Your Zoom background may not make you look as professional as you think


Of six virtual workspaces, guess which one ranked the highest for professionalism. Hint: Think scholarly.

Image: iStock/InsideCreativeHouse

In recent months, organizations around the globe have adopted remote work policies. During this time, video conferences have replaced traditional in-person meetings for many. To create a more professional background in lieu of a traditional workspace, many individuals are using virtual backgrounds on video calls. Needless to say, not all backgrounds will invoke the same level of perceived professionalism. A new survey was designed to understand the impact various standard virtual backgrounds have on one’s perceived intelligence, professionalism, and more.

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“2020 has changed the way we work and communicate professionally—our findings illustrate the newfound importance of how we are perceived virtually through things as simple as our backgrounds in a video call. Our data illustrates an evolving form of virtual workplace etiquette that should be kept in mind as we navigate and adapt to these new changes,” said Nelson James, president of Signs.com, via email.

Signs.com surveyed more than 1,500 respondents to better understand the impact of one’s video conferencing background. The survey specifically assessed how a particular backdrop affected the perceived approachability, trustworthiness, intelligence, and professionalism of a virtual conference attendee using a series of A/B photo tests.

During these tests, respondents were shown a series of photos of a male and female model posed identically in front of various background images. The tests used six virtual background images in total including one blank background. These backgrounds included: A Bookshelf, a darkly lit room with a series of candles, a brightly lit living room, shelves with numerous leafy plants, pieces of artwork.

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The respondents rated the intelligence, trustworthiness, approachability, and professionalism of the virtual conference attendee in each setting using a five-point scale.

Overall, the male model scored lower on every perceived trait than the female model. Although, the authors of the report speculate that other variables such as her glasses, clothing, and facial expression could have impacted the results.

The woman positioned in front of the plants received the highest perceived intelligence, approachability, and trustworthiness. However, individuals seated in front of the plants were perceived only slightly less professional than models positioned in front of the bookshelf.

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The female with the bookshelf background received the highest professionalism ranking. Interestingly, individuals positioned in front of a blank wall were rated as more approachable than models with the bookshelf virtual background.

Compared to individuals seated in front of the blank wall, models positioned in front of the candles were more likely to be perceived as trustworthy and approachable, although the candles backdrop ranked second to last in perceived professionalism (ahead of only the blank wall).

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