Last year around this time, we at T-Mobile Stories were thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. Heck, we even offered up “5 Ways Your Device Can Help You Keep Your 2020 Resolutions” (There’s still some pretty solid advice there, even a few tips we didn’t know we’d need just a couple months later. “Do Not Disturb” mode, anyone?)
Then everything went sideways, and then some. So, after a really full year of all of us having to be so gosh darn resolute, months of adjusting and adapting like never before, we’re kicking off 2021 focused not on what to give up, but what to keep.
From mobile mindfulness to work-from-home strategies, we've gathered the best advice from 2020 to help us navigate 2021.
Hashtag it loud and hashtag it proud: #HindsightIs2020
Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them
In a year where our sign-off changed from “Yours Truly” to “Stay Safe,” it’s no surprise that keeping the devices that became our lifelines away from harm was a point of focus. (No coincidence either that T-Mobile’s Scam Shield suite of anti-fraud safeguards was rolled out.)
As with any crisis, scammers were hoping to take advantage of those left vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Losses due to coronavirus scams increased 70% in May and June alone. By October, Americans had already lost over $160 million as a result.
"Bad guys always use fear and intimidation," identity theft protection pro Carrie Kerskie told us in 2020, offering tips on how to avoid phone scams during the pandemic. "Those are the two big factors in their scams. Right now, everyone is on high alert. People are scared about COVID because there is a lot of unknown. We haven’t been dealing with COVID that long, and there’s a lot of confusion out there and people are scared. We’re seeing so many smishing texts, which are quickly replacing phishing emails. I know for myself, not long ago I would get maybe one every six months. I’m getting two a day now."
Identity theft security expert Carrie Kerskie
“So the quick little thing I tell people, no matter what it is, whether it's an email, a text message, a phone call — validate or eliminate. That's all you got to do. If you can't validate it, eliminate it.”
While keeping vigilant in the same way is key for 2021, she says now, the types of scams we already need to be looking out for are anything but the same.
- "There's talk of the new second rounds of stimulus funding. So, of course, once that makes the news when people are going to be expecting to get theirs, there'll be a lot of phone scams pretending to be from the IRS or from the government agency, saying we just need to verify your bank account information so we can do your direct deposit, or we just need to verify your social or that kind of stuff.”
- “I'm just speculating here what they're going to be using, but with the vaccine there will be scam calls.targeting people about getting on the list. Or if there are any kind of reports out saying that there’s going to be a shortage or delay, then it might be, ‘Hey, we can get you it for less money, or get on the wait list, or get a priority ticket where you pay us X amount of dollars and you could get moved to the top of the line,’ or all different types of scams revolving around the vaccine.”
- “For text messages, do not click on any links, do not reply. Don't even type the word S-T-O-P. We used to tell people to type that, and that would supposedly stop the messages, definitely for legitimate companies. When you do it to a spammer, you're telling them there's a live person at the end of this number who responds to text messages. So, don't even do that.”
- “So the quick little thing I tell people, no matter what it is, whether it's an email, a text message, a phone call — validate or eliminate. That's all you got to do. If you can't validate it, eliminate it.”
Oh, and since we are on the topic of keeping our devices safe, it only makes sense to also revisit the expert advice we received when it comes to smartphone hygiene. While those virulent phone scammers plied their dirty tricks, T-Mobile Stories offered tips for keeping your device clean as well: mid-year polls showed that thanks to advice like the early March “Keep It Clean: How to Up Your Device Hygiene” PSA, more than twice as many people were regularly cleaning their phones compared to just prior to the pandemic.
Working Out How Best To Work — and Work Out — From Home
Going from the big ball drop in Times Square in the most epic of crowds to being asked by the CDC to keep a six-foot distance from anyone you meet was a monumental about-face in a short amount of time. That’s especially true for those of us who have spent their entire careers in busy offices or other indoor work environments five days a week.
This is why we pulled together a passel of work-from-home experts to help guide those of us feeling a little WTF about WFH. (Not to mention settling the very pandemic work-from-home question: "Pants or No Pants?")
While the first half of 2020 was spent experimenting on ways to make the work from home method actually work for us, many workplace experts say it’s time to focus on a new area of improvement.
"By 2025, a predicted 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely — an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels," T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert wrote in a year-end article. "I have become a believer in home/office hybrid work — something I didn’t see coming just a year ago. I think it all starts by establishing clear communication strategies, empowering employees to own their work processes, and letting them follow through and deliver. Technology can be the catalyst for this change, and it has been all year long."
According to Dr. Leonard Lang, founder of Beard Avenue Coaching, reports and surveys show that those fortunate enough to work from home would continue working remotely if given the choice. The catch is that working from home can also lead to trouble establishing work boundaries, a decrease in motivation and feelings of isolation.
“Make time for social touch points,” says Dr. Lang. “Something to make up for lack of informal time in person with breaks and pre- and post-meeting schmoozing and joking and catching up.”
Women’s leadership advocate and workplace expert Maxie McCoy, who has spent an entire decade working from home, gave us great tips for domesticated corporate success.
When we checked back in to see if she noticed any particular areas still giving employees trouble, she said it was creating boundaries that prevented one's home office from becoming a home that’s also always an office.
“Just because we're working from home, doesn't mean that being home should equal working,” says McCoy. “Boundaries are perhaps harder and even more important than ever. Close the laptop and put it out of site during a set hour. Sign out of work emails on your phone at a certain time each day. Make small choices that allow you to disconnect even if you haven't changed your surroundings."
Seems simple, but she says she’s had to reiterate it throughout 2020 in order to help employees make it a lasting healthy habit.
Speaking of healthy habits, at-home fitness became big business in 2020. With Peloton bikes getting purchased at a pace that would make your heart rate jealous, people were looking for ways to supplement their gym routines with the help of virtual classes and online trainers. (Hard to even remember it was only a year ago we were so worried about the Peloton lady!)
At the start of the pandemic and our new normals, T-Mobile staffers offered some of their favorite apps for at home fitness, plus a list of ways your smart phone can help you go outside and get your sweat on.
Mobile workforce professionals advised us to take advantage of the ability to take a two-minute jumping jacks break in between virtual meetings, or capitalize on the extra time gained by eliminating commutes with a pre-work workout.
Sure, we’d trained ourselves to keep training during the disruptions of 2020, but that doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily been training right. Josh Martensen, co-owner of the boutique gym Elevate Fit Life in Bellevue, WA, has been offering live virtual classes for clients and says the new work-from-home lifestyle gives people more time to fit in workouts, but with less guidance and an increased risk for injury.
“During a time like this, where consistent daily stress is as normal as rain in Seattle, we need to make sure we aren’t overdoing it,” explains Martensen. “If you’re stressed out, low on sleep, and haven’t consumed much water … you shouldn't go extra intense with your home workouts. You can still workout! Just go at a lower intensity than you normally would and focus on form and moving your body."
There can be a huge variety in our fitness styles, much like our work styles. When it comes to figuring out the best times to squeeze our wellness routine into our work routine, Emilie Aries, founder and CEO of Bossed Up, says that it’s all about respecting the differences in individual routines.
“One of my team members starts her workday early and loves finishing things up by 4pm. Another colleague is more like me: I make my morning time about personal improvement — exercise, meditation, a leisurely breakfast before plugging in at 9am to start work and often working until 6pm or 7pm,” says Aries. “Instead of fighting these different preferences, we play to our strengths."
Achieve Mobile Mindfulness
Practicing mobile mindfulness comes down to two important steps: staying organized and setting boundaries. For the first order of business, it’s key to keep your phone clutter-free. Unsubscribing from newsletters, getting rid of unused apps, and deleting old files are great ways of doing this. Cleansing our phones of unnecessary distractions can allow us to breathe that much needed sigh of relief.
After virtual decluttering, setting boundaries can be done in a variety of ways. Whether the priority is being productive at home or managing mental health, our devices should be used intentionally. We spoke with Dr. Julie L. Pike, licensed psychologist in Chapel Hill, N.C. about her thoughts on the best ways to communicate with others during times of stress.
“Communicate your structure around your device use,” Pike says. “It’s part of good communication to let people know what they can expect from us."
As phones continue to evolve, plenty of features and apps exist to allow us to keep a healthy relationship with our devices. Screen time monitoring and app lockouts are just a couple of ways that we can make it easier for ourselves to unplug.
Supercharge Your Hotspot
Wi-Fi issues at home used to mean running to the nearest coffee shop to set up shop to get your work done. But with indoor dining shut down in many places or deemed risky during a pandemic, a new backup to getting online access became imperative for many remote workers. It’s likely a reason for the sharp uptick on mobile hotspot usage on T-Mobile’s network earlier this year. So we set out to ensure everyone knew exactly how to set up their mobile smartphone’s hotspot for those moments you’re in a connection crisis.
Being able to use your device’s hotspot is something we knew we all needed. Being able to use the industry’s best standalone hotspot plans at a time most everyone needs more affordable, effective connectivity is what we knew we deserved. The holidays came a little early when T-Mobile announced it was launching the company’s first 5G mobile hotspot with the ability to connect up to 30 devices — so customers can take those Wi-Fi-rivaling Ultra Capacity speeds on the go for connected devices.
T-Mobile's President of Technology Neville Ray says these features are just another reason 2021 is looking bright as the Un-Carrier works to perform upgrades, aiming to cover 200 million people by the end of 2021.
And, of Course ... How to Avoid Zoom Gloom in 2021
We gave you all the tips from those who already had experience in remote work, but then we also gave you the tools. We offered up 14 slick T-Mobile virtual backgrounds to bring all the Magenta Pride and pizazz to any Zoom, Teams, WebEx or even Google Classroom call. Anything from the fun of T-Mobile Park to the savvy look of our Signature Stores, we aimed to help provide a change of scenery after a year when you felt like you had seen it all.
They say work hard, play harder. But we all know that there's more to winning this seemingly unending virtual work environment. We wanted to update our original video call etiquette report from April to today’s virtual reality. Jake Goldman, the founder of the remote-only digital agency 10up, who helped us with work-from-home strategies way back when, has some revised notes for 2021.
"10up has been a remote 'work from home' business since its founding, back in 2011. While we were fortunate to be ahead of the curve for 2020 — we didn’t have to figure out remote collaboration — it was still a very disruptive experience for so many on our team," he says now. "Remote work takes on a new dimension when you’re home all the time ... and so is your family."
Here are a few new perspectives from a company adapting for 2021, even after being remote since its inception:
- Step away from the desk ... and the camera. "While we still advocate 'cameras on' for team meetings — to capture emotion and encourage attentiveness — I’ve started encouraging people to step away for plain old audio-style phone calls during one-on-one check ins. When you’re staring at a screen a foot or two away from your face all day long (often with friends and family after work), fatigue can set in. Routine one-on-ones are a great opportunity for deeper relationship building, away from the tactical needs of a project meeting, but insofar as they’re infrequently 'time sensitive,' they can also easily be distracted by all of the notifications popping up on our screens. I’ve switched many of my one-on-one check ins to mobile phone calls, and walk around while I speak. It’s a chance to stretch, give our eyeballs a break and put distractions on our screens aside to focus on the person you’re speaking with. Not to mention the benefits of moving around throughout the day, and even getting outside when possible."
- Keep virtual team “fun” to a healthy minimum. "Out of the best of intentions, near the beginning of the pandemic, we really ramped up a social calendar of remote team activities, with volunteers leading sessions on everything from cooking family cuisine to meditation. As these events went on and attendance slowly dissipated, it felt increasingly obvious in hindsight that eight hours or so a day of remote collaboration and plenty of video sessions with your peers was ... more than enough. Getting on a Zoom call ... again ... with office peers, however well intended and not-business-related, just isn’t something that’s particularly mentally healthy or helpful, any more than trying to have parties at the office conference room several times a week is — at worst, it can deepen the feeling that you’re now living at work all the time. Keep those 'office parties' to a minimum, to make the few you choose to hold more meaningful, and if anything, give more people space from their 'virtual office' outside of working hours."
Now that we’ve worked out all the technical glitches that come with our new virtual communication platforms, it’s time to glow up! There are simple tips and tricks two-time Emmy award winning former local broadcast journalist — and T-Mobile Stories maven — Shawna Ryan had to learn to be camera ready when she was one-man-banding and shooting her own camera during her news reports. She’s seen your mistakes in 2020, and has some lifesaving tips for you moving forward.
Oh yeah, and one last thing: We do have a resolution after all. Those virtual happy hours? We'll be giving them up wholesale in 2021.
Happy New Year! And remember: #HindsightIs2020