Prior to 2020, planning your home office decor wasn’t especially complicated. Your home is your home, after all, and your office is still part of your personal living space. Choosing appropriate decor simply meant optimizing your office for comfort and productivity.
The rapid rise of video conferencing has changed that dynamic. In a December 2020 survey from Pew Research, 81% of people who work from home said that they use video calling or online conferencing services at least some of the time. When you work from home, you regularly invite clients and coworkers into your living space. If your home office doesn’t look professional, your professional life can suffer.
Over the past year, we’ve learned which home office decor tips work well in the new landscape. If you’re struggling to get your bearings, these tips should help you get started.
Curate your home office decor to match your audience’s expectations.
When you’re trying to communicate effectively, you need to understand your audience. Your goal is to “be professional,” but in virtual meetings, the definition of professionalism can vary considerably.
If you’re only interacting with coworkers, a few pieces of sports memorabilia or a family photo probably won’t affect your interactions in any meaningful way. However, if you’re in sales or customer service, those personal effects can create unnecessary distractions. Some basic tips to keep in mind:
- Avoid cluttering your background. Every item draws your viewer’s attention, so stay organized. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, clutter sends the message that you don’t care about details or that you aren’t prioritizing the meeting.
- Remove or cover any items with political, athletic, or religious associations. These types of items aren’t always problematic, but they can also send a confusing message. Even if something seems innocuous to you—for instance, a Banksy print in the background or a Bible on your desk—your audience might jump to conclusions.
- Look carefully at your bookshelves. Viewers may assume that you’re endorsing the books by displaying them or they may make judgments about your literary preferences. That might be unfair, but it’s still a major consideration. Choose titles that are simple and apolitical (unless doing otherwise would help you make a better connection).
- Don’t leave walls completely blank. While minimalist home office decor can work well, blank walls can look cold and lifeless. A houseplant or a piece of artwork can add some warmth.
Ultimately, you’ll need to think about every home office decor choice from your audience’s perspective. I can’t emphasize that point enough: People naturally let their eyes wander, and they’ll look closely at any items on display.
If you’re trying to make a sale, a framed photo of the Chicago Cubs might irritate a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan—or, more likely, it could lead your discussion away from the products or services you’re trying to sell. If you’re talking to customers, a board game on your office shelf might indicate to them (however unfairly) that you’d rather be playing Yahtzee than addressing their concerns. Remember, every item tells a story, and people will make subconscious judgments. Be aware of the story you’re creating.
With that said, personal items can also start conversations and help you build a rapport with your viewer, but you’ll want to think carefully about them before bringing them into the conversation. Your walls are in your house, but when you’re taking a meeting, you’re curating them for other people.
Turn on your webcam and look closely at every item around you; what draws your eye, and what experience are you trying to create for the viewer? Is everything in the picture something that you want to showcase?
Location is an important part of your home office decor.
No matter how carefully you curate your backgrounds, you may be wasting your efforts if you set up your home office in the wrong location.
In March 2017, political science professor Robert Kelly went viral when his children made an unexpected appearance during an interview with BBC World News. That was four years before the pandemic, and over the past year, we’ve seen countless other examples of “visitors” derailing interviews, company meetings, and virtual classrooms.
The takeaway: Wherever possible, choose a location with minimal foot traffic. Make sure your webcam is pointed away from doors, closets, or bathrooms, and if you can’t stage your office away from doors, make sure those doors remain closed during your meetings. Avoid setting up shop in a bedroom or kitchen, and if you don’t have any other options, point your webcam towards a wall.
Home office lighting can have an enormous impact on your video calls.
Your lighting is part of your home office decor, and you don’t need an expensive lighting rig to get a professional look. Once again, you’ll want to open your webcam and preview your video before connecting.
Using Natural Light In Video Calls
Natural lighting can be excellent, but it’s also tricky; if you start a video call in the late afternoon, you might literally disappear as the sun changes position.
If possible, set up your home office in a room with north-facing windows. Artists love north-facing light for a reason: The lighting is never excessively bright, and it’s mostly consistent from the mid-morning to the late afternoon. Make sure you’re facing the window—otherwise, you’ll become a silhouette, and that’s probably not the right effect for a business meeting.
Using Artificial Lights In Video Calls
For more consistent lighting, invest in an LED panel light or a ring light. Don’t face the lights directly at you. Your goal is indirect, soft lighting, without any distracting hot spots. Webcams adjust the image after focusing on the brightest part of the picture, but a sufficient amount of indirect light should give you a consistent, professional image.
If your home office has natural light sources, you may need to adjust your artificial lights. Do that before connecting to the meeting—even if your lighting is sub-par, you shouldn’t pause the conversation to make adjustments.
“Perfect” home office decor isn’t always possible.
When you watch someone do a TV interview from their home, you’re seeing them in a carefully curated setting. The lighting is perfect, their bookcases are filled with thoughtfully chosen titles, and they’re conscious of the story they’re telling. We have to work really hard in our home offices to create something that looks natural to other people, and most of us don’t have the resources (or interior design skills) of a celebrity.
A great-looking home office can improve video interactions considerably. Of course, curating the right decor requires advance planning and effort, and some remote workers don’t have the time to check every angle before every single meeting.
We designed the Voodrop to address that need.
Simple backgrounds, high-quality lighting, and basic decor can go a long way toward establishing a professional look. If you don’t have the energy or resources to make constant adjustments to your home office decor, the Voodrop provides a professional backdrop with a few seconds of setup.
The Voodrop was designed specifically for remote workers. It is completely customizable (you can include your brand or unique design to reflect your business), easy to set up and take down (we’re here to help if you need us!), and portable (so you can take it anywhere you happen to be working).