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March 31st, 2020

What Do COVID-19, Working from Home, and Robocalls Have in Common?

What Do COVID-19, Working from Home, and Robocalls Have in Common?

Answer: They’re going to result in a lot more unknown numbers calling your phone.

Nearly every office worker in the country is working from home due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. People who could previously walk across the office and talk to you are going to be calling your phone—and many of them may ignore the phone etiquette of texting or sending an email first.

You probably don’t have all of your coworkers’ numbers saved in your phone, which means that you may see an uptick in unknown numbers calling you. You may also be getting an uptick in legitimate robocalls from doctor’s offices and schools.

How do you sort these legitimate calls—which you want and need to answer—from spam calls that still haven’t abated during this trying time? What’s more, how do you keep up your productivity though the constant distraction of strangers and coworkers calling your phone?

The Spammers Aren’t Self-Isolating from Calling Your Phone

Although normal life may have more or less ground to a halt, spam calls are still going strong—and if anything, they’re getting worse. Once again, you probably don’t have all of your coworkers’ numbers saved. If someone’s calling you from an unknown number, it could very likely be a person with urgent news or an important question to ask. You may feel like you have to pick up the call—even if the greater likelihood is that it’s someone spoofing a number from your area code. Therefore, the epidemic, in its way, makes you much less able to screen calls and more likely to have to listen to a spammer.

What’s worse is the fact that the spammers are capitalizing on the epidemic. For example, scammers have taken advantage of the COVID-19 panic by advertising fake cures, offering free health insurance, or pretending to either sell test kits or offer them free to people with compromised immune systems. The worst part about all this is that people who might not be fooled by scammers normally may be vulnerable to misinformation during this stressful time.

If you’ve received a call like this and are wondering what to believe, the FCC website has a selection of recorded audio from COVID-19 scams that can help recipients determine fact from fiction.

Lastly, apart from being a potentially dangerous source of information, spam calls are just annoying. Each little distraction when your phone rings represents a serious diversion from your productivity—and it can take you up to 23 minutes to recover. For your productivity to be maximized while working from home, both spam calls and non-emergency work calls should be minimized.

How Can You Cut Down Spam Calls When Working from Home?

Let’s all start by agreeing that face-to-face meetings—with whiteboards, slide decks, and other visual aids—are best when it comes to communicating large amounts of information quickly and effectively. With that said, we don’t have that option anymore, and we may not have it for a while to come. Therefore, we need to focus on a number of goals:

  • Keep the focus on productivity, avoiding calls from spammers

  • Minimize the number of phone calls from legitimate sources—it’s better to have one longer phone call than a number of shorter phone calls that act as additional distractions

  • Maximize the information content of each interaction with coworkers

In other words, you should be able to have a small number of highly productive meetings and avoid hearing the phone ring as much as possible. There are a number of ways to get this done.

Workplace Collaboration Tools

Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are having their moment, with the latter adding 12 million users in a single day during isolation. These tools are primarily text-based, allowing users to post updates and instant-message each other while using VoIP and video chat for meetings.

Using these tools allows you to keep in constant contact with your team while keeping your phone on mute. Be warned, however—collaboration doesn’t necessarily equal productivity. These tools are infamous for creating more distractions than they solve, forcing workers to become multitaskers and resulting in up to a 40-percent decline in production. It turns out that old-fashioned email may make you more productive, but email, of course, comes with its own intractable spam problem.

Conference Calls

Instead of spending all day making small talk with your coworkers on Slack, you can decide to hold a daily standup meeting using Zoom or Webex. These videoconferencing solutions have gained massive popularity over the last few weeks. Zoom even includes an appearance filter that can make your face look better when it comes to those pixelated connections.

The problem with videoconferences is that, unlike Slack, email, or good old-fashioned phone calls, there’s a bit of a learning curve. People are stuck with slow internet connections, or they can’t get their webcam to work right. There’s always someone who can’t figure out how to mute themselves if there’s background noise. Until the workplace adjusts, videoconferencing may be a bit chaotic.

It All Comes Back to Telephony

Even if you rely heavily on email, workplace collaboration, and videoconferencing, phone calls are going to be an essential adjunct to rich workplace communication. The solutions above don’t cover ordinary emergencies, like a coworker losing their password or having a quick-yet-complex question about an account. At best, they make scheduled conversations or routine tasks go more smoothly, but at worst, they can actively sap from concentration.

What’s more, switching away from telephony as much as possible leaves out the fact that you will still need to let unknown numbers call your phone, especially in these trying times. You’ll still need to take calls from your doctor’s office with appointment reminders and test results. You’ll still need schools to notify you if they’re closing. If you want to be neighborly, you’ll need to keep your phone unlocked for members of your community to call you when they’re in need.

Here at Neustar, we’re doing as much as we can to enable capabilities such as STIR/SHAKEN and robocall mitigation, so that users can answer a call with confidence. This will help keep phone lines clear, allowing you to go about your workday while enjoying fewer interruptions. Plus, if you do get a call, you’ll always know when the person calling you is in real need of your support.

For more information about Neustar and how we’ve been working to stem the robocall epidemic, contact us today.

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