A Zoom with a View: Six Strategies for a Stand-Out Virtual Space
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
Like the countless hoards of thought workers living through the pandemic times, my daily schedule is peppered with virtual meetings.
This was normal for me long before we were told to “hunker down Hoosiers” and before emergency remote working became widespread. I had the good fortune of joining Project Lead The Way in early 2018, a company that does wonderful things for young people and teachers in engineering, biomedical science, and computer science, and one that was an early adopter of the remote-work culture.
Remote offices make it easier to attract and retain top talent, because companies are limited by geography when they hire. So the new slate of online meetings I began taking included some pretty impressive people. And you don’t invite a rockstar to meet you in your kitchen with dirty dishes in the background, or in your living room covered with stacks of unfolded laundry, clean though it may be. If I'm going to meet a new colleague or take a professional meeting, I want to do it in my natural habitat: a Senate office.
I decided to cultivate an on screen environment that I didn’t need to cover with a filter or a blurred background, but one that reflects who I am professionally and allows me to come to the virtual table with confidence. It has surprised me how many people have commented to me about how much they like it, so I thought I would break down the elements and share the elements that make it work.
1. Furniture – I am a formal person, and I work in formal environments most of the time. I chose the most comfortable, professional furniture I could find - neutral wing-back chairs. These are recliners (which I got for free from a friend who was redecorating). And they are as useful as they are appropriate for my office. When I need a change of location, I can easily kick back in one of them to get away from the screens and invest in some deep, distraction-free work. \And the classic wingback is a common find in a Senate office.
2. Accents – Bearing in mind that I am not an interior design person, I chose these accents because they have personal meaning for me. On one side, I have a genuine U.S. Senate throw blanket, courtesy of my 23 year-old self and her spending spree in the Congressional gift shop, and the only throw-pillow I will ever need. It is delightful, empowering, and a great conversation starter. (I'm including a shot of the coasters I keep on the middle table between the two chairs. They aren't technically part of the Zoom-view, but they deserve a shout out.)
3. Credentials and Photos – I’m a big believer in keeping my accomplishments on display. Not only does it remind me that I am a boss and deserve to be heard, it lets people know that I’m serious about my work. I keep a copy of the speech I wrote for former Indiana Lt. Governor Becky Skillman on the occasion of her second inauguration, both my degrees, and an award I received for distinguished service from former Governor Mitch Daniels. On my desk, I keep my oath of office on display (I am a local school board member), as well as the award I earned as a member of the Richard Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series. Sometimes I switch things out on my desk for photos from my career when I need the variety.
4. Power/Position Piece – Arguably, you could say this is an accent piece, but it is so much more than that. It deserves its own space. I chose to invest in a high-quality U.S. flag and stand for my office. It’s heavy, draped in gold braids, and the eagle on top weighs as much as my youngest son. It is there to remind me and those I work with where my loyalty lies and the deep, powerfully motivating importance my love of country plays in my work. I am so proud to be an American and a Hoosier. I love my flag, and I love my country. My office would be incomplete without it.
5. Light – I have a lot of indirect lighting in my office. Five different lamps give me ambient light and enough illumination to see my face without looking like I’m about to film a close up for the Cohen brothers. Some people go for higher tech stuff than this (and I think it’s distracting when you can see the light-circle from those halo lamps reflected in the eyes or glasses), but I have found my combo of table and floor lamps to be just want I want. The light should never be a distraction from your work, just a natural enhancement.
6. Behind the Scene – I keep things in view just for my own edification as well. They are still on point for my Senate office experience, but they are not necessarily things I want on screen. A painting I love depicting the four women in the lineage of Christ, personal photos with the leaders I’ve worked for or respect greatly, a collection of starbucks mugs from states I’ve visited on my professional travels, and of course, my lego Capitol – These things have meaning for me, and I draw inspiration and encouragement from them privately.
So that's it: my Zoom with a View. I regularly receive positive feedback from coworkers, friends, and colleagues about this space. People love the pillow and the look of my background in general. It is professional, it is personal, and it is never something I need to hide from anyone. Most of all, each item I've curated for this space reminds me of what I've accomplished in my career and keeps me thinking about the future.