How do you Zoom? What your virtual background says about you

Tracy Forsyth’s ‘Atomic Red’ background

TBI’s favourite corporate wellness coach Tracy Forysth discusses Zoom calls, contrasting colours and visually interesting backgrounds – and explores why it matters in our online world.

I’ve been getting a lot of positive comments about my background (above) when I’m in online meetings. Most people remark on the bold red colour (it’s called Atomic Red, in case anyone’s interested). A couple of people have said it looks like something out of 50 Shades Of Grey, which is not really what was intended…

Anyway, it’s led to lots of discussions about Zoom backgrounds and for me to ponder: do our online meeting backgrounds matter and, if so, why?

Since the pandemic hit, pretty much 99.9% of my work (career coaching, mentoring, advising boards and even delivering all my Wellbeing in the Workplace workshops) have been on Zoom. And, I think because of my TV director background, I can’t help thinking of the zoom rectangles as a camera frame with us humans placed artfully (or not) in the middle.

For me, it’s been natural to want to create an image that is visually interesting and one where I am framed well and in a good light. I want to show up and be noticed in a sea of little squares. I want people to be able to see my full expression rather than just the top half of my face. I want people to be able to see me rather than my silhouette against a bright window. So if you care about this in the way I do, here are some thoughts:

  • If the ‘new normal’ means we will be having many more online meetings then I think it’s worth thinking about your background in the same way you might have thought about what you wear to work. You probably wouldn’t show up to work in a crumpled outfit, so I’d tend to put away the ironing board and pile of laundry if it were going to appear on camera.
  • As the dark days of winter beckon (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), it might be worth investing in a ring light to make sure your face is visible. I have a ring light and one of those Seasonal Affective Disorder lights. Sometimes it’s like the Blackpool Illuminations but at least people can see me!
  • Your background is an opportunity to showcase what you care about – for me, I love colour, culture, diversity. The pictures I have up are from Syria, Nigeria from my childhood and also a lot are of dogs as I am that crazy dog lady. Having things in the background that are relevant to your job can be a visual way of expressing your values non-verbally. Think about how you can make your background representative of you – an extension of you.
  • In terms of colour, I like bold reds, oranges and yellows. Colours that are vibrant and striking – I like how they make me feel and I like the impact they give. If I’ve got to sit here all day on zoom, then I want to be in surroundings that energise me. Plus, I can see myself in the little square on screen. I want to like what I see. And if you are worried about using strong colour, remember you can always paint over it. It’s like having a bad haircut – it does grow back.

Finally, just a word about what you wear. Someone was telling me that they had a zoom call with a blonde person wearing beige in a magnolia room. On zoom they just disappeared, they were like a disembodied voice. If you want to stand out – and don’t we all, really (no? Just me?) – then wear a contrasting colour!

I would love to know your thoughts. Is this just me or do you have opinions on your virtual background. Let me know!

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