“Zoom, just one look and then my heart went boom” went the song and I get that every time I log onto any cloud-based video communications platform.
From work conferences to drunken catch-ups with friends, we are currently living our lives through the lenses of Zoom, Teams, Hangouts as we socially distance… and I am faced with the vision of my tear troughs deepening further with each meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great way to communicate with colleagues, family and friends during the Covid19 pandemic and is enabling millions of people to stay safe by working from home. But I have learned the hard way that there are aesthetical aspects to consider before ‘joining with camera.’ Here are some of my tips…
Be ready for your close up
The cameras can be a trifle unforgiving so make sure you apply a little light foundation, a sweep of blush and elevate your laptop so the camera is not peering up at your double chin.
The ‘retouch’ function on Zoom helps a little but it’s not a miracle worker. I guess that’s how all the TV folk felt when we went HD. Take time to throw on a bit of extra slap.
Beware of being too close to the camera too. I logged onto a meeting on my mobile phone, blissfully unaware that my colleagues could see right up my nose.
Stage manage your backdrop
You may say that your home background doesn’t matter but if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time ogling colleagues’ interior décor during work meetings – cooing over Connie’s conservatory, envying Emily’s extension and recoiling at Will’s garish wallpaper.
My laptop is precariously balanced on an A-Z of Perennials and angled with my bookcase behind, to give me a knowledgeable aura. But due to the position of my desk, viewers get a full view of the kitchen behind me so I have to ensure the washing basket and dirty dishes are cleared before the morning work catch-up at 9.am. This is not normal practice in our house.
Try a change of scene
Some colleagues are choosing to display virtual backgrounds which hide a multitude of sins – from dirty laundry to lockdown hair disasters. One team member has had a go with the clippers resulting in a Kim Jong-Un-style ‘do’ and has been hiding behind a Jaws green screen ever since. (Not that I can talk. I had a go myself with the kitchen scissors resulting in a Covid cringe fringe).
I have taken to experimenting with fun backgrounds to surprise my colleagues and keep them on their toes – which is brilliant for those mornings when I haven’t got round to doing the pots. I change it daily according to what mood I’m in – from a Tiger King theme and to a tropical beach bar for my team away day. It’s amazing what you’ll find on Google.
Create a sanctified space
If you can, try to create a special workspace in your home. Some of you will be lucky enough to have your own office or a desk where you can set up a work station. But if like me, and you’re short on space, try to establish a special area with all your office comforts and places to keep your stationary and filing etc.
Of course, that’s easier said than done if you live in a three-bed semi. I share my sanctified space with a Black and Decker power drill, an Airfix Spitfire model, a headless Barbie and bowls of homemade slime.
Keep it from the family
Another drawback to setting up an office in the kitchen is family interruptions. The moment I join a video meeting, my family seem to all come crashing in.
My other half shuffles in half-asleep in his pants having a good scratch of his undercarriage or he decides to partake in some DIY and starts hammering away with builder’s bum in full view. And if embarrassing mum in front of the execs was an Olympic sport, my kids would take gold every time.
There was the time my son belched loudly while I was taking part in an online restorative circle and another when he burst through the door with his sister in a headlock and they continued to embark in a pub-style brawl over the table right in front of the camera.
And when I embarked in an online life drawing class in an attempt to get creative, my elderly mother shuffled in, took a good look at the screen and remarked: “nothing to get excited about…”
But what other choice is there? If I move into the lounge, my furloughed partner can be found binge-watching The InBetweeners – that only leaves the bedroom or the bathroom – neither being ideal workspaces. So the kitchen table it is complete with the hungry hordes barging in to raid the fridge.
I think people secretly like it. The public loved the clip of Professor Robert Kelly being interviewed on BBC News when his baby burst through the door. And I get a sudden feeling of glee when I glimpse people’s other halves bring them a cuppa during video calls.
But if it’s an important meeting, I suggest you brief your family beforehand. Send them out on an errand or barricade yourself in the en suite with some old planks of wood.
Talk to the animals
How exciting is it when your team members’ furry friends make an appearance? We’ve had a menagerie of chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits and hounds joining our Friday morning catch-up. And one of the directors gave a rousing speech completely unaware his cat’s tail was waving about at the bottom of his screen.
Of course, you can always switch your camera off when you join a virtual meeting but you run the risk of colleagues thinking you’ve got a black eye and a visit from Social Services.
But it’s a viable option if you’ve not had time to get dressed. I confess to recently having my PDR in my PJs. I was expecting an old fashioned phone call so I panicked when my manager’s face appeared on Skype and feigned technical buffoonery to avoid being seen in my Hello Kitty onesie.
Let it all hang out
It’s certainly funny times we are living in as we play out our own reality TV shows to avoid this deadly virus.
I’m not knocking virtual communication. It has enabled us to work from home and keep in touch daily and I count myself lucky to able to do that and still earn a crust when others have not been so fortunate.
Plus, you have to admit, it’s a fascinating glimpse into co-workers’ home lives. Just be mindful of having your washing line in view – you don’t want your execs to get an eyeful of your undies, as one colleague find out during a meeting when a member commented “nice bra.”