Shabby background, sloppy attire, children barging in, pets screeching... There are many things that can go wrong in your videoconferencing call. So how do you retain some semblance of order without making any faux pas?
Have you ever hastily rearranged the room where you take video calls? Well, Reed Hastings did for a recent videoconference call! Later, when prodded about it by netizens, the Netflix chief responded on Twitter, saying, “A boat? An underground safe room? Perhaps in New Zealand?”, going on to admit that it was actually “a quiet former kids room” with a nice view hidden behind the camera.
Not just your backdrop, there are other factors as well in videoconferencing calls that can go wrong: children walking into the room, your pet making weird sounds and more. So how does one retain some semblance of order and master this territory of video calls without making any faux pas? For starters, opt for a well-maintained, neat and clean portion of the house. Nobody wants to see or hear family members and pets in the background. “Make sure there is flat and adequate white or yellow light where you are sitting. Adjust and test the camera angle before you start your video call,” suggests Yatan Ahluwalia, a Delhi-based corporate style and image consultant.
Disney has, in fact, introduced nine different backgrounds from nine beloved animated shows to spice up those mundane video sessions. You can take your pick from Webby’s Board from DuckTales, Mystery Shack from Gravity Falls!, a family room from The Proud Family and much more.
Singapore-based Sumedha Khoche, a mompreneur and founder of KinderPass, a web platform that brings together the principles of Montessori and a repertoire of scientific research on the early development of the child, says if calls have to be taken from a common lounge area or dining table, then one must use a different background and stay on mute unless speaking, “With kids around during the call, allow extra time for interruptions or set clear expectations with kids. For instance, the call will be for 45 minutes and that you will play with them afterwards.
Sometimes, kids are just curious—a quick introduction at the beginning of the call works well… usually, they get bored within two minutes and leave you to it. Since our team is geographically distributed, it is important to keep communication clear and the meeting duration for not more than 30 minutes,” she says.
An awkward home setup for a video call is still not that uncommon, but what happens if you aren’t dressed for it properly? In April-end, ABC reporter Will Reeve became an internet sensation after he appeared on air during the show Good Morning America wearing a formal shirt and suit, but no pants, with his shorts clearly showing due to the camera angle. The reporter only learnt about his error after people started sharing screengrabs of the segment on Twitter and Instagram. Closer home, last month a lawyer appeared in a vest for an online bail hearing via videoconferencing at the Rajasthan high court. Needless to say, he had to face the judge’s ire.
Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra seems to have found a solution. He recently took to Twitter, admitting that at times he wore a lungi under his shirt when getting into video calls with colleagues. He also posted a video of a retired professional who has invented a ‘Zoom Suit’, a quick-fix solution to dressing troubles for videoconferencing. An ‘instant’ suit, it has a single velcro to fasten up the back and a separate cuff attached to the collar to move one’s hands. “I’m going to ship this gentleman a lungi, so that he can complete his outfit by wearing it under his ‘instant suit’,” posted Mahindra.
The truth, however, is that with isolation has come a more relaxed attire. Let’s face it, most of us have been in our workout gear or trackpants for more than a month now. However, there is a time and place for everything. International author Dain Heer, who has written books on embodiment, healing, money and relationships, says, “Isolation isn’t an excuse to get sloppy. This is about honouring yourself. Psychologically, when you wear something nice, you are telling yourself that you matter. When you know you are the valuable product, you invite others to do the same. Your point of view creates your reality. When you get out of your workout clothes, you will feel more confident and people thereby treat you differently.”
For a professional look, it’s good to keep the colour palette neutral —white, grey, navy blue, black and pastel tones (pale blue, mint green, saffron, lemon)—for shirts and tops. Avoid prints except the occasional pinstripes. The ‘out-of-bed’ look isn’t an option, so ensure that the eyes don’t look puffy, your skin looks well-maintained, lips are buffed and teeth are clean. “Men should wear clean and well-ironed full-sleeve shirts. T-shirts or golf shirts are unacceptable. While you may not wear a tie, a business jacket will make you look both smarter and sharper.
Women should wear shirts or blouses that are plain and not printed. Collared shirts over V-necks and deep-cut necks are recommended. If you are wearing Indian clothes, a simple plain or chikan-embroidered kurta or subtle-printed sari are ideal. Avoid jewellery. Simple studs in the ears are sufficient,” suggests Ahluwalia.
Delhi-based Ritesh Malik, founder of co-working platform Innov8, suggests keeping the body language and gestures in control, be it during physical or video meetings. “Have your face video on, be on mute, but show your face… without constant face presence, the colleague gets distracted. Always nod, smile and be responsive. During the call, make minutes on the chat box and show your 100% presence,” he says, adding, “Being well-dressed, fresh and on time, rather 60 seconds earlier, leaves a long-lasting impression and shows respect for the time of your colleagues.”
Agrees Delhi-based entrepreneur Divya Chandra: “Besides looking professional, it also makes one feel good and sets the space and boundaries with the people they are advising and supporting for a professional atmosphere albeit virtually,” says Chandra, who provides guidance, insights and tools to women in distress, and has to travel to remote areas as part of her work.