Is Your Zoom Room Filled with TMI?

Zoom is now part of our lives, with it comes a distinct form of etiquette.

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Zoom room has become a standard reference during the stay at home mandates throughout the country. Thankfully the interface was already in place to create an almost seamless transition from face to face interactions to on-screen communications.

I, for one, am for it. I enjoy the simplicity of turning on my device and logging in.  Aside from the lack of actual human contact, the ability to have multiple people engaged simultaneously on a call is pretty amazing.

Conducting casting sessions, taking yoga classes, attending meetings, all within the comfort of my home, has made the 95% solo time more than tolerable, dare I say, enjoyable? I know many have had dance parties, cocktail hour get-togethers, festive gatherings, and unfortunately, somber events.

Zoom is now part of our lives, with it comes a distinct form of etiquette.

Because of this, our homes’ interiors have stepped out of the shadows of anonymity and into the limelight, for our colleagues and others to see. It takes but a moment’s glance to judge and be judged. Inequality of status amongst coworkers was once shielded from such scrutiny by their cubicles’ sameness. Now their environments are open targets for assessment. Our tastes, habits, and wealth or lack of once a private concern are on display.

Yet, to balance out the contrasts, a bit of smoke and mirrors can change a one-room studio into a creative space.

To project the same impression we would at an in-person business meeting, we need to up our game. Remembering that although we are alone on the call, we are not alone; unless our video is muted, everyone can see us.

If I were to invite people into my home, I would clean it up. I wouldn’t have a stack of dirty dishes in the sink, piles of laundry or clothes on the floor, an unmade bed, a filthy bathroom, etc. The same holds for our Zoom rooms. Simply closing a door or shifting the camera angle may hide those things from view.

With the diversity in which Zoom is used, we can create locations within our space to accentuate certain moods. Each backdrop of your home communicates a different message and vibe of your conversations.

If you are Zooming with intimate friends that know you and your home, you can be more relaxed on your sofa or even in your bedroom.

If you are with family, the kitchen may be the perfect background while cooking or sharing a toast.

But, if we are on a professional call, it is prudent to remember we are in our home, with a camera that sees us and everything behind and around us.

For a business call, a neutral background is useful. If those on the call are not close enough to have been invited to your home, you are better to refrain from showing them too much. There is such a thing as TMI when it comes to Zoom; trashy artwork, messy bookshelves, or a view into the rest of your home can distract the others on the call and may color their view of your character if you are not a stellar housekeeper. 

Less is more when it comes to the background. Be aware of where you sit: that your workspace looks tidy relative to what you are working on, that a plant doesn’t appear to be growing from your head or that you can peer into your bathroom. Shut the door if you can.

Aside from our surroundings, the other element of zooming etiquette is movement. Depending on the number of participants on a call, others see us within the frame as a thumbnail of varying sizes. Regardless of the size, any active movement can be distracting, especially when others are speaking.

One of the funniest stories shared with me by a friend was a call she was on with 70 others.

One woman, as were most of the participants, framed from mid-torso up. She was continuously moving up and down. Her sound was muted, as is customary, but with an ear to ear grin, the rhythmic bouncing continued. Oblivious that others could see her, she was in her person orb of pleasure.

Laughing as my friend recalled the story, she said it was beginning to get uncomfortable for those on the call as this woman continued her very intent rocking motion.

After some time, to the anticipation of all, it was revealed the woman was bouncing on an exercise ball, multitasking by getting in her workout. This could be perfectly fine in a casual call, but remove the speculation and tip the camera so people can see what you are doing. In a professional call, sit in a chair and give it your full attention.

This brings me to the last point; noise. When the meeting starts, mute yourself unless you are speaking. Period. And disable your video if you are moving around or in and out of frame.

Our Zoom room is now an extension of our persona. Unlike Instagram that can be curated and photoshopped, this is a slice of reality in real-time. When we have distractions of movements, audio, and objects taking our attention away from what is being said, the meeting’s effectiveness decreases. Just like the fly on Mike Pence during the debate, our focus becomes diluted.

The inside view of how you choose to present yourself is within your absolute control. Discard the TMI by removing unconscious distractions, and you are well on your road to successful online communications.

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