his business had scrapped working from home entirely.

He said: “We are 100 per cent working from the office now. We will not allow the business to be dictated to by this concept of working from home. The education piece is so important. For example, if you were to bring a new underwriter on board, you set them back six to 12 months by letting them work from home.”

He added: “From a lender point of view, when we moved into buy to let, we said we are accountable, so a client can pick up the phone at any time and get in contact with an underwriter who will be sitting next to the head of lending. You have to be able have dialogue from a processing point of view.”

One adviser felt that working from home had led to longer turnaround times as lenders hadn’t put processes in place to deal with the change.

He said: “From a lender perspective, turnaround times are astronomical and it’s in part based on those teams not being organised enough to work together to deliver great service to brokers. Too much working from home is detrimental to business.”

 

A changing dynamic

However, there were others on the panel that disagreed with the proposition and felt that flexibility was key, particularly as the pandemic had changed the way clients interacted with advisers.

One broker said: “Clients are changing the way they want to receive advice. And the nature of how we deliver advice is also changing. We can do it on Google, Zoom or Teams now.”

Others agreed, with one saying: “There needs to be some flexibility because everything can’t be one way. Especially with clients, you can’t expect all of them to see you face to face. You need a mix of options that suits the clients.”

The growth of technology was seen as the key enabler for those who supported the hybrid model.

An attendee noted: “There has been never more supportive technology to allow brokers to work remotely.”

Others around the table felt that there was a middle ground, noting that it was easier for larger firms to mandate a return to the office than their smaller counterparts.

One broker said: “I think a good hybrid proposition can work. Working in the office five days a week won’t fix everything.

“It’s about what’s right for the individual business. Hybrid works for some, not for others.”

 

The talent gap

The gap between the larger and smaller businesses was also highlighted in terms of recruitment.

One broker said: “While I’d prefer five days a week, we are not going to be able to recruit all the talent we want, as the way people work has changed.”

Another adviser commented: “It’s very difficult to recruit as a smaller business. If you put a job ad out and say five days a week office based, would you get much interest? People like flexibility.”

However, while the current booming job market means that employees hold the upper hand in terms of location and working conditions, it was noted that if the job market becomes tighter then there could be an increase in office-based workers.

One broker said: “We have never had a more employed nation and that means there have to be compromises, but if and when the pendulum swings back to the employer, you are likely to see a rise in back to office mandate.”

The arguments over working from home will rumble on for some time but one point on which the entire panel agreed was that some office-based interaction was vital if the next generation of mortgage professionals was to flourish.

As one broker said: “You need experienced brokers in the office. I learned my whole business from experienced brokers.”

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