Large enterprises typically operate with employees spread across the globe, and video conferencing solutions are commonly used by employees to communicate in real-time. While video is an excellent collaboration platform for globally dispersed employees to leverage, many employees can lose focus on these high-level discussions if they become distracted by how they look on camera.

Office designers have created a name for this distraction, known as “the appearance barrier.” Something as seemingly trivial as poor lighting can prevent employees from fully engaging among each other. Facilities teams play a critical role to ensure video users are not distracted by their appearance, enhancing the overall collaboration experience and ROI from video conferencing equipment.

A recent Quartz article explains how the appearance barrier is a nagging issue within companies and the impact this can have on preventing employees from fully engaging among each other. The article also shares simple video camera adjustments that facilities teams can make to enhance the collaboration experience.  These same adjustments can be made by remote working employees to collaborate better with in-office colleagues as well.

According to Global Workplace Analytics data that is highlighted in the article, the number of regular work-at-home employees has increased by 103% in the U.S alone since 2005. A 2014 survey by Steelcase, also highlighted in the Quartz article, indicates that “72% of people felt self-conscious about their image on video and 58% obsessed over the fact that they appeared washed out our tired.”

 “People tend to behave in a very forced and formal way during telepresence meetings. They sit up very straight as if they’re TV news anchors and are reluctant to move” – Ritu Bajaj, Senior Design Researcher at Steelcase.

People who are self-conscious and distracted about their appearance on camera can lose focus on the discussion, which can prevent a fully engaged interaction with their colleagues. Without spending thousands of dollars reconfiguring a space to prevent this issue from hijacking a video collaboration session, small adjustments can be made to an existing video camera set-up.

Scott Sadler, a Steelcase manager at the company’s integrated technology division, shares several tips in the Quartz article. A few of these tips are highlighted below:

  • Mind the camera height: When designing a space, it is imperative that there be a good spot to put the video camera – angle and height are very important here. Placing a video camera too high can project a distorted view, such as a receding hairline. Also, placing a camera too low can result in viewers looking at nose hairs which is a common phenomenon among laptop users who place their computers on a low positioned coffee table.
  • Find the light: No one knows how to do this better than workspace designers as IT teams do not take this into consideration when setting up video equipment. Being positioned in front of a window can create bad lighting, which can keep employees in the dark and guessing if you are in a witness protection program. Steelcase engineers found that light directed towards the speaker at a 45-degree angle and bounced on a wood desk helped fill out contours of an employee’s face, and de-emphasized dark circles around their eyes. Positioning a camera this way can also prevent the dreaded under-the-chin flashlight effect, best showcased in horror movies.
  • Clear the background and remove the clutter: It is distracting to the viewer to see a bunch of clutter and can be embarrassing to the person being viewed if they have a bunch of dirty laundry in the background. Cameras need to be positioned in a way to help simplify the visual onscreen and limit what is in the background. This includes positioning video cameras away from glass walls as constant foot traffic can distract viewers from focusing on the conversation at hand.

Facilities teams play a key role in ensuring video conferencing cameras are positioned at the proper height with good lighting and there is a background free of distractions. With these simple video camera adjustments, facilities teams mitigate the appearance barrier and enhance the ROI of video conferencing equipment.