There are many perks to remote working. But looking like a ghost on Zoom while presenting in front of an important client isn’t something you signed up for. So, how can you present yourself professionally on video while working remotely?
Whether you’re working from an office in your home or hotspotting in from a coffee shop, we’ve got the tips you can use to take your on-camera game to the next level.
Remote jobs are here to stay
As lockdowns ease across the world, businesses that went remote out of necessity are now weighing the options: bring everyone back to the traditional office, offer remote work full-time, or use a hybrid model? Meanwhile, fully remote employees across the globe who got a taste of remote work are making their voices heard. Remote work should never be off the table.
Let’s do a quick professional remote employees survey roundup:
- 86% of tech professionals were opposed to going back to the office full-time (Hackajob)
- 38% of remote employees save at least $5,000 a year by working remotely (FlexJobs)
- 39% of remote workers would consider leaving their jobs if their bosses weren’t flexible about being able to work remotely (Bloomberg)
Big tech brands have taken notice. Facebook recently announced to its 60,000 employees that it will expand remote-work eligibility to all levels of the company (with full-time remote work and a hybrid model on the table).
Despite the rise in remote work opportunities, a recent Owl Labs study had 57% of respondents saying that the video and audio quality of video conferencing is a challenge.
Which is why we put this article together…
Remote work from the jump
Here at Recharge, we’ve been a remote work team from the start. While many companies were forced to switch to working remotely when the pandemic hit, Recharge had been a distributed team from our inception. We’re very proud of our ability to work remotely and consider this a foundational part of our company. We’ve got employees scattered across the world in every time zone.
To speak from my own experience, I’ve never met any of my Recharge team members in person (the pandemic obviously halted our department and annual company retreats). Despite that, I can confidently say I’ve never worked more effectively, productively, or happily than I have here during my time here at Recharge.
We’re always striving to improve the way we work as a distributed team—but we feel like we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, like how to plan a virtual retreat or how to hire and onboard remote workers. So when it comes to working as a company of remote employees, we feel like we’ve got some wisdom to share.
Alright, enough of the self promotion (unless you’re on the job search and interested in helping us build the future of commerce—then by all means please apply to our open remote jobs and self promote!). Let’s get to looking better on video.
Upping your video game
We’re going to cover a bunch of options here for remote workers to improve the quality of their video picture. Some are going to be more expensive. Some are going to be more practical and common sense. Regardless, we’re going to cover them all—whether you’re working in a coworking space, a designed room of your house, or always scrambling to find a surface to place your laptop on in your cramped apartment. No matter the budget or your circumstance, let’s take your remote work video to the next level.
First, I’ll share my setup. Full transparency: My setup is a little extra. Content creation is my passion, so I’m always looking for ways to improve the look and quality of my remote job. Let’s do some comparison—here’s a look at my normal webcam versus my more professional setup:
The more washed out image is from my computer’s internal webcam. Depending on the time of day, that camera can look completely blown out as if I’m Casper The Friendly Remote Work Ghost. I’m not kidding, sometimes I would jump on a Zoom meeting and it would look like I was joining my fellow remote employees from the surface of the sun.
So, I wanted to up my video game. My main thinking was, if I’m going to be working remotely and video conferencing on the regular, investing in a webcam can go a long way to giving a higher quality presence. And without sounding like I’m boasting, it’s something everyone notices and comments positively on. For me, it was worth the couple hundred bucks it took to get a more professional setup.
If you’d like the same video quality as I do, my particular setup involves using a digital camera (a Panasonic G7 in place of a webcam). I do this by using an Elgato Cam Link 4K as well as an HDMI to micro HDMI cable to convince my mac to treat the camera like it’s a webcam.
Brighten up your life
The main thing to focus on to improve any video quality is lighting. For example, we all have that coworker who’s video conferenced in from what looks to be a dimly lit subterranean cave. Don’t be that spelunking remote worker.
The easiest way to brighten up your setup is looking for natural light from wherever you’re working your remote job. That could mean sitting near the closest window at your coworking space or repositioning your home office desk to a brighter corner of the room.
If your space has a window, depending on how much light your room gets and how late into the day your meetings go, you may need to look at buying a lamp or designated light to brighten up your face when your room gets dark.
Whatever light you purchase, make sure you’re diffusing the brightness so that your face doesn’t get washed out entirely on camera. You can achieve this with a lampshade, investing in a dimmer or, if that still doesn’t do the trick, draping a white t-shirt over the shade can soften the harshness as well.
I personally use a designated desk light, the Elgato Key Light Air. My favourite feature is that the light comes with its own computer and smartphone based app that allows you to adjust the brightness and color temperature on the fly. With designated fill lights, I recommend bouncing them off walls if the brightness intensity is a little too high. Just position the light to face the nearest wall to soften that glow and make you look your best.
Look good, sound good
Just a quick moment here to mention that it’s no use looking good in a meeting if you sound like you’re working remotely from a wind tunnel or active construction site. Picking up an external microphone is a great investment for any remote job.
The microphone technology that comes standard in computers is designed to pick up everything around it. That means the whir of your computer fan, your mouse moving across your desk, the car alarm outside—really any ambient noise around you that mic is going to pick up.
Whether you’re using a headset equipped with a microphone or a designated external microphone, you can’t go wrong with looking to improve the sound quality of your voice.
For my personal setup, I use an Elgato Wave:3 equipped with a pop filter. Previously I used a Blue Yeti microphone, but have really enjoyed the switch to the Wave:3, which picks up less ambient noise and while giving my voice a rich, full sound.
Don’t neglect your background
Having the ability to customize your background is a luxury, but if you can, don’t neglect it! Wearing a new outfit, a new pair of shoes, or a snazzy new pair of glasses used to be a way you could show off your style at work. The new way to flex your style is with your background. Obviously, if you don’t have a designated space for remote work, this won’t necessarily apply to you. But if it does, let’s talk video background etiquette.
First, clutter is a big no no. Whoever you’re having a video conference with, you don’t want them to be distracted by the absolute state of shambles your room or office is in. If you work remotely from your bedroom, make sure your bed is made and you’ve hidden your dirty clothes in the closet off camera.
Intentional is a keyword to remember here. To have a professional-looking background, there should be thought put into what goes into frame. In my setup, I’ve displayed my favourite books on the easiest-to-read shelf next to me. They are a great conversation starter when meeting new employees or new clients who easily can spot a favourite and break the ice.
I’ve also got a lot of greenery in my remote work setup. Having some plant life behind and around you is a great way to add layers or texture to your video shot that add depth without feeling messy. There is a couch directly behind my chair in my video, but I’ve managed to hide it with some strategically placed plants (shouts to my overzealous ZZ “Zelda” plant for barely being contained to their pot).
You might also be surprised by how many green thumbs work remotely these days, and having a few in frame can easily be another great ice breaker. And listen, if every plant you’ve touched has ended up wilted in the compost, there is no shame in using some fake plants. It’s truly a joy to sit down to work and feel like you’re in your own personal office jungle. I’ve felt it’s really helped my mental health, especially in the winter months.
Some other example ideas for your background as great conversation starters:
- A whiteboard with a daily or favorite quote
- Memorabilia from your favorite sports team
- A picture of your pet (there isn’t a week that goes by that a cat or dog doesn’t make a guest appearance on Zoom here at Recharge)
Anything that can spark up a conversation with some commonality is your key to success here.
And if you’re looking to go that little bit extra, purchasing some smartphone-controlled light strips or bulbs can really set a vibe. Being able to pay with colours in your background or quickly dim your lights with a few taps of your phone is a very handy upgrade.
Embrace your remote job
Whether you’ve started the job search for remote work companies or you’re well into your remote career, we hope this article has given you some practical tips you can use to come across more professional on video. Whether it’s a few tweaks to your home office layout, investing in some better gear and technology, or being more intentional with your background, you can make your home office setup more functional and inviting. None of this content was sponsored; these are just products that I personally use and appreciate.
One last note: If you’re looking for a remote job, consider that during the interview, your video presence is like an extension of your resume. Is the hiring manager more likely to hire the person they can barely see, or the person who just so happens to have one of their favorite books on their shelf? And, like we mentioned earlier, we have several full-time roles open if you’re looking for remote work with talented teammates all over the world.