Clean and simple. Inspiring. Surreal.
A secret garden surrounded by rambling wisteria. A stylish studio apartment. The strange cold comfort of a sterile space station airlock?
Virtual backgrounds are more than a digital curtain hiding our backstage lives.
Even as some of us eagerly choose to get back into an office, collectively most employees will remain scattered across different countries and time zones opting to stay fully or partially remote indefinitely (SAP’s “Pledge to Flex” model launched in June of 2021 lets employees choose).
So, we asked our team of creative thinkers to ponder a question as a point of both introspection and learning: what does your virtual background say about you?
First, a brief history.
You don’t have to dig back through too much digital soil to find the roots of today’s pervasive garden variety virtual background.
In the waning days of 2019’s normalcy, a Forbes article featured Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan fresh off his company’s clamoring of the Dow’s opening bell, displaying “his video tool’s virtual backgrounds…in locations from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the beach in Santa Barbara.” While there’s an eerie hindsight to this original story that borders on feeling remarkably prescient, it more accurately captures the jumping off point in the adoption trajectory of web conferencing technology.
Because of course, 2020.
After the pandemic began forcing temporary office closures into part-time, full-time, and permanently remote positions, the tools needed to enable a fully functioning virtual workforce sprinted to catch up.
In 2021, as we stayed at home and converted kitchens (and bedrooms, basements, and closets) into workspaces, web conferencing preferences (remember the first moment you discovered you could blur your background, EUREKA!) began educing a small library of stock background choices, that eventually became more customizable and adaptable. Virtual backgrounds assumed a role in leveling the home office playing field, helping cement a company’s brand stand out in a gallery view, or even filling a lost void of an employee’s personal expression. Although shouldn’t working from home be considered the ultimate act of personal expression?
Here is a sample of our team’s responses when asked about their virtual background of choice.
Danielle Banasek, Project Manager/Video Swiss Army Knife | 95% of the time I’m using the “blurred background.” My aesthetic in fashion, home, etc. is pretty neutral but I’d like to think my personality brings out more color.
Joel Desmond, Video Producer/Motion Designer | (My virtual background says) I’m out of this world (it’s space).
Eliza Christensen, Content Strategist | I have never used a virtual background; I like the background I have in my apartment, and I think it appropriately reflects my personality in a safe way. My background is the one way I feel comfortable bringing my authenticity to work every day. Having a mixed heritage is balancing who you are with rival views of who you should be, everyone has an opinion of what I should be like, but ultimately, I’m the person who can break through stereotypes and put my real self forward.
Madison Shollenberger, Video Production Artist/Project Manager | My virtual background says I love décor and sunlight! I picked a simple background that looks like a pretty home with a plant and a hat on the wall, with lots of natural looking light. And when the sun comes into my actual room at the right time, it looks perfect!
Nikki Petrow, Graphic Designer | My current virtual background is actually a photo that my Director, Mike Monahan, took while he was in the mountains out west. It’s a beautiful landscape photo with the sun shining on the mountains with dispersed pine trees and colorful grass. I gravitated to this virtual background because I love traveling and experiencing the beauty in nature.
Almost everyone on our team responded positively to continuing to use a virtual background for any video conference or meeting regardless of where they are based.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re working in the office a couple days a week or at home Monday through Friday, a majority of us will remain remote from one another in the near future,” adds Mike Monahan, Director of Design Services, North America. “It’s the reason we started creating custom virtual backgrounds for our team and others by request from the beginning. You can use a background to say, we are one, we’re unified, we’re a team – even though we’re not in the same place.”
Why even ask the question? Findings to queries like these can tell us more about ourselves than a personal technology preference. They are clues in a search for creating a more engaging user experience and a more balanced hybrid (IRL, WFH) identity. Which is what we’re all in constant pursuit of.
Somewhere between a footnote and a separate topic, SAP has been at the forefront of empowering a remote workforce for over a decade. From enabling virtual offices globally to the introduction of the metaverse, you can learn more under the #futureofwork topic throughout the SAP community.
Virtual backgrounds are here to stay, what does yours say about you?
If you’re already back in the office, are you still using a virtual background or embracing your analog surroundings? Tell us.