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Why Appearance in Business Is Everything, Even in Remote Work




After 20 years, I am finally going to tell you the truth: When I first started as a freelancer, I worked from home. I did not have an office, but that’s not the impression I wanted to give potential clients. Working from home 20 years ago was certainly not viewed as favorably as it is now. I feared being stigmatized as unprofessional if they knew I worked from a home office.

Fortunately, the clients I worked with were always happy to meet at their offices. Once we started working together and my work spoke for itself, then I could ease into admitting that I actually worked 100% from home.

Appearances back then were everything, and I’ve slowly come to notice that things haven’t changed much over the years. Sure, working from home is now completely acceptable. No one bats an eye when I say I work from home, and I absolutely love that. But, instead of being judged on just the concept of working from home, people judge on what’s happening in the background of your video calls.

I have worked with some absolutely amazing people whose backgrounds have been a mess, and the overall presentation of themselves isn’t corporate attire but a T-shirt and sweats. I myself have had this issue a time or two when I was not able to work from my home office. I tried to find a good place, but sometimes that’s difficult.

Of course, we can’t rule out some of the more crazy scenarios that have distracted us from work, and that’s what should really matter. I once had an interview with a designer that was working from home. Her camera faced out into her living room where her two small children were playing. They were adorable, and their antics made for a fun time — until they started throwing balls at the camera and their mom didn’t say anything. That made work impossible. The sound cut out. There were loud bangs. The camera was shaking everywhere.

We had to cut the meeting short, but I worked with the designer later on how to create a virtual meeting environment that allowed work to be done while her home life still went on around her. If you find yourself struggling with work or converting new clients, it might be time to look at what is going on behind the camera, behind you! Here are a few tips on how to create a good background for your next meeting.

Related: 5 Keys to Unlock Your Ideal Work-From-Home Fairytale

1. Choose a blank wall

Don’t skip on using a blank wall! You might not think that a plain, simple wall can make much of an impact in your video call, but it sure can. A white wall with minimal accents will give your video call an upscale, professional look that’s perfect for presentations and team meetings. Remember, you just need a small blank space for the camera, so you can move some things out of the way without feeling as though you need to clear the entire wall.

2. The right lighting will make all the difference

Lighting plays a big role in how your video call looks. If you need to distract from your background, use lighting to put more of the focus on you rather than on what’s happening behind you. Watch the reverse too; maybe your camera is facing a window, so you just appear as a shadow. Try to move away so that the camera can focus on you.

3. Find a distraction-free space

I’m not talking about turning off screens here; what I’m talking about is trying to find some sort of neutral background, if possible, that does not have a lot of stuff in it. Think of a solid-colored wall or facing away from a window that looks out on a busy street. If your workspace doesn’t allow for this, make your own background. You can always hang up a sheet to cover up clutter.

Related: 7 Ways to Perfect Your Remote Workspace

4. Be upfront and honest

In the end, just be honest. If you’re moving, let people know that’s why there are boxes everywhere. If your living situation doesn’t allow for a clean background, let people know — you can always just apologize for the background and tell people that you are aware of it, but that you are unable to change it. Remember that designer I mentioned at the start of this article? I was honest with her. I let her know that her current situation was not conducive to work, and I asked if she would rather reschedule. She let me know she was not planning on the kids being home with her, and that she felt stressed. We worked together, had another meeting and everything went great.

While trying to put your best foot forward with your background is always best practice, it’s okay if you aren’t able to focus on that. Just be upfront about everything, establish open communication and let your work speak for itself.

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