In response to COVID-19 and its impact on title & escrow businesses, Qualia pulled together leaders from across the industry to discuss how their teams have adapted to remote work and the contingencies associated with real estate transactions during this unprecedented time.
The panel of experts spoke together on a webinar titled “Step-by-Step Guidance on Switching to a Remote Workforce.” The panel was moderated by Vanessa Lyall, Director of People Operations at Qualia. Panelists included: Josh Terry, Owner of Tennessee Title; Rob Sharrer, President of Varsity Title; and Becky Tassell, Director at Proplogix.
The leaders shared their first-hand experiences with transitioning to a remote work environment and how their team is handling closings in light of governmental social distancing orders.
How title companies acted quickly to activate remote work plans
For both Tennessee Title and Varsity Title, activating a remote work plan was fairly seamless because both businesses already had the necessary technology in place and a portion of their staff working remotely.
A few years ago, Terry activated a remote work plan at Tennessee Title so that he could maintain a competitive edge during recruitment and hiring. Terry found that some of his best talent and recruits were on the line due to their inability to work remotely. As a result, he activated a remote work plan to offer up remote work flexibility as an added benefit. First, Terry leveraged their existing server-based software and enabled remote employees to dial in to a VPN. However, while VPN access to a server-based software was a decent stopgap, he found the complexity and expense of the operation to be unnecessarily burdensome. Later, he transitioned to Qualia’s web-based software which enabled employees to log in to the software more easily and securely.
Sharrer too had initially enabled remote work for his team at Varsity Title a few years ago so that employees could avoid dangerous driving conditions which are common in rural Ohio during the winter months. Like Terry, he started with VPN access to Varsity Title’s locally-based servers. Eventually his team switched to Qualia’s software to enable easier and more secure access to software when teams were working remotely.
Because both companies had existing remote work policies and technology in place, Varsity Title and Tennessee Title were able to quickly transition their teams to work-from-home after government officials across the country urged businesses and individuals to employ social distancing practices. In addition to leveraging Qualia’s software, Tennessee Title and Varsity Title employed a number of other tools to maintain continuity during the swift change to remote work:
- To stay connected with one another, Terry and his team use Zoom video conferencing for daily departmental and management huddles
- To share documents, Sharrer and his team use Google Drive for the sharing of documents not related to closing files (for closing file collaboration, Varsity Title uses Qualia’s platform)
- To update his staff with new information, Terry uses BombBomb to send more visual and personal messages to his team through video messaging
- To handle client communication remotely with buyers, sellers, lenders, and other stakeholders, Varsity Title and Tennessee Title both use Qualia Connect to securely communicate with all transaction parties throughout the closing process
- To manage eClosings, Tennessee Title uses eSign by Qualia to enable transaction stakeholders to digitally e-sign non-notary documents
- To manage remote online notarization eClosings (when available/possible) Terry and his team use RON platforms such as Notarize and Pavaso (depending on underwriter requirements).
How a vendor acted quickly to ensure business continuity with their title clients
Becky Tassell, Director at Proplogix (one of the vendors within Qualia Marketplace that offers real estate due diligence services such as lien surveys and estoppels), offered insight into how Proplogix’s team is helping to drive the title industry forward during this time of uncertainty. Their priority is to keep their operations (which are necessary for closings) running as smoothly as possible.
Much like Tennessee Title and Varsity Title, Proplogix already had a remote work plan in place. “We’re based in Florida where there are many hurricanes, so we were prepared in case our corporate office couldn’t run,” she noted. “After the COVID-19 announcements, our team was able to work remotely within 36 hours.”
Proplogix’s focus was to set up employees quickly with the necessary tools to complete their daily tasks with the same consistency and turnaround time as usual. Additionally, the Proplogix team acted immediately to set up a platform for their clients to share information and insights with one another. “We are holding town halls to keep conversation alive,” Tassell noted. “Right now, things are not about competition. It’s about sharing insights and ideas to work together and keep real estate transactions going.”
Perspectives on measuring productivity and maintaining employee engagement
Terry, Sharrer, and Tassell each noted that measuring productivity is important while teams are working remotely to ensure business operations are not being interrupted or stalled.
“We are a service-based business and a lot of what we want to do is ensure the fastest turnaround times for our customers with the most accurate information,” Tassell noted. “We are constantly creating KPIs and tracking efficiency markers such as the time it takes to finish a file by minute while also maintaining standards through quality spot-checking scorecards.”
Terry and Sharrer noted that their measurement standards are also numbers-based and focus on the number of orders and closings completed. Within the Qualia platform, they can get a high-level view of employee productivity and can see who is online and who inputted orders at certain times.Terry noted that his goal in observing productivity on Qualia’s platform is not to strictly enforce a 9-5 work day, but instead to allow flexibility for employees to complete orders within a reasonable timeline.
Insights on fully-digital closings in light of COVID-19
Terry noted that during the COVID-19 emergency, Tennessee Title has been completing RON eClosings whenever possible. Remote online notary eClosings are available in Tennessee (and Tennessee Title completed the state’s first fully-digital closing more than 2 years ago); however, depending on the lender and underwriter involved in a given transaction, not all transaction parties have the tools and protocols in place to complete fully-digital closings. “There’s a layer of complexity for who will allow digital notaries,” Terry noted. “We need to line up our processes with the county recording office, underwriter, and lender.”
Terry is hopeful that the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 emergency will give other stakeholders he works with a different perspective on fully-digital closings moving forward.
Tassell echoed Terry’s silver-lining sentiment. “[Responses to COVID-19] could be a good thing in the long run because a lot of people are going to be making the necessary steps toward faster turnaround times, access to information, and ability to complete closings from anywhere all over the world.”
To hear more from the panelists and to watch the entire webinar, click below to stream the on-demand recording.