Create a Productive Apartment Work-From-Home Space

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Working from home has become more prominent than ever, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, when you’re living in an apartment, it can sometimes be challenging to create a productive remote workspace. 

Thankfully, there are things you can do to maximize your space (no matter how small it may be), arrange it in a way that inspires creativity and productivity, and take care of yourself so you stay motivated. 

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can make the most of your apartment while you’re working from home, so you can find a healthy work-life balance and stay focused on your job each day. 

Arranging Your Space

A productive apartment work-from-home space starts with actually creating a designated workspace. You don’t necessarily need to have a separate spare room to set up an office. As long as you have a specific location in mind that is dedicated to your work, you can get things done effectively. Some suggestions include: 

  • Fixing a folding shelf to a wall.
  • Using a large closet/wardrobe.
  • Utilizing a large hallway.
  • Pulling your sofa away from the wall in the living room and using it as a desk chair.

Having your own workspace can help you to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Remember, your environment can affect your mental health. It can either keep you motivated or bring you down. So, focus on things like using natural lighting, having live plants around to give you energy, and even controlling the temperature to keep things a bit cooler. 

If you know you will have to participate in Zoom meetings or similar video chats, make sure that your office looks as professional as possible. Because you’re at home, it’s okay to make things personal. But, whatever is in your background should still suggest that you’re working. A professional background for a video call can include things like plants, pictures, and artwork, but probably shouldn’t include your Star Wars actions figures. 

Keeping Your Health in Mind

In addition to having the right space set up, it’s crucial to take care of yourself in order to stay productive. When working from home, it’s easy to feel distracted and unmotivated. Taking care of yourself, physically and mentally, can have a huge impact on how well you do your job. 

One of the potential drawbacks of working from home is having a harder time with a work-life balance. You can combat this by having a routine each day. Start work at the same time and end it at the same time. Having a separate office space in your apartment will make it easier to “walk away” from work at the end of the day. 

It’s also important to take breaks, and you may need to encourage yourself to do so. Your apartment might be small, but don’t be afraid to splurge on a few “self-care” items including, perhaps, a sofa that you can put in or near your workspace for whenever you need to take a break. 

Your breaks should also consist of movement, as much as possible. Stand up and stretch every hour. Or, take longer breaks throughout the day that allow you to get outside and go for a walk. Studies have shown that simply being out in nature can improve your mood, which may help with productivity, and it will give you a chance to get some space after being in a small apartment all day. 

It’s possible to create a productive apartment work-from-home space and to stay motivated each day. With a few simple changes, some organizational skills, and maybe a professional purchase or two, you can turn almost any area of your apartment into an effective workspace. 

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How to Create a Productive Apartment Work-From-Home Space
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How to Create a Productive Apartment Work-From-Home Space
With a few simple changes, some organizational skills, and maybe a professional purchase or two, you can turn almost any area of your apartment into an effective workspace.
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AI tool promises to shrink cost-per-loan by monitoring employees

As lenders aim to become less volume-dependent this year, their efforts are in part focused on increasing efficiency. Tracking the daily activity of remote workers may be one of the key ways to do so.

Grind Analytics, a business intelligence fintech, recently launched an employee productivity scorecard, MODM or Master Operations Decision Medium. The software uses artificial intelligence and company-provided benchmarks to evaluate worker performance. One of the lenders that was first to try out the tool said it assisted in reducing cost-per-loan.

“Our clients have about 90% of their staff working from home. You’re looking at 68% of your costs — your employees — that you now have much less ability to manage,” Tim Armbruster, CEO of Grind Analytics, said in an interview.

“What we’re seeing when we initially deploy this solution is that there’s a big disparity in performance between employees — much larger than you would think — and that corrects itself within one to two months.” he said.

The scorecard’s early returns show effectiveness, albeit from a very small sample size, Armbruster said. San Diego-based Grind worked with a pair of lenders in the development of the product. Those lenders — OneTrust Home Loans and another who asked to remain unidentified — have used a beta version of the scorecard since the middle of 2020.

Since implementation, those lenders cut down their average costs to close to 26% from the year prior, Armbruster said. Additionally, their efficiency improved with average closings per hour jumping 68% and the number of defects per loan dropping 28%.

Accounting primarily for compensation, the cost per closed loan at OneTrust dropped to about $3,800 from $4,500 over the course of 2020, according to company president Shane Erskine. Defects per closed loan — the benchmark Erskine deems most important — decreased to an average of 0.71 in December from 1.19 in January.

“We’re not really looking at this as disciplinary, it’s more to enhance and improve,” Erskine said. “We have an initiative to reduce our loan costs by over 50% over a five-year window and without the transparency, there’s really no way for us to do that.”

The scorecards helped Erksine’s team identify inefficiencies while also providing hard data upon which to base employee evaluations.

“The employee scorecard keeps everybody honest,” he said. “When it comes time to do quarterly or annual reviews, that makes it easy for the management team and our individual employees to see how they’re performing.”

However, use of employee monitoring software can lead to complaints about an invasion of privacy. Armbruster is fully aware of this perception. While detecting and categorizing employee computer activity can be controversial, he thinks it’s an important tool for lenders to have in place.

“That’s something you have to be straightforward about with your employees and make them understand that when you’re logged into a work computer, we have analytics and metrics that tell us what you’re doing,” Armbruster said. “It’s a new world and I think each company is going to treat that differently. You want to make sure that you understand what you legally can and can’t do.”

Capacity — another mortgage fintech using AI to capture data to streamline workflows — sees products like this as the way of the future. However, founder and CEO David Karandish also emphasized the importance of clearly communicating to employees that they are in use.

“We believe that identifying bottlenecks is an important part of any process. We take no issue in monitoring the performance of anyone in the organization in the service of doing great work,” said Karandish. “However, we fundamentally believe that any assessments should be transparent. No one should think they are doing a good job and be told months later they aren’t and vice versa.”


It’s time to make work-from-home regulations permanent

To meet the overwhelming demand for loans, independent mortgage bankers have quickly adapted to social distancing and remote working via work-from-home models that were previously unimaginable. Through this rapid growth in use of online and digital correspondence, today’s IMBs continue to originate more than half of all new mortgages.

These rapid changes have not been without pause for concern with regard to regulatory requirements and legal statutes as well as enforcement. Many states and regulatory jurisdictions restrict, and in some cases unilaterally prohibit, mortgage workers from conducting their activities outside of the branch office. Fortunately, a patchwork of executive orders, temporary waivers, and do-not-enforce letters have enabled the workforce to continue operating safely from their homes, albeit temporarily. In turn, IMBs have acted responsibly, putting in place policies, processes and protocols to ensure robust managerial supervision over all remote employees and security over confidential and non-public information.

We believe that the move to a remote work model is a long-term, technology-driven transformation which was well underway prior to the pandemic and will continue long after the pandemic. The Community Home Lenders Association took the lead early on this issue, with a letter to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. Work from home safeguards our workforce as well as our customers and ensures that mortgage credit continues to be available for the housing market. We urge state and federal regulators alike to address these temporary work-from-home flexibilities and to make them formal and permanent.

Our proposal makes the case for smart regulation. Smart regulation does not require that we choose between stronger or weaker sets of rules. Flexibility is appropriate and strengthens compliance. Allow mortgage employees to work from home without requiring their home to be licensed as a branch location. Allow them to work from home without imposing an arbitrary distance requirement to and from a licensed office. Consumers need to be protected as well. Require robust corporate policies and procedures to ensure sound managerial supervision of employees. Require that consumers’ data and private information is kept confidential and secure.

Mortgage servicing requirements by non-banks are another concern. Regulation can be effective without imposing unnecessary compliance burdens or costs on IMBs and ultimately on their customers. The CSBS is in the process of soliciting comments on a proposal to create financial and management requirements for non-bank servicers (often IMBs) in all 50 states. This is in response to the strong growth in servicing by nonbanks in the 12 years since the 2008 housing crisis. It makes sense for CSBS to ensure that the largest servicers are properly regulated. It is the handful of large servicers that have grown quickly that pose the great majority of financial and systemic servicing risk. It also makes sense to close servicing regulatory gaps for non-agency mortgage loans.

However, CHLA is requesting adjustments to this proposal to protect smaller nonbank servicers from new unnecessary burdens. These changes would support the CSBS’s overall goal of closing regulatory gaps in supervision of servicers without impeding the consumers’ access to credit. Smaller IMB lender/servicers primarily originate federal agency loans — GSE, FHA, VA and RHS loans — and are already subject to robust capital, liquidity and corporate management requirements by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. The proposed requirements are largely duplicative of existing GSE and Ginnie Mae requirements. Therefore, in its comment letter to the CSBS, CHLA is asking that smaller servicers with de minimis levels of nonagency loans should be deemed in compliance with the new CSBS requirements if they are a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac servicer (or Ginnie Mae issuer) in good standing.

The letter also asks for state-by-state exemptions from the new requirements in states where a servicer has a de minimis number of loans serviced in that state. CHLA members are typical of smaller community-based lender/servicers; they originate and service loans primarily in one or only a few states, but also originate and service smaller levels of loans in a number of states in proximity to their main state(s) of operation. Without exemptions in states with de minimis servicing volumes, smaller servicers will simply abandon servicing in these states.

Without these changes, the risk is that many smaller servicers will simply exit the servicing business and the servicing industry will be more concentrated, meaning less competition and higher prices and less personalized service. The broader impact would be more concentration of nationwide mega-servicers, leading to more financial and systemic risk exposure.

The choice is not between either more or less regulation. It is how to achieve smart regulation. Smart regulation is the best way to protect consumers and reduce risk, without imposing unnecessary compliance burdens on small lenders and the consumers they serve.