This feature originally appeared in the May issue of MReport.
Sharron A. Levine is the Director of FHFA’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. She provides leadership in the Agency’s oversight of the diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs of FHFA's regulated entities, which include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Common Securitization Platform (CSS), the Federal Home Loan Banks, and the Office of Finance.
She also oversees the Agency’s obligation to promote diversity and ensure inclusion internally in FHFA’s workforce and its contracting activities. Levine has more than 35 years of legal experience in the financial services industry representing corporate, institutional, governmental, and private entities in many aspects of real estate law, including construction and permanent loan financing; housing finance; leveraged buyouts; bond issuances; underwriting and origination; asset management; and loss mitigation.
In a recent episode of DS5: Inside the Industry, Levine spoke about the challenges remote working has brought to the workforce.
What have been some of the challenges to the remote-working environment?
I find that one of the biggest challenges is communication, which has to be seamless. There should be no difference between the quality of communication in the office and the quality of communication during telework.
The medium is different, of course, but the quality is the same. The frequency has increased, at least initially during the first two to three weeks. As a governmental agency we have a specific mission, so we must continue to do that mission. There are differences among people and so, to boil it down simply, you have introverts and extroverts.
I find that teleworking for extroverts, who are just about to claw on the walls yelling, “get me out,” have to be treated very differently. They need a bit more hand holding and a heightened sense of interaction with them in order for them to feel more engaged and challenged. The ability to have the team feel engaged, included, feeling that the work of the mission is still important is still a challenge, but I think we have managed to work through those kinks.
We’re in our third week of telework right now and I think it is working very well. We do video conferences as opposed to just audio conferences which allows for more personal interaction. Being able to see one’s colleagues means a lot to people.
How could social distancing impact the working environment?
I think, without a doubt, that if people can get their work done remotely and seamlessly, I can imagine a world where the demand for office space will decline. Offices will be a victim of the pandemic.
Why would a company need all that office space? I can see the decreased need being one of the fallouts from increased telework. On the other hand, I think there will clearly be a need for more effective and better technology with enhanced functionality and capability, because we’ll be relying on it more for our communication to get our work done. If more people are working from home, I could see a decline in the fashion industry. People stay in their pajamas, or they put on jeans or sweatpants.
Realistically, they won’t need to shop as much as they would for the office. In Washington D.C., we have food trucks downtown where there’s a critical mass of federal employees and a large number of them rely on those food trucks for their lunch. Well, I think those small businesses would suffer quite a bit if we have mandatory telework as a new normal.
On the other hand, where there’s a loss there’s an opportunity for gain. We don’t really know quite yet what those opportunities will be, but I could see the entrepreneurial ones among us looking for different ways to deliver goods and services, simply because they have to, and the possibilities are numerous and endless.