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I have a particular coworker who always requests video when on a zoom call. This isn't ideal for me because I live in a tiny studio and don't have a fancy bookcase backdrop like him. My background is a bed and you can see my tiny kitchen which is a little embarrassing.

I've tried using zoom backgrounds but they aren't completely effective and you can sometimes get glimpses into my studio when I move. I'd rather just keep video off.

I was considering getting a room divider to sit directly behind me to block the view. Has anyone else found a better solution for this? Can I decline video?

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  • Curious...do you start talking in audio and then he explicitly requests to change to video? If so, does he ever provide a reason why? Or is it in the sense that he just always initiates a video session rather than an audio session?
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 4 '20 at 20:37
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    English isn't my first language and I find it much easier to follow meetings taking place in English when I can see the people's gestures and mimic. To me, it feels rude when people do not enable video in conference calls. On the other hand, I absolutely do not care about their appearance or the background in their room. Dec 5 '20 at 8:09
  • The direct answers contain some very good ideas, but can we just take a moment to lament the fact that we've built a world in which someone feels embarrassed by his/her co-worker finding out that his/her home is on the small side? Dec 5 '20 at 17:17
  • What I don't quite understand: Up until now, you showed the coworker your room (with the noneffective zooom backgrounds). So he already knows your room, no?
    – guest
    Dec 5 '20 at 18:04
  • There are background removal tools out there, just do a web search.if zooms built-in tool doesn't work, choose a better one. Sometimes clothes prevent proper detection of your silhouette , so don't wear e.g. a blue shirt in front of a background with a lot of blue.
    – Polygnome
    Dec 5 '20 at 23:22
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If your background is embarrassing:

  • put the room divider like you said or
  • rotate your setup so there is a wall directly behind your back

If you're not comfortable having your face on video during each calls:

  • You'll have to speak up and tell them you're not comfortable to do it every time.
  • Or you could find an excuse like say that your hair is not done, that someone else is in the room or that you're in the kitchen full of dirty dishes, or in a small messy studio and it makes you shy, or even the good old "my webcam is broken" but I wouldn't suggest to start piling up lies.

For sure you can decline the person's request for video. If they are not your boss and the request doesn't come from higher up, you can say no without a problem.

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    "My Wi-fi isn't great and so I've disabled video to make the connection more stable" Dec 4 '20 at 22:38
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Has anyone else found a better solution for this? Can I decline video?

A divider should be fine, but have you heard of a green screen?

That can completely cut out your surroundings, but may cost a little to setup.

Personally I just don't allow video. I never agreed to that when starting my job, and nothing anyone can do to force me. If anyone were to ask why I'd just say sorry I'm not comfortable being on video.

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    I want to vote for a green screen, also. I just looked around on the internet - a good search term is: Pop-Up Chroma Green Screen. This is set up before the call and put back into a corner of the room afterwards. Dec 5 '20 at 0:18
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Can I decline video?

That depends on what problem using video is supposed to be solving.

If, for example, your co-worker is hard of hearing and relies on being able to read lips to understand someone who's talking, then you need to come up with some kind of alternative so that your communication isn't just audio. That might mean using video so they can see your face, it might mean using something like Teams instead which has captioning, or it might mean using written communication instead (Slack, email, etc.).

If your co-worker is asking simply because they miss seeing people's faces, that's not a problem you're required to solve. (Assuming that your employer has not made putting a camera in their employee's homes a condition of employment.)

Has anyone else found a better solution for this?

You could hang a sheet from the ceiling or use one of those tri-fold poster boards kids use for science fair presentations as an alternative to buying a room divider.

Another idea: Can you get a web cam that you can reposition and zoom in on your face? Having a more narrow view might make any glimpses of the background too unclear to see anything.

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Part of me wants to simply answer "You're overthinking this", but... you know what? I'll post a logistical answer instead.

So, first up: take a look at how you're arranging your furniture. Keep in mind, you can move your work desk to wherever you need. Maybe you've got it flat against the middle of the wall, and it looks straight out along the middle of your studio apartment. What about putting it flush against the corner and only letting the camera capture one half/side of the apartment? What about putting it next to the bed itself? Or for that matter, what about rotating the desk 180 degrees and offsetting it from the wall, so that you're sitting in a mini-cubicle and all the camera could capture is you and the wall behind you? Keep in mind, you have all the power in the world when it comes to organizing where stuff resides in your apartment. If something isn't working for you, brainstorm ways you could reorganize to improve!

Second, have you thought about getting a USB webcam and using that as a source (I assume you're using a built-in one on a laptop.) If you do it that way, you can have the webcam capture you from a different angle than face-on from the screen - which will let you have more control over what angle of shot is your backdrop. Between this and putting your desk in a corner, you can easily have your 'backdrop' simply be the wall to your side.

Third, have you considered going professional with the bed decor? Do a google image search for 'Studio Apartment', and you'll find result after result that look pristine, immaculate... and, well, wouldn't be bad for a backdrop. In other words, instead of fighting to keep a bed out of frame, add 'making the bed' to your daily morning routine and make it something that wouldn't be bad to have in frame.

I mean, I can't imagine someone thinking bad about this as a background:

Clean Studio Apartment

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This is one of my pet peeves. There's something about being on camera that's different from being in an in person meeting that makes many people uncomfortable, myself included. Mandating or forcing people to be on video accomplishes nothing and is a fairly pointless dictate.

Is being on video a company mandate? If not, I'd simply state that you're not comfortable being on video and would prefer not to.

If this is a company mandate and you must be on video then get a room divider as you suggested and use that in conjunction with whatever zoom background suits you. That should suffice to hide your environment. If you're worried about people seeing things when you move around during the meeting then don't move around during the meeting.

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  • I think it's clear lots of people are uncomfortable with turning video on but l think it's equally clear others find it useful (otherwise why do they ask?), so the idea of it accomplishes nothing is not right Dec 5 '20 at 13:27

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