A Guide to Using Virtual Backgrounds in Zoom and MS Teams

Posted by Chad Birt on Sep 23, 2020 7:00:00 AM
Chad Birt

A new report from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), found that 42% of Americans are currently working from home full-time.


If you’re one of them, you’ve likely experienced an increase in online interactions, particularly work-related meetings via videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and MS Teams.


These technologies make communicating with co-workers easy, but they also present new challenges. One of the most obvious being that they display your personal space to others. If you’re responsible for childcare, cooking, and other tasks around the house, there’s little time to clean up the clutter or worry about what’s behind you.


Instead of adding one more thing to your to-do list, consider using a virtual background. Both Zoom and MS Teams provide this option, and they are easy to implement even if you aren’t tech-savvy.


Prepare your workspace for a virtual meeting


Before you set up a virtual background, make sure you have the right equipment. Both Zoom and MS Teams have specific requirements. Click here to view Zoom’s system requirements, and click here to view MS Teams’ system requirements.


Next, it’s important to set up your workspace. Several factors can increase your risk of technical difficulties so don’t rush through the process. Both platforms recommend:


  • Using uniform lighting
  • Sitting in front of a solid-color background, preferably green
  • Using a high-quality web camera
  • Wearing clothing that’s a different color than your background


If there’s no way to set up your workspace in front of a solid-color background, you may want to purchase a physical green screen. You can start browsing on Amazon.com here.


When it comes to proper lighting, you don’t need a professional kit. If your web camera’s image looks dark, turn on the overhead light, invest in a number of small external desk-top lights, or open up a curtain to let some sunlight in. This guide from TechRepublic explains lighting in greater depth.


A step-by-step guide for creating a virtual background on Zoom


Once you’ve laid the groundwork, login to Zoom and start testing out backgrounds. To set up a virtual background in Zoom:


  1. Log into your account
  2. Click your profile picture, then click Account Settings
  3. Click the Virtual Background option
  4. If you don’t want to repeat this process in the future, click the “lock” icon
  5. Zoom will ask you to verify the change. When it does so, click Turn On
  6. Log out of your account and then log back in


Step six is especially important. If you fail to log out, you won’t be able to use virtual backgrounds at all.


If you’re in a Zoom Room with a group of co-workers and you want to use a virtual background, click the settings icon (it looks like a gear) and then click Virtual Background.


Once you complete these steps, you can access several generic backgrounds, or you can upload images or videos of your own. If you’re concerned about copyright, you can access royalty-free backgrounds from websites like Unsplash, Shutterstock, or Pexels.


Experiencing difficulties? Click here for troubleshooting recommendations from Zoom.


A step-by-step guide for creating a virtual background in MS Teams


Setting up a virtual background on MS Teams involves a similar step-by-step process. Before getting started, make sure you have the latest version of the software. A recent update made implementing virtual backgrounds much easier.


To set up a virtual background in MS Teams:


  1. Log into your account
  2. Click on the More Settings icon which has three dots (...)
  3. Click Show Background Effects
  4. Click Add New
  5. Select the generic image you’d like to use (or upload one of your own)
  6. Click Open


Once you select a background you can see what it looks like by clicking the Preview button. If your web camera is off, you’ll also need to click the Apply or Apply and Turn on Video button.


Experiencing difficulties? Click here for troubleshooting recommendations from MS Teams.


Tips for looking professional and common mistakes to avoid


Now that you know how to set up a virtual background on Zoom or MS Teams, it’s time to run a trial test. The setup process is relatively easy, but there’s always the risk of human error. To avoid problems during your next meeting, set up your background in advance. When you do, make sure to adjust your lighting and desk set-up as necessary.


Additionally, make sure your Zoom or MS Teams background is professional. Just because something looks cool or is eye-catching doesn’t mean it’s a good background for work. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid anything that’s inappropriate for a professional setting, such as nudity, offensive language, or gore.


You’ll also want to avoid backgrounds that feature stripes, polka-dots, or complex patterns. These can cause your camera to “strobe,” which can negatively affect your co-worker’s eyesight and make it difficult to focus. It might seem boring, but it’s best to stick with soft tones or neutral colors.


If your employer hosts a virtual happy hour or another fun event outside of work, you can get a little more creative. Click here for some out-of-the-box background ideas.


Now that you’re using Zoom or MS Teams on a regular basis, did we miss anything? If so, submit a comment below and let us know.



Topics: Clinical Research, Pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, online meetings

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