Navigating a new normal: Strategies for implementing a hybrid office structure

Auto lenders are beginning to bring their workforce back into the office in a hybrid capacity as the national vaccine rollout continues to pick up steam, offering employees personal flexibility to choose whether they want to work in the office or from home.

This hybrid structure is poised to be the “new normal” on the heels of increased  productivity last year, even as the global pandemic upended the way people interact, transact and work with one another.

In this webinar, the first in a quarterly series presented by Auto Finance Excellence, Armando Hidalgo, director of servicing at Platinum Auto Finance, discusses best practices and strategies in auto lending for bringing the workforce back to the office, and employing a hybrid organizational model.

Auto Finance Risk Summit, the premier event for risk and compliance in auto finance, returns May 11-12, 2021 as a virtual experience. The virtual experience will offer the quality networking and education of past events, all through an online platform. To learn more about the 2021 event and register, visit

Video Transcript:

Editor’s note: This transcript has been generated by software and is being presented as is. Some transcription errors may remain.

Joey Pizzolato 00:03
Hello everyone, and welcome to our first quarter webinar, presented by auto finance excellence a sister service service to auto finance news and industry source for best practices and actionable advice for auto finance professionals. I’m Joey Pizzolato, editor of auto finance news. And thanks for joining us today. Auto Finance excellence through the generous support of Inovatec, McGlinchey, and White Clarke Group provides members with an unparalleled opportunity to gain professional developmental and networking resources in this competitive industry. We intend for auto finance excellence and not not to not just guide industry executives, but to inspire them to greater success. Joining me today is Armando Hidalgo, Director of servicing at platinum auto finance. at the height of the pandemic, Clearwater, Florida bass Platinum auto finance lien on its hurricane preparedness plan to transition its employees to a remote work environment. Today, Armando is here to discuss best practices and strategy for bringing lenders workforces back to office and employing a hybrid work from home and on site organizational model. I know. Thanks so much for joining us today.Armando Hidalgo 01:16
Welcome. Good morning, everybody. And thank you for joining us as well. My name is Armando Hidalgo, Director of servicing here for Platinum model finance, here in Clearwater, Florida. Today, we’re going to go ahead and go and talk about the operations best practices, explained the best practices on returning to the office and implementing a high hybrid work from home in office structure. As we look back at the challenges that were created by this pandemic, last year, we learned a lot from our staff and with our staff. everybody working together to find the best way forward. Worked on finding portable tools. But also to effectively communicate with everyone with every part of our organization. And also finding document handling solutions to make sure that our workflow was didn’t have any any clause in it and we get stuck. And also having accessibility remote accessibility. So we can go ahead and and see what was happening real time. I worked a lot for tutorials and things of that nature. Everyone at home, they what they did they they recreated their office space at home, and they shared all their ideas and how they move things and how they set up things. I worked really, really well this is something that we actually did pre pandemic. So we had a test environment that we had about for the last quarter of 2001 2019 which Coronavirus started rearing its head right at that time. So we were already in the test stages of it. Many changes come to simulation to a new environment. And with this comes comes the situation where you’re going to have advantages and disadvantages. Some of the things that we were able to do is create those team environments, make use of zoom Microsoft Teams, were able to still work with our CRM LMS system, which were pretty much all web based. That was one of the advantages that we had in telephony, we use the Genesis PURE cloud, which pretty much worked really, really well for us. And again, as I said, you are going to find new day that you do have some decent advantages and disadvantages. What did we see what did we experience not only in the hurricane contingency, but even more in Stress Stress environment, where we saw some of the advantages and disadvantages. One of the things that really, really helped us people did feel safe at home and being able to command their day to day routine without you know, having their boss or supervisor present, it’s just seems a little bit more relaxed. They feel free to feel free and happy to wake up every morning that they didn’t have to deal with traffic. That’s one thing then they were always on time. Attendance actually improved. I guess 100% we really didn’t have an issue before but you always have that one situation where that that train that red light or traffic or accident made where we may have causal situations that didn’t happen. Yeah, it was nice to have time for your family there your spouse and kids. You know parents have their their share that in the next room. You could organize you have more time to organize your day because you didn’t have to worry about what you were going to drink or you’re going to wear the next day. Which allows a lot of time for people to organize their days, we also found that there were some disadvantages, or what we did find is that people didn’t have clear boundaries on between their spare time, their downtime, so to speak, it’s kind of wandered off a little bit. That was one of the disadvantages of people, the employee shared, they did this the busy atmosphere in the office, all the collaboration that goes back and forth in the office communication, you know, with your co workers, and what they call the water station break. Even relatives, one of the disadvantages was his relatives, it didn’t take what you were doing seriously. And it’s like every day to day life happened in the background. And that’s something that was a disadvantage, again, that you’re acknowledging the fact that you had to set up your own private Warner kind of disassociated and created a nation at home, which they know where you didn’t feel comfortable. So those were some of the disadvantages that we did see. Then what we do we after the after that we did find a happy medium, did think can make a happy medium from working from home and also essential personnel. working in the office, the skeleton crew, so to speak, and I started everything started working in harmony, virtual interactions, through team motivation, with zoom, and then to motivation with also with the meetings that we had and what we didn’t see we didn’t see a loss and we had sustained productivity. We didn’t see a loss in production, servicing wise origination, why originations was a little harder hit because of the traffic, foot traffic, you didn’t have that yet, a more online activity. So we were able to sustain this. And then, you know, while we went through that, then through the pandemic, then the realization of, you know, coming back, that started to happen, one of the questions is, you know, what, will come back? What’s the good, what’s the new norm, but it looks like that’s, that’s something that, you know, keeping in mind and returning to the office in the new normal, some of the some companies, what they’ve envisioned is 60% 60% are considering making remote work from home permanent. There’s 35%, also, that are also going to look at saying, well, it’s going to take about six months to get back to business as usual. 32% companies out there are evaluating contact tracing tools that could be used for after work, after workers return. That basically means, you know, what, were they going afterwards, they’re going homes, things of that nature of quarantine purposes, was at the height of the height of the whole pandemic, we’re talking about April, May and June, which is where we saw the most of it. And looking, that’s the information, the data, the data that we gathered and saying, okay, bringing people back. These are some of the things that we came up with. Also 17% and 17% of companies anticipated temporary furloughs as well. So this is everything that we the companies were envisioning, and what the employees were saying, What’s it going to be like? And maybe, you know, as you can see, some of the companies, they operated some of these practices, which is something that the CDC recommends, and we wanted to provide that safe environmental. They were asking, what would it look like? Will I be safe? What we did is we took this opportunity. We took this opportunity pretty much to demonstrate the value of our teachers, the value, how much we value our people, reassuring them that every step every step was taken to meet the to meet and exceed expectations that were there at the time of professional disinfecting with a certificate of service. This is something that we we look for a highly recommended company with good reviews. They did a great job, there was a whole hands on call a hand touch all the way around. We also implemented temperature checks when coming back in providing preventive protective wear for our employees to make sure that they had a safe and reassure them that we were practicing social distancing and also sanitizing stations, everything that could we could possibly think of and also not just having those things in place but also monitoring them and making sure that everybody was safe. We have Lot of people that were that were concerned and it was a for. For a short time there, we did have, you know, a lot of concern saying, was it safe to come back? Is it you know, can we come back? On the reversal of the whole thing, once that we came back? One of the some, everybody started talking about, you know, the work from home, the working in the office, it had such as had a vibe, and everybody’s saying, you know, why can’t we take, you know, why can’t we take the best of both worlds and blend them. And this created something from the employee standpoint to say, that would, that would be a great idea. And as we were moving along, there’s, we started finding out that some of our applications work really, really well in a Wi Fi, environment, and some of these tools in there with the functionality or processes, and we wanted to take the best of both worlds of working in home. And working in the office, what was the what was the common denominator, the common denominator was that everybody was going to commit to a dedicated 100%, dedicated, focus on being plugged in while we were there. And what that happened is that, that pretty much with the functionality out of the functionality of our tools or systems and processes, we were able to take this to the next level because of the I guess the discipline that you had, by using these tools while you were away from the office and disconnected from the office. Now it became a little bit more hybrid of saying, Well, can I work on the road, can I work, you know, maybe off site getting away from home, maybe some some people even did the Starbucks things of saying, you know, away from the home, in the home, and that works really, really well. So this with the hybrid now that we’re talking hybrid, what this are all these operating systems that we have, have now allowed us to not only have that safe environment, here in the office, but also saying an open air environment of saying word, word, we’re we’re taking this. From this, what we took is the future of our work is hybrid, a will be able to do anything, our structure is going to allow that mobility, flexibility. And as an added bonus, a sustained contingency plan with high practice frequency that continues to elevate our best practices. So in essence, what it did it this contingency plan has been in lane in the background, and then also allowing this to happen is how do we work our systems? What is it that we’re using? How do we use them? What is allowed is a freedom of not only being able to work at home, being able to work in the office, but also being able to work abroad. That is some of the things that now it’s it’s highly effective, it is allowed a little bit more away from the office, just that freedom that you have from saying you don’t have to come to the office, you are able to do what you do how you do it. Either at home, on the road, or in the office.

Joey Pizzolato 13:52
All right, great. I want to thank you so much. I do have a couple of questions for you, if you if you got a couple more minutes to spare. Absolutely. All right. So, you know, one, one of the things that, you know, we talked about the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of you know, myself included, right, struggled with that transition to kind of you know, I’m used to going to the office every day. Now, you know, I like to joke about my two foot commute, right,

from, you

Joey Pizzolato 14:27
know, my bed to my desk. So I’m wondering, you know, I would imagine, you know, when when bringing people back to office, you know, there was there was a similar kind of transition process where, you know, people had to get used to, you know, the longer commute, you know, getting dressed outside of sweatpants So, so I’m wondering whether were there any roadblocks you guys ran into along the way in bringing some of your staff back to back to office?

Armando Hidalgo 14:56
Yes, some of the some of the roadblocks that we did. There. Were They were local, I don’t know everything differs from place to place here in Florida is a little bit more a little bit more liberal of saying, Well, you know, we will allow this much this much. One of the roadblocks that we did have is they did patrol the area. So they would see limited 10 people, you know, and this is some of the roadblocks that we did see. And we managed to rotate that in our work from home. And that’s really what it helped. And the other roadblock that I think that it was, it was it was a little bit people being a little bit more conscious and aware of saying, worried and scared. I actually, I actually was tested positive for a month, I had no symptoms, it’s safe, but I’m walking around with this. And it’s like, How did this happen? When I vote and I was at home, into the office, go to the store to pick up your in keep the very, very social distance. But it happened? How did it happen? I don’t know. We I think we have asked ourselves that question. And, and one of the things is, make sure that we had this testing in place, make sure that everybody before they came back to the office, and this is where some of the roadblocks happen. Not everybody wants to get tested, they say I’ve been at home, I haven’t returned. But they saw it pretty much they saw that. It’s it’s better to us for it to rotate and participate with the teams. That was one of the biggest ones. I think that everybody experienced that at one point or another with their organizations. The question is, Is it safe? That was one of the biggest ones, but we were able to work through it now. We have full on 100% in the office. Now the contingency plan or should I say work from home, even the flexibility of working on the road, we have our dealer. Now we have our if they were outside reps, either inside reps, but not able to work in base, the outside reps are the ones that saw the biggest, the biggest advantage of our telephony, or you know, our TeamViewer and you know, using lyoko thing, apps, they saw a huge lift in what they were doing. And they were able to, you know, keep their productivity up.

Joey Pizzolato 17:23
That’s great. As a follow up, you know, you kind of mentioned this, you know, everybody kind of went through their own different stressors, like everybody’s different, every location is different. There’s different headwinds, you know, my, my at home stress might be related to isolation, whereas, you know, somebody else’s at home stress, you know, could be related to, you know, the fact that their kids are doing remote learning, and they are also, you know, teacher as well as parent, and, you know, juggling those things. So So I guess my question to you is, you know, what, what sort of lessons did you learn, when, when you were working whenever was working remote about managing kind of like different the varying, like stages of employee stress? And what what can you extrapolate from that, as you come back to office and make and enhance the in office kind of, you know, experience with that in mind.

Armando Hidalgo 18:23
What what we experienced in that what we did see is, we really saw and this is something they know that the every from every work environment, ours is a smaller is a smaller environment. I’ve, you know, been in larger corporations. And in my previous life, one of the things that I learned from here is that if you have smaller groups, and you pretty much work you interact, the interaction is the one that was totally, totally different. I think. Now with zoom, zoom, created that knee if you have a need to actually have that face to face conversation with someone or the employee wanted to, you know, hey, listen, I want to show you something and they’re not that technically savvy to work with TeamViewer zoom was their go to, we learned that what our, what our strengths were, and we also learn different weaknesses, which we worked through because of now the tools and everything that we hadn’t placed, pre pandemic, we saw all these things, what added the stress and we saw something different, as opposed to you know, a natural disaster, you can run away from it. On a pandemic, it’s like your, your your everything is is so it’s quarantined, and it causes that anxiety, but we were able to learn that some of our staff that they’re different needs a different stress. levels? What are their? What are their needs? What are their wants? We were able to meet every FMR Am I gonna say that everything was perfect? No, we did learn and some of the opportunities that we did have through this, it actually helped us build. Now this hybrid, where we saw, okay, this doesn’t work here well with this score hidden, figure it out on this end, we were able to make it work. I think that that’s one of our biggest learning tools or learning experiences from everybody is that they learned how to turn that negative into a positive to make it work, not just for the company, it was for the employee, what is it? Because it was their families that were they were in front of them. And I think that it did also relay some of that acknowledgement of what people do. Because some of these presentations that we did make, or do, we were done through zoom, and families were present, that that really opened up a different platform of same recognition. When we had our, our team meetings and things of that nature. There’s families that were involved, the kids, and it did show, I guess, the children is like, wow, I’m bad. You’re doing what I do, because there were also virtual school. So if we saw that worked really, really well for us. I think that one of the disadvantages that we did have was again, you know, that, that outside noise you hear, you know, everything in the background, you have children, cats, dogs, you know, neighbors, things of that nature, those were some of the challenges, but with our with the training that we had, pre pandemic, I think it really, really helped us in the long run.

Joey Pizzolato 21:48
Great, great. Well, Armando, thank you so much for your insights today. And for joining me, it’s always a pleasure, you know, chatting with you sharing a stage if virtual staged or otherwise. Um, that does conclude today’s webinar. For all our viewers, please check back to auto finance excellence and auto finance news for leading industry insights. So thanks again so much for joining us. And thank you again, Armando, for the wonderful presentation.

Armando Hidalgo 22:14
From Thank you and goodbye from Clearwater, Florida. Good day.

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