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The art of Skype set-dressing: how to video-call the office when in quarantine

Coronavirus or not, don’t let colleagues see the squalid reality of your home. An artfully placed pot plant or stack of books may help

It’s your third day working from home under quarantine, and it’s going really well. Admittedly you haven’t made it out for that brisk constitutional walk yet, but you’ll get round to it at some stage. The advice you read about getting up at your normal time sounded sensible, but you’ve been tired lately so getting up at 11.30 is probably fine, right? And it’s actually good for your productivity, personally, to watch a couple of hours of rolling coronavirus news as a lunchtime break. Anyway, the point is that you’re nailing this, and feeling confident that your first office e-meeting this afternoon is going to be a similar success story. You’re actually looking forward to it, gleeful at the prospect of no commute and being able to play games on your phone just off camera. What could go wrong?

Plenty. As soon as the little green light goes on, you will have effectively invited your nosy colleagues to view a snapshot of your home, to have a snoop through the looking glass and draw whatever conclusions they like about your private life. It is time to learn an art that all layabout freelancers know in their bones: Skype set-dressing.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck here. You want your background to be neutral enough that it doesn’t reveal to your co-workers the squalid reality of your living circumstances, but not so neutral as to seem like you’re hiding something. Maybe your workplace will be using Zoom instead of Skype, and you’ve noticed there’s a handy feature that will replace your real background with a green screen, like you’re shooting stunts for a very boring, office-based action film, and so you think that none of this will be a problem. This is a trap. I know someone who regularly uses Zoom for meetings with her colleagues, and the one guy who uses the green screen is a pariah: troubling, suspect. Don’t let this be you.

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