Does this blouse go with these sweatpants?

By: Judy Kneiszel

Publication: Employee Relations Management Today

Date Posted: 12/23/2020

Make a better impression at virtual meetings

When stay-at-home orders went into effect earlier this year, video chats and virtual meetings allowed people to keep in touch personally and professionally, while remaining socially distant.

We’ve seen the bookshelves of countless TV personalities, and the spare-bedrooms-turned-home-offices of colleagues whose actual offices we never had reason to venture into pre-pandemic.

During those first awkward days of virtual meetings everyone was shouting things like, “Can everyone hear me?” or “Move your camera up, all we can see is your chin!” or the ever-popular, “Mute yourself!”

By now most people have perfected the basics so, of course, experts are studying the details. They’re offering advice that goes beyond getting the technology working and focusing on how to make the best impression via video chat. It’s worth studying because many employers say they will continue virtual meetings even after they are no longer deemed necessary.

So, if you’ve been sitting in a closet with your laptop wearing a ketchup stained T-shirt for your weekly department meeting … pay attention.

In a survey conducted in spring by Harvard Business Review, respondents had some definite opinions about virtual meetings. Here are a few take-aways from this research:

  • People care. 60percent of respondents said they care about backgrounds; 47percent care about clothing type, and 39percent care about clothing color.
  • The fake background is cheesy. If there’s one thing people agreed on it was this. Only 7.5percent of respondents had a positive opinion on the virtual scenic background. If people can see the actual room you are in, they will view you as more authentic and trustworthy.
  • Dress like an expert. 67percent of respondents said business formal attire gave the impression that someone in a virtual meeting was an “expert.” If you simply want to be perceived as trustworthy, innovative, or authentic, business casual is fine.
  • Beware of the casual look, however. While 26 percent of respondents said casual clothing gave them the impression of the wearer being “authentic,” only 18 percent said casual clothing gave the wearer the impression of being innovative; 19 percent said the casually dressed seemed “trustworthy.” Only 7 percent said the casually dressed colleague gave the impression of being “expert.”
  • Ditch the Hawaiian shirt. In general, wearers of bright, neutral, and patterned shirts were perceived as equally “innovative,” however those in patterned shirts seemed “trustworthy” to only 15 percent, and “expert” to 8 percent.

How you and your surroundings appear in a video call or virtual meeting is something you may want to give more thought to if you are continuing to work from home. Business casual wear in front of some tasteful bookshelves or home décor is generally a safe choice. People seem to find the bare wall a little suspicious, but don’t want to see the whole cavernous room either.

The study clearly indicates that dressing for success still matters, and the visible background must also be considered.

Of course, suits and scenery may be important, but the most crucial thing to keep in mind is whether you are wearing pants. Your lower half may not be visible to those in the virtual meetings, but if the meeting ends and you dash outside to the mailbox wearing your blazer and boxer shorts, the neighbors might start to talk.

About the author
Judy Kneiszel - Human Resources Editor

Judy is an Associate Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and she specializes in issues such as recruiting and hiring, onboarding and training, employee communication and discipline, managing problems, team building, inclusion, employee retention, and labor relations

Expert Help Icon

Have a compliance question for Judy? The J. J. Keller Expert Help tool provides you direct access to Judy and other trusted experts to help answer your toughest compliance questions.