Study reveals which Zoom background items make you look more competent
Before you hop on your next Zoom call, you might want to tailor your background in a very particular way, says a new study. Doing so could make everyone else on the call perceive you as being more competent – whether or not you really are.
Prior to the pandemic, most business meetings took place in characterless fluorescent-lit hellscapes inside office buildings. As COVID confined us to our homes and accelerated the rise of virtual communication tools like Zoom, those meetings could suddenly take place in our kitchens, bedrooms, backyard patios, and basements. This meant that the backgrounds which appeared behind our heads could be anything from the unmade bed where we binge-watched all 10 seasons of Friends to a messy kitchen counter covered in the remains of our failed sourdough starter experiments.
Now that working and meeting from home seems here to stay though, researchers have been looking at how the backgrounds in our video calls can affect the perceptions others have of us. It's sort of a look at the Zoom equivalent of a first impression. In fact, one study showed that backgrounds were more important than clothing choice in how a person on a video call is perceived. It further showed that calls taken in actual rooms increased impressions of trustworthiness, authenticity and expertise by more than 50% over calls fielded in front of a blank wall. That said, the room choice does seem to matter, as another study showed that bedrooms were perceived as less professional call locales than home offices.
Now a new study conducted by researchers from Durham University in the UK has revealed even more about our digital meeting backgrounds. The team put together a series of still photos of men and women on simulated Zoom calls either holding neutral expressions or smiling in front of a variety of backgrounds. Then the researchers asked 167 study participants to rate those faces in terms of competency and trustworthiness.
They found that having plants or a bookcase in the background had a significant positive impact on those ratings. Conversely, the faces in front of a living room setting or novelty background had a negative impact. Blurred backgrounds fell between the two ratings. The researchers also found that females overall and both men and women who were smiling were deemed more competent and trustworthy than others.
"Our research shows that there are small tweaks you can make to help make a good virtual first impression: put some plants behind you, or turn your desk so you're framed by a bookcase," says study co-author Paddy Ross. He also goes on to say that if you don't have that kind of control of your call environment, there are still things you can do to boost your competence perception.
"As our findings show, if you don't have much control over your background, smiling can help," he said. "There are also AI tools which allow you to virtually 'tidy up' or add a little sparkle to your background space."
The research has been published in the journal PLOS One.
Source: The Conversation