By Lindsay Morris, contributor via the Underground Group
Follow our instructions for changing your Zoom background, and this will be you.
Virtual meetings are the new normal for those of us able to work from home. And from the array of audio and video conferencing services, one has emerged as the platform of choice: Zoom.
Zoom’s rise is likely due in part to its entertaining virtual background feature, which allows you to display an image or video as your background, often with hilarious results. This feature also comes in handy if you are leery of coworkers seeing dirty dishes in your kitchen while you discuss business initiatives.
Those of us who are working remotely for the foreseeable future may also find ourselves itching to try a Zoom background for the first time, even if virtual silliness wasn’t our “thing” in the past. Finally ready to jump on the virtual background bandwagon? Here’s how.
How to enable Zoom’s virtual background feature
Once you've created an account, you’ll enable the “Virtual Background” feature on Zoom’s website in one of three ways, based on your permissions:
For a user (generally yourself): Click on “Settings,” navigate to “Virtual Background,” and verify that the setting is enabled.
Enable Zoom's virtual background feature in the Settings window on the Zoom site.
For your entire organization: Click the icon to open the “Account Settings” window. About halfway down the left side of the Settings window, under “In Meeting (Advanced)”, you should see an option for “Virtual Background.” Verify that the setting is enabled.
For specific groups within an organization: Click “Group Management” under the “Admin” tab on the left side of the screen. Click the name of the group for which you want to enable the virtual background. Then, click the Settings tab and verify that the setting is enabled.
Next, open the Zoom desktop app. (This is different from accessing your account through the Zoom website.) Click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the desktop app’s home screen. Click and open the “Virtual Background” window.
Once you're in the Zoom desktop app, click "Settings," then "Virtual Background."
Once in the "Virtual Background" window, you should see three default background image options: San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, blades of grass or a view of the edge of Earth from outer space.
Make sure your computer’s operating system is up to date, as you may not be able to use any virtual backgrounds on an older operating system. The super-technical OS requirements by platform:
Mac: You need OS 10.13 or higher, and your processor must be an Intel Core i7 with a quad-core or better. (You can find out in the “About This Mac” option under the Apple menu).
PC: Requirements for PCs vary based on the version of your Zoom Desktop Client for PC:
Zoom Desktop Client for PC, version 4.5.4 (5422.0930) or higher: You need a Windows 10 64-bit with a 6th generation Intel i5 dual-core processor or higher. If your CPU is not i7 quad-core or higher, you'll need an integrated GPU enabled and integrated GPU's graphics driver version 23.20.xx.xxxx or higher.
- Zoom Desktop Client for PC, version 4.4.53582.0519 or higher: You need a Windows 7, 8 or 10 64-bit with a 4th generation i7 quad-core processor or higher.
Note there are some issues with compatibility with Intel CPUs using the HD620 graphics processor. Users on devices with those processors must use a physical green screen in order to get Zoom virtual backgrounds to appear properly.
Adjusting your settings for better background appearance
There's also an option to add your own image to your virtual background options. However, before you do that and go live in a team meeting, it’s a good idea to test things out.
Make sure you're sitting in a well-lit area. It’s best if you have light shining toward your face, rather than behind you and washing you out. Set up a small lamp somewhere in front of you, the higher the better, for an optimal impact.
Next, choose a solid-colored backdrop. For optimum results, Zoom recommends you use a green screen like your favorite meteorologist uses when he or she stands in front of the weather map. You can make your own with green fabric. However, any solid-colored background, including a blank wall or closed curtains, will work in a pinch.
If you’re not using a green screen, then select the color of your background with the color-picking tool that appears at the bottom of the screen. (Depending on your computer, OS and instance of Zoom, this color-picking tool may appear before or after you’ve chosen a virtual background.) If you don’t choose a background color, the background image will likely flood into your face or clothes. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to wear clothes that contrast with your backdrop color.
If you're not using a green screen, use Zoom's color-selection tool for a better virtual background appearance.
Adding your own image to your Zoom background
Once you've figured out how to display your background, you can kick things up a notch with the virtual backgrounds found online.
Go ahead and click the “plus” button in Zoom’s virtual background screen to add an image to your library of available virtual backgrounds. You can add just about any image from your desktop. Zoom automatically centers your photos so they won’t look stretched out, but pictures might get cropped on the edges in the process. If you’re using your laptop, your best bet is to go with an image that has a 16:9 ratio.
As for which image to use, you have plenty of choices. Several brands are on board to serve up signature backgrounds to feed your unique tastes:
If you’re simply looking to update the scenery of your room, consider an industrial loft or airy living room from West Elm. There’s also an oceanfront patio option from Williams Sonoma and a cozy study from Behr. Better yet, you can borrow a famous apartment scene from “Seinfeld” or “Friends.”
Both D.C. Comics and Marvel have your back(ground) with multiple other images. Or, if you’re a manager, channel your inner Jean Luc Picard with a "Star Trek” backdrop as your team boldly goes where it’s not gone before. All you have to do is make it so.
Trying times call for lightening things up. And what better way than landing on the “Simpsons’” beloved couch? You could also share the secret word from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” or play Conference Call Bingo with your virtual backgrounds. Or, maybe you want to go a little more subtle with the iconic interview wall from “The Office;” after all, you have the world’s best boss, right?
West Elm's set of virtual backgrounds allows Zoom users to call in from their dream house.
Using Zoom backgrounds tactfully
Keep in mind that it’s important to know your audience. Not every manager is going to appreciate addressing you next to a giant photo of the “Tiger King’s” Joe Exotic or seeing a tone-deaf “everything is fine” homage to “The Good Place.”
While video-conferencing happy hours are a prime time to unleash your favorite backgrounds, you don’t necessarily want to bring those with you to your next meeting. That was the situation for a certain Potato Boss, nicknamed for her inability to disable her potato-head filter when she entered a meeting with staff.
Used responsibly, Zoom backgrounds can provide hours — we’ve all been in meetings that last longer than they should — of morale-boosting entertainment.