Hari Patience-Davies shares how she improved her Zoom game by turning her desk 90 degrees.

It’s been a year since I started working full time from home. For the first few weeks I was sat at the kitchen table with my work laptop on a plastic letter stand. I didn’t have a supportive chair and it only took a few days before my back was aching.

Things had to change. So Aaron and I borrowed a large antique desk from his mother and wrestled it up the stairs. We hadn’t thought to do things like remove the coaster wheels from the bottom of the desk or take out the drawers with their jutting-out knobs to decrease its height and width. We ended up leaving massive scrapes along the wall – scrapes we have since tried our best to disguise by putting up a few family photos.

the scrapes on the wall

But we got the desk into our spare room without creating the Pivot scene from Friends too much…

We hadn’t done anything to this room since moving in to the house a few months before. It was piled high with boxes and painted an ugly off-white shade.

We arranged the desk so it faced the window, bought an office chair and left it at that.

Like so many others we spent the first lockdown in a bit of DIY frenzy – painting our bedroom, the kitchen, ripping out old desk screwed to walls and replacing them with neat IKEA shelving. And we decided to change the dull miserableness of the off-white in the spare room to be a nice deep blue.

Anyone who was on an Accenture call with me between April and June 2020 may recall the colour test squares on the wall behind me. Exceptionally kind souls occasionally mistook them for modern art. But that was a generous interpretation, and the clothing racks of baby clothes and spare coats that were also in shot didn’t really create the professional background I was looking for. I needed to improve the background.

coat racks look messy

When we finally painted the walls (starting with the one behind my seat at the desk so people would stop asking about the colour test squares) I put up a few family photos, and accepted that for any important meeting I would shift the clothing racks out into the hall. It was a pain but it was doable.

Here I am preparing the Overcoming Stage Fright Webinar we ran in November 2019. I’m using the window as my primary light source, with an adjustable lamp in case it gets dark or cloudy outside.

This wasn’t a bad set up from the point of view of the user – a source of sunlight is always good for vitamin D purposes and had some cute kid pictures to look at if I ever had a low moment.

But the people I was presenting to had a far less interesting vista. The dark blue wall behind me appeared to be black on screen, and even when I moved the adjustable light to bounce some illumination off it, it remained incredibly dark, meaning that when I added my new ring light into the mix, my face was lit up like a beacon.

Screenshot showing presenter without ring light (left) and with (right)

It was time to practice what I preached and find a good bookcase.

We turned the desk 90 degrees, putting the window to my right, slightly behind me.

New desk position

We positioned an IKEA bookshelf in alcove between the fireplace and the window and filled the top shelves with my storytelling and presenting reference books, notebooks and favourite travel titles, making sure to keep any clutter low and out of shot.

Bookcase

As I advised in a past post, bookcases, family photos, and interesting knick-knacks make the best backgrounds, so I retrieved a few plants from the kitchen, moved some of the photos that were on my desk to behind my desk, and treated myself to the Funko POP dolls of Wanda Maximoff and Captain Marvel.

There’s no harm in showing your personality or references to your hobbies, and as I do teach storytelling I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I love storytelling – especially stories with great female characters.

Funko pop dolls on an shelf

I’m really happy with this new set up. From my point of view I still have a wide desk with a high placement for my laptop, extra screen, ring light and microphone:

But what the audience sees is a colourful room, an interesting bookcase and a striking piece of art.

Audience POV for video calls

If you look in the bottom right corner of this image you can see that I’m still using that adjustable lamp to add light to the wall so it doesn’t get too dark in here. And having all that colour behind me means I can wear black again! Which has always been my preferred professional colour.

One final adjustment I have to make before every course taught is to drop the window blind down to halfway, otherwise the light from outside makes the white bookcase almost seem to glow. You can see it in the screenshot above, and that’s the with the blind half down – when it’s fully up the bookcase looks like it’s glowing!

I’m sure there will be more changes we’ll make to this background – improvement is a constant process of iteration and there’s always something you can do better – but for now I just wonder what Room Rater would score it as?

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