Hey, you! The one working from your kitchen table in your pajamas! We see you. And we salute you. One of the greatest perks of working from home is the ability to get stuff done in your comfiest clothes at any time of the day.
But there comes a time in every remote team member’s life when the decision will be made to turn on video. Whether it’s for an impromptu chat with your coworker three time zones away (I know it’s lunch time in New York, but I’m still drinking my coffee out here in Washington, thank you very much), a distributed happy hour, or an intense planning session requiring lots of discussion, the day will come when someone, somewhere will need to see your bright, shining, possibly unwashed face. And you’ve got to be ready.
Here are the dos and don’ts of presenting yourself on video.
Do Put Together a Work Uniform.
The rules of professional appearance are different for digital. Unless it makes you feel more comfortable, don’t feel the need to dress in traditional office attire simply for the sake of the camera. There’s no need for a tie when you work at home—a shirt with a collar is more than enough.
Even so, when you work from home, it’s so easy to sleep in as late as you can, grab a cup of coffee, and half-crawl/half-sleepwalk to your computer to start your day 4 minutes after you wake up.
But that’s not going to fly on a day where you need to be on video. Take the extra 20 minutes to grab a quick shower and put on a clean shirt (what you do with your bottom half is up to you!) so that you put yourself in the right frame of mind for work and look your best. If the thought of this seems overwhelming, consider putting together a work uniform so that getting ready in the mornings isn’t a pain.
Don’t Hide in the Shadows.
Your personal appearance won’t matter if you’re lurking in the shadows. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to talk to a person who was backlit so intensely by a bright window or lamp that they looked like they were in a witness protection program.
When presenting yourself on video, you’ve got to find your light! Make sure your strongest source of light is coming from in front of you or, if that’s not possible, on your side or overhead. The light should never, ever come from behind you.
If you frequently present yourself on video in an office that doesn’t have ideal lighting, consider investing in a simple ring light to brighten up your face for the camera.
Do Pay Attention to Your Body Language.
We tend to ignore how important body language is in a digital environment. The people on the other side of the screen are still picking up cues from you, even though you aren’t standing next to their desk. Things like sitting up straight and not crossing your arms still matter.
When you’re speaking, make “eye contact” with the camera. It will read as if you are looking in the eye of the viewer. And if you have dual screens, as so many of us do, look into the one that houses the camera in the first place! Trust me, your teammates don’t want to talk to the side of your head.
And if you can’t provide your full attention to the person you’re talking to (say you’re taking meeting notes), let them know so they understand why you’re turned away, looking down, or typing. When it comes to the limited body language your team can see over video, context is everything. This is why face-to-face conversation is so vital to remote work.
Don’t Stick Your Camera Up Your Nose.
You know that feeling when you open the camera app on your phone and it’s accidentally facing toward you? You can see straight up your own nose and, suddenly, you have several more chins than you did before. That’s what your coworkers see when you turn on video with your laptop sitting on your lap.
Think of your video window like an actor’s headshot: the camera should be at eye level, and the screen should comfortably show your face and shoulders. You want the video to be close—but not too close.
Working on a remote team—whether from a satellite office, coffee shop, or the couch in your den—is awesome. But it does, in its own way, make golems of us all. The next time you realize you need to practice the art of the face-to-face conversation remotely and present yourself to your team on video, remember: step out of the shadows and into the light, present your best self, and don’t forget to have a good time.