Monday, January 29, 2024

I don't care what my Zoom background looks like, but should I?


(NOTE: Since I wrote this post a few weeks ago, I've taken to coming into the office every day and not working from home at all. I'm sure there will be days when I'll still need to work from home, but who knew I would ever make this kind of switch? I just personally find that I focus better when I'm in the office. Anyway, let's get on with it...)

The headline today would be more accurate if it read, "I don't care what my Teams background looks like, but should I?" At my company we use Microsoft Teams rather than the more popularly known Zoom platform for video conferencing, but it felt like "Zoom" might connect better with potential readers who don't know what "Teams" is.

Anyway, the photo above is what you're going to get if you're on a Teams meeting with me on the occasions when I work from home. I'm sitting in my upstairs office, and you can clearly see some of the stuff I've hung on the wall, my folding closet doors, and a glimpse over my shoulder of one of the two bookshelves in the room.

There's nothing there particularly distracting or embarrassing, as far as I'm concerned. I know a lot of people like to blur their background when they're in a remote work meeting, while others use CGI-like pre-fab backgrounds that either show the company's logo or place them in a fake room in some exotic location.

True story: When I worked at Goodyear, one of my colleagues used a built-in Teams background that made it look to me like she in a nice urban hotel room. The first time I saw it, I figured she was in Brussels or Luxembourg, two places where Goodyear has offices.

When her background stayed the same meeting after meeting over the course of a few weeks, I finally said to her, "I can't believe how long you've been in Europe. This must be quite a business trip!" To which she replied, "What? No, I'm at home. This is a fake background."

Oops. I had no idea, partly because she tended to keep her head very still during meetings. When someone with the artificial background feature turned on moves, you can usually tell the background isn't real by the way it (or their head) distorts.

I'm very open when it comes to sharing details of my personal/home life with co-workers, but I get that others might want to maintain a distinct boundary between the two. They don't necessarily want me to see their living room in the background during a meeting, and that's just fine.

But, conversely, is it any problem for them to see my home office in all its cluttered glory? Like that signed portrait of Sting reflecting the room light and going out of frame on the left side of the picture? I'll tell you about it if you're interested, but my real concern is that it isn't in any way distracting or inappropriate for a work meeting.

I don't think it is, but I'm open to other thoughts.

Here's a promise, though: If for any reason my laptop ever ends up in the bathroom with me, you will never know. As far you'll be concerned, judging from the background, I'll be on a Hawaiian beach.

Even I have my limits.

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