In our weird new reality of quarantine and Zoom meetings, many of us are suddenly finding that our homes aren’t quite ready for video conferencing primetime. It’s hard enough keeping pets and children out of the frame, but do we really need to be judged for what appears behind us, too? Like it or not, those of us participating in video meetings are revealing a lot about ourselves through the books, art, furniture, and potential messes visible to others.

A minimalist zoom office background from Unsplash.

There’s even a new Twitter account dedicated to roasting home decor that appears in the background of videos. @ratemyskyperoom quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers by pointing out all the weird, distasteful, gaudy ,and ugly things spotted in the backgrounds of video call participants around the world, from accidental reflections of people on the toilet to rooms deemed “sparse and lonely.”

They also give good marks, of course, and the highly-rated spaces tend to share a few key qualities: good lighting (preferably natural daylight from the front or side), attractive shelves full of interesting books, house plants, bright colors, a bit of personality, and a lack of clutter. Points are deducted for “sad” or unsightly objects in the frame, like printers and self-promotional items.

It’s all in fun, and putting into words what many of us have been thinking anyway as we watch the news or talk to our co-workers — and honestly, it’s also kind of helpful to see what works and what doesn’t laid out so clearly, so it’s worth checking out.

If you want to avoid people judging your professionalism by what appears behind your head on video calls, but don’t have an appropriate space within your home, there are plenty of virtual backgrounds to choose from. Zoom, for instance, offers many digital backdrops that can conceal what’s really in the room, and some are free. Though they look best with a green screen, there are still options that work without one.

A bright office Zoom background from Pixabay.

So which Zoom background should you choose? If you’re just talking to family and friends, anything goes. If you’re going to appear on television, you’re better off finding a way to make your real space work, even if all you reveal is a blank wall. Some ways to make your real surroundings look better include editing the objects behind you to a minimum, sitting where a window can shine daylight onto your face rather than behind you, and propping your laptop or camera at eye level so that your torso, shoulders, and head are visible.

When it comes to work meetings, carefully chosen digital backgrounds are a great option. If you work for a less conventional company, you might be able to get away with fun choices like Caribbean beaches, but most people need something a little more professional. Images that depict workstations are typically best, like this minimalist workspace or this clean, bright office from Pixabay or this contemporary office from Unsplash.

A swank blue room Zoom background from Pexels.

A wood-lined loft Zoom background from Pexels.

If you want, you can trick people into thinking you live in a much cleaner, swankier, or better decorated home than you really do with backgrounds like a wood-lined loft or cheerful blue room from Pexels. All three sites let you search for whatever you like, download it for free, and upload it on Zoom.

Most importantly, make sure whatever background you choose isn’t distracting. You want your contribution to the meeting to stand out more than your surroundings, after all.