This week we celebrated our first COVID-versary, a rather bleak day. As of St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve officially been working from home and under lockdown for a full year. Super. While the news about case counts and vaccinations continues to improve, remote work isn’t going anywhere for the time being. And even when life goes back to normal (whatever that means), trends are pointing towards a hybrid, flexible work model where some days are spent in the office and some at home. That means Zoom meetings are here to stay, and with that in mind, we’re here to guide you through an official curation of the perfect Zoom setup, because the blank white wall isn’t going to cut it anymore.
In the remote workplace, a drab, boring Zoom background is the equivalent of a weak handshake or bad breath. It creates a sour first impression. That might seem shallow, but human beings are visual creatures, and our brains immediately size up other people based on visual cues.
(Note: we’re going to reference Zoom a lot in this piece for simplicity’s sake, but of course this advice and guidance is applicable to all video chat apps.)
While the work you’re doing might seem more important, we believe your Zoom setup and background is critical to showing up professionally and purposefully for meetings. Just as you prepare yourself to look presentable in the office, you should prep your background to match the impression you want to give off to colleagues, bosses, virtual panel attendees, etc. And if you’re someone who frequently presents or leads high-profile meetings, then this is especially important.
Creating the perfect Zoom background might include adding a ring light to your repertoire, getting a second computer monitor so you can engage with coworkers and take notes at the same time, and making sure your workspace is set up ergonomically.
In this piece we’re going to cover:
- Must-have tech for a perfect Zoom setup including cameras, microphones, headphones and ring lights
- Desk accessories for efficient work including laptop stands, monitors and organizational tools
- Materials for curating your perfect Zoom background including wall hangings, artwork, plants and books
Part I: Tech
Whether it’s upgrading your camera, getting a better microphone or splurging on a new pair of headphones so you can actually hear the virtual HR presentation, tech is crucial to the Zoom setup. As we all know — tech is how we got through this past year and were able to get anything done. Give the tech you’ve got the best chance at working properly with the best equipment, because there’s nothing worse than trying to accomplish a meeting agenda without being able to hear, see and/or understand everyone.
Logitech C920e Business Webcam
If your laptop doesn’t have a built-in computer or you’re not satisfied with the one you’ve got, this external webcam provides a 78° field of view and projects you in a balanced frame while giving you plenty of room to share. It comes with two integrated microphones and has built-in HD autofocus so you’ll look as good as possible virtually. It has an attached privacy screens for pulling down between meetings and works seamlessly with all video conferencing applications.
Blue Yeti USB Mic
This top-rated mic is made for recording, streaming and conferencing. It has three different condenser capsules built-in that can record in nearly all scenarios, and it has pattern selection as well. For all you non-sound geeks out there — it’s compatible with Mac and Windows operating systems and has a super clear headphone output so you’ll be able to hear your own audio easily.
HyperX SoloCast Microphone
This is another USB condenser microphone that’s super easy to use and comes on an adjustable, flexible stand. It has a tap-to-mute function so you can easily mute yourself mid-meeting, and it has an LED light that indicates when others can and can’t hear you. It seamlessly connects with Macs and PCs, and has super clear audio in any operating system.
Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones
These noise-cancelling headphones are some of the best for tuning out external noise so you can focus on meetings and the work ahead. They have dual noise sensor technology for zeroing in on exactly what you need to hear, and none of what you don’t. They have a 30-hour battery life as well as touch sensor controls for things like voice assistant activation and answering phone calls. They have a speak-to-chat feature that automatically adjusts volume during conversations and the sound quality is top-notch.
Jabra Elite 45h Titanium Wireless Headphones
These Jabra cans are some of the best wireless headphones for working from home and using for Zoom meetings. They have the sound quality you need and up to 50 hours of battery life on a single charge so you won’t lose power mid-presentation. They have 2-microphone call technology so you can take calls on the go as easily as at your desk and their compact design won’t take up too much space on your desk’s surface.
UBeesize 8″ Ring Light
Lighting is key on Zoom, and the best ring lights for video conferences aren’t actually that expensive. Natural light from a window or glass door is great for giving your face some vibrancy on even the longest of calls, but if you need a boost a ring light is the way to go. It’s 8″, a perfect size for regular people looking for a little natural light rather than full on influencer-status, and has three different lighting modes you can choose from. The tripod stand is small and adjustable, and it even has a phone holder so you can easily dial into calls from your phone if you prefer. It’s USB powered and the stand extends from 17.5″ all the way to 51″ in length so you’ve got plenty of height options.
Lume Cube Video Conference Lighting Kit
If you prefer a simpler lighting setup that still provides professional quality lighting, then we highly recommend the Lume Cube. This video conference lighting tool can clip directly onto your laptop or other surfaces, and it provides warm, natural-looking light that’s perfect for Zoom and other video chat tools. For dark home offices and rooms without windows or overhead lighting, the Lume Cube provides a flattering glow that will help you create a positive remote impression.
Part II: Desk Accessories
Beyond the tech, you also want your desk to function efficiently and seat you comfortable so you can get as much done during your workday as possible. This could mean getting a second screen so you can multitask during meetings, elevating your laptop so you’re not straining your neck while you work, or simply upgrading your water bottle so you stay hydrated throughout the day. Here are my favorite desk accessories for upgrading your workspace and achieving the perfect Zoom setup.
Nulaxy Ergonomic Laptop Stand
This laptop stand comes highly rated off of Amazon for its ergonomic height and heat dissipation capabilities. Not only will your neck not be sore, your laptop won’t overheat even if you’ve got a gajillion tabs open always. It’s compatible with laptops ranging from 10-15.6″ in screen size, and has a sturdy design made of aluminum alloy.
Rain Design Laptop Stand
This is another super popular laptop stand from Amazon that comes with cable management built-in and an anodized finish that matches the look of most Apple notebooks. It raises laptops to eye level for improved ergonomics and has a single-piece aluminum design that stabilizes while it cools down your laptop as well.
Dell 27″ LED Backlit LCD Monitor
This is one of our favorite monitors for upgrading your workspace in 2021. The LED-backlit monitor brightly illuminates with clarity and precision, and the 27″ screen is full 1080p HD. It’s a solid monitor for everyday office tasks, but sadly doesn’t come with the ability to adjust the height, so you might need a monitor stand to reach ergonomic status.
Dell 24″ Video Conferencing Monitor
This monitor was quite literally made for Zoom meetings and other video conferences. It has an integrated 5MP camera, dual 5W speakers for surround sound and a dedicated Microsoft Teams button for starting meetings seamlessly. If you’re on calls all day every day and want to start and end them as fast as possible, this monitor is an excellent choice.
HP EliteDisplay Docking Monitor
This is another great monitor option from HP that’s about the same size as the others. It’s an FHD display with a 1000:1 aspect ratio, and processing capabilities of 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz. It’s LED-backlit and 7 ms gray to gray. It has swivel, pivot and tilt capabilities so you can find the exact right angle, and the screen is anti-glare, anti-static, and user-programmable. It also comes with a built-in webcam with 720p resolution and a dual-array microphone.
Dual-Sided Desk Pad Mat
A desk mat like this is a great tool for organizing your desktop. It helps things stick, gives traction to mice and is water and heat-resistant. It’s non-slip so your monitor, laptop stand and keyboard won’t slip and slide around, and it comes in a bunch of different colors depending on the desk look you’re going for.
SimpleHouseware Mesh Desk Organizer
An organized desk is an efficient one, and this mesh desk organizer is one of the best ways to keep stray papers, pens, post-its and other tools all in the right place. It has stylish drawers that easily slide in and out and designated compartments for everything. the file dividers up top are great for sliding important documents in and out as needed, and it’s slim enough to fit on most desktops easily.
Cord Management Organizer Kit
One of the final secrets to success when it comes to an efficient desktop? Cable. Management. Don’t let cables run wild and tangle everything in their wake. This cable management kit has everything you need to organize everything from your computer’s charger to your HDMI converter including four cable sleeves, 10 self-adhesive cable clip holders, 100 cable ties and two rolls of self-adhesive tie. Group things together, tuck them behind your desk and you won’t have to think about them ever again.
Fluidstance Slope Desk Whiteboard
How many times during your workday do you need to jot something down really fast so you don’t forget? These little notes are key to efficient work and not forgetting the small details. Since a pad of paper isn’t always readily available, this whiteboard from Fluidstance is a great option. Not only does it save paper and sticky notes, it’s also designed to seamlessly blend into a workspace between your keyword and laptop riser.
Part III: Curating Zoom Backgrounds
The third component of a perfect Zoom setup is your background. After all, this is what everyone sees when you log on, and what they’re going to drift off into on hour two of the call when everything starts to glaze over. There are Zoom digital backgrounds that can be fun when you’re outside of your office or want to pretend you’re on a remote beachy island rather than working. However, curating your background at home is an excellent way to not only find an excuse to decorate your office, but also make your background truly yours. You can express yourself and your professional persona through what you decide to surround yourself with, and let others learn about you through all they see when you’re speaking.
Below, I’ve included some examples of cool wall hangings, framed pictures, plants and even collectible books you can set up if you’re lucky enough to be sitting in front of a bookshelf. The possibilities are endless! Find what works for you or use a combination of a few things.
Wall Hangings & Backgrounds
Indigo Mountains Landscape Wall Hanging
This is an excellent example of a neutral wall hanging that’ll look great as a Zoom background. You want your background to be interesting enough to be engaging, but not so busy it distracts from the work you want to get done. The neutral white, grey and black tones in this piece would work great as a background.
French Linen Chambray Tassel Wall Hanging
This is another great neutral wall hanging with a beautiful, simple pattern to accentuate your work. It’s got texture, dimension, and the best part? You don’t have to hang up much else as it’ll take up most of the background on your wall. It’s also available in a smaller size if you’d like to pair it with other background decor.
Bamboo Room Divider
If you’ve got a desk in the corner of a larger room and want more control over your background, a room divider is a great way to do that. This one folds out and will give you a neutral, simple background for calls. No need to worry about someone accidentally walking behind you or crashing the party in their underwear. With this screen, you’ll look slightly like you’re in a basket, but better that than the embarrassing, half-naked Zoom bomb.
Sunset Framed Art Print
A gallery wall of simple, complimentary frames is also a great way to go for a Zoom background. This simple print of palm trees with a neutral frame is a great base, especially if you live somewhere warm and tropical. You’ve got your choice of frames and it comes in multiple sizes starting at a small 10″ x 12″ print.
Orange Delight Framed Art Print
Need a dose of vitamin C? This orange framed art print is neutral, fun and will add just enough energy to calls without being distracting. It also comes with your choice of frame and size, and will pair well with red, yellow and white prints.
Medusa Framed Art Print
This print is taking a different approach mood-wise, but it’s equally as neutral as it’s only made up of white and black tones. The Medusa figure makes a statement, but I love her energy. Show your coworkers who the boss is and lead the meeting with the energy of an ancient Greek god with this print in the background.
Andy Blank Bullseye
A statement piece on a gallery wall can do wonders for your background, like this bright print from Andy Blank. The bright blue will pair perfectly with white, blue, black or even yellow prints, and is a part of a limited edition collection so you know your background will look unique.
Blue Navy Scandinavian Modern Framed Art
This neutral, geometric print would make a great addition to a gallery wall paired with the print above, and is interesting enough without being distracting. It’s modern art based on Scandinavian styles with simple shapes and a minimalistic pattern you won’t get tired of staring at. You also get your choice of frames and sizes with this print.
Summer Forest Brook Framed Art Print
This is another simple, neutral art print. Photographs make great additions to gallery walls as well as paintings, and this one will pair great with plants due to the greenery. Plus, doesn’t the babbling brook just look calming? It’s a great relaxing image for a stressful workday.
The Sill Classic Subscription Box
This subscription from The Sill is a great way to get started with plants if you’re not already a plant lover. The Sill is an excellent resource for plants and natural things of all kinds. It’s a monthly subscription box that includes an easy-to-care-for plant in a 6″ grow pot as well as a 7″ ceramic planter. They include care instructions for the plant and info about your new plant friend. If you’re unsure where to start on your plant journey, start here.
Bird’s Nest Fern
A fern makes a great shelf plant, and this one is short enough to fit on most bookshelves. The green leaves will add some life to your background and the topical-ness of the plant will remind you of warmer, more relaxing places. It’s a non-toxic plant so it’s safe for pets and only needs water every 1-2 weeks so even the blackest of thumbs should be safe with this one.
Monstera in Grant Plant
This “swiss cheese plant” is infamous for its leaf holes and classic look. The holes are there, biologically, to maximize sun on the forest floor. Your plant may or may not arrive with the holes in the leaves, but rest assured they’ll develop as the plant matures! This plant needs bright to indirect light, and water every 1-2 weeks.
Pride and Prejudice Collectibles Edition
Of course any and all books are beautiful, but collectible editions tend to have those special spines that look great on bookshelves. They make a great Zoom background, especially when paired with a few plants and art prints. This Pride and Prejudice is just an example of the amazing collectibles collection Barnes & Noble has.
Juniper Books Harry Potter Book Jackets
It’s important to note these are just the book JACKETS and not actual books, but they can dress up Harry Potter books you already have or other books that fit. The decorative jackets will look great all lined up next to each other, and they have them in the colors of each house — Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Griffindor and Slytherin.