What’s in your (video chat) background?

On Saturday, April 18, the world virtually gathered to thank healthcare workers at the Global Citizen One World: Together at Home event. While everyone was enjoying digital duet magic, I was marveling at the celebrity real estate on display. From John Legend’s EGOT awards room to Oprah’s pristine white office to J. Lo’s holiday light-smothered backyard to Jimmy Fallon’s treehouse basement, viewers were treated to a wide variety of real estate from the comfort of their couches. We got a glimpse of celebrity homes, good, big and quirky. In the Covid-19 reality, video streams from nearly any room in the house are commonplace, complete with low production values and the intimacy of seeing someone’s inner sanctum. 

For most of us, video chatting is not entirely new. Skype is nearly 17 years old and June 2020 will mark the 10th anniversary of FaceTime. But in the past decade as phones have gotten bigger and better, mobile has become the de facto medium for video catchups over computers. Screens are small and phones are held at arm’s length, capturing a limited area – literally only fitting your face. But taking personal and business calls from a laptop opens the aperture, showcasing the setting as much as the subject. 

We, along with the One World performers, have found ourselves showing off more of ourselves, our spaces and our lives. Some were set up for this video blitzkrieg while others have had to cobble together equipment and suitable spaces. The result are four main working area backgrounds we at əmaz have seen – celebrities and regular folk alike —  using while working at home:

  1. The bland-nothing-to-see-here background
  2. The somewhat-curated-library-bookshelf background
  3. The this-definitely-wasn’t-an-office-before-makeshift-office background
  4. The look-at-my-décor-skills-showoff background
  5. The bad-green-screen-I’m-hiding-something background

Are you one of the five backgrounds? It may have seemed crazy two months ago, but in the new video chat reality getting your home ready for primetime and breaking out of the rut of these background choices may require a bit of staging. Staging is real estate speak for presenting a lifestyle to potential buyers through furnishings, art, lighting and often some repairs. The basic rule is to make it nice, make it bright, and make it neutral. De-cluttering is usually the first step, followed by de-personalizing which allows buyers to see themselves in the space. 

To stay authentically connected during this time, you should apply the rules of staging with a pandemic twist for video chats. Yes, make it nice and make it bright. But making it neutral is, well, boring. And we all want a little less boring in our quarantine experience. 

ә*māz team test different backgrounds

Here are five rules for optimizing and staging your space to improve the video chat experience:

  1. Think about the message your space sends.
    • We live where we live and an overhaul won’t happen during a global pandemic. But be mindful of the message your space sends especially for business purposes. Your designer-decorated living room may make your friends ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ but it might seem flashy to your co-workers.
    • If your home office is also a home school, it is okay to let colleagues subtly know you may not be available for video chatting at all times. But when you are on camera, try to keep kids off business calls (if you can help it) so everyone stays focused.
    • Zoom backgrounds have a time and a place (e.g., happy hour, not a status meeting) so use them wisely.
  2. Stage what’s in view.
    • You’re not showing the whole room,  so if your space is hard to keep tidy or an open plan, pick an area with a wall fairly close behind you and only clean up what’s in frame. 
    • Put away anything you wouldn’t want your boss or Grandma to see. Drug paraphernalia, unmentionables and unmade beds are no no’s. 
    • Where you actually work may not be the best background for video. Working in your kitchen may be convenient, but it could be distracting if others walk behind you on a call. Test out different backgrounds in your home (or outside!) for different call types so you know where to go for calls for work and for play. 
  3. Personalization fosters connection so show a bit of yourself.
    • We can see what’s on your library bookshelves so show some personality with what and how you display items. Source coffee table books from your living room and situate on your library shelf. Display some books horizontally with a favorite photo framed on top of the stack.
    • If a neutral wall is the best place for you to take video calls, add something temporary like printable artwork from Etsy or holiday lights you have stuffed in your closet. Favorite quotes, movie posters, and destinations will lift your mood and let others get to know you. 
  4. Use this as a time to get organized.
    • De-cluttering the area in view limits distractions for those on your chat. Chances are it’ll make you feel better, too. 
    • Organizing with attractive and practical storage baskets or boxes will be a project enjoyed long after Covid-19, and retailers like Wayfair, Overstock and even Ikea are still shipping these smaller items. 
  5. You may not be in high-def but try for some production values.
    • Adjust camera height by putting your laptop on a box or stack of books so you’re not shot from below. Consider buying a new webcam that’s better than your laptop’s built in 720p camera, but you may have trouble finding one as retailers are selling out fast.
    • Add warm lighting to the room to neutralize the blue light from a computer screen. A table lamp behind your monitor can help, especially if a window behind you is very bright.
    • You may not have a studio-quality microphone but think about the audio experience including background noise, email notifications, echoes and feedback. When in doubt, use headphones with a mic so others don’t hear your notifications going off.

Time will tell if video chatting becomes de rigeur for work and play. Follow the five tips and you’ll be staged and ready for a great video chat experience in the meantime.

ә*māz team tests different backgrounds

Make Amazing!
—Angela

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