If you have this in your background on a Zoom call, it could destroy your career

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Remote work is our future and ultimately our safest route until we get a vaccine for COVID-19 on the market. Several interviews and conference calls are orchestrated over Zoom, so what items in the background will convey intelligence, trustworthiness, and professionalism best?

Some answers may surprise you in this new study fielding over 1,500 participants whose opinions on what items spotted in a Zoom call can turn them off.

“Thankfully, Zoom has created an option that allows users to add a background photo to their video call. This way, people can hide distracting items in the background of the frame in order to prevent sidetracking co-workers from the work at hand.”

While this is a helpful feature, please keep the humorous background for your comedy shows, Zoom happy hours, or catch up sessions with family and friends. Not one company will take you seriously if you hold an interview with a Mcdonald’s play place as a background. It’s best to grow up, stick to simplicity, and save the jokes for your downtime. Let’s take a look at which backgrounds work best so you can wow everyone on your next Zoom call.

The A/B study

In order to deduce the most professional Zoom background participants were shown two employees, one male one female, in front of a variety of different backgrounds. The backgrounds each model was essentially cropped into included a room full of natural light, a room full of lush houseplants, a wall with art prominently displayed, a background displaying an impressive collection of novels on a bookcase, a dark, candle-lit space, and the last test shot was the models posing in front of a blank wall. All of the participants were asked the following about each model in a different background.

Did this particular background give the impression they were more trustworthy, professional, approachable, or intelligent? Here is what participants of the study decided based on the parameters of the experiment.

  • Models who were placed in front of a bevy of indoor plants and succulents as a background were viewed as the most trustworthy, intelligent, and approachable. Here is a bonus, working in green spaces helps facilitate productivity as well!
  • Employees that stage their Zoom meetings in a room with plenty of natural light are also perceived as more approachable, trustworthy, and intelligent. Folks that stage the call with candles also did well in the aforementioned categories, however, were deemed less professional than those who took interviews in rooms with more light.
  • Using a bookshelf as a backdrop can both help and harm you. Bookshelves often make the person appear more intelligent and professional but they lost points for approachability. Co-workers or interviewers could also be distracted attempting to see what you read and sometimes your book collection comes off pretentious or disingenuous, just be yourself in an interview.
  • Over 41% of participants admitted to using a blank wall as a background but experts advise against this, why? Models posing in the foreground of a blank wall were rated the lowest for all the qualities that make a great employee. Pinning up a nice looking tapestry or modern art can humanize you a bit and give the impression you’re cultured with other far-reaching interests outside of just being some corporate drone. Owning art and displaying it behind you on calls was deemed more impressive than having an impressive library since participants consistently rated models in front of a painting as more intelligent, trustworthy, and approachable.

Less is more

Don’t worry too much about including all of the things I mentioned to appear more professional on a conference call. You don’t want to clutter the space too much or come off as a dreaded “tryhard” strategically posing in front of books you never read to appear more intelligent. Imagine an interviewer asks you point-blank about that Noam Chomsky book collecting dust in your living room and you never read it, how embarrassing. When in doubt, clean it out according to a quote from this recent study.

“Overall, 71% of people had spent time adjusting the lighting before a work call to make themselves seem more presentable. More than half reported cleaning up their call area, as well as adding or removing certain items they deem unnecessary or to appear more professional-looking. 60% of respondents said they take time to adjust their webcam before a call to find a good angle of themselves and the room.”

If you’re worried about an upcoming interview, set up a mock interview with a friend with a few different backgrounds and ask them which one looks the most professional highlighting your best qualities to appear your most intelligent and business savvy self. It also wouldn’t hurt to sprinkle in some photos of family or prominently display some awards or accolades related to the field you’re attempting to break into. You got this!