Experts Say Don't Cover Your Identity in Video Meetings

Touch up or full feline?

Key Takeaways

  • A hapless lawyer inadvertently went viral when he appeared on Zoom recently as a cat.
  • Career experts say you should never use a filter to appear as an animal during work Zoom sessions. 
  • One expert recommends the ‘Touch Up My Appearance’ setting on Zoom.
Someone attending a Zoom meeting on a desktop computer from a home office.
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Now that the Zoom cat meme is taking over the internet, users wonder how and when to spice up their meetings with a filter.

The cat meme began last week when a Texas lawyer appeared before a judge in the form of a cat because he had unknowingly applied a filter. The applause from around the internet was instantaneous. But experts agree that it’s never a good idea to use an animal Zoom filter at work. 

"We are all human, and the cat incident was hilarious, but that was because it was accidental," Joe Wilson, senior career advisor at MintResume, said in an email interview. "If we all showed up to work meetings as cats, it wouldn't have the same effect as someone doing it by accident."

You should gauge whether humor is appropriate for the particular meeting you are in, Wilson said. 

"If it is an informal meeting amongst close colleagues, perhaps it's OK. That will be down to each person to gauge," he added. "If it is a very progressive organization and you know it will be taken well, again this would be a personal, individual call to make. As a general rule, though, really zoom filters on purpose are a no-go in meetings."

Look Different

There are a wide range of filters that can be applied to video calls. Many of these filters are meant to enhance your current appearance rather than transform you into an animal. For example, SnapCamera by Snapchat allows you to use Snap filters on your computer during your calls, and works across various video conferencing services.

Being honest is always the best policy in the professional work environment.

If the filter those on your video call are using get annoying, consider a software solution. There’s the app Circles for Zoom that turns each participant into a circle on your screen. 

Suppose you are in a Zoom meeting in a creative field with coworkers you have an excellent working relationship with. In that case, Zoom filters can be fun, Phillip Barbb, a performance coach for executives and author of All the Reasons I Hate My 28-Year-Old Boss, said in an email interview.

"However, if your call is all business and the relationships are not as established, professionalism should override a desire to stand out and distract from the meeting’s purpose," he added. 

Don’t Hide Yourself

Whatever you do, don’t use an avatar like a cat that hides your appearance, Barbb said. "People want to know who they are speaking with and that you are present," he said.

"When you are hidden behind a full avatar, there can always be a suspicion to who you really are. I would advise using partial filters such as fun hats, mustaches, or creative borders instead of full avatars."

Martynas Kavaliauskas, co-founder and CEO of the GPS firm TrackingFox, said in an email that he has participated in thousands of video conferences and "and thankfully I have not yet experienced being a cat, or anything not me in all of my Zoom meetings."

Participants on a video call.
Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Instead of a cat filter, Kavaliauskas recommends the "Touch Up My Appearance" option in your Video settings. The Touch Up feature makes you look like yourself, only better. "For my team, this is the only acceptable non-filter," he said. 

Instead of a Zoom filter, consider using a background during work meetings, suggested Rob Bellenfant, CEO and founder of TechnologyAdvice, in an email interview. Backgrounds "can be used in a professional manner to hide an embarrassing messy bedroom or living room."

"When using Zoom backgrounds for work, you should pick a solid color background or company branded option," Bellenfant said. 

But what should you do if, like the hapless cat lawyer, you accidently end up applying a Zoom filter during a work meeting?

"Being honest is always the best policy in the professional work environment," Barbb said. "However, if you are going to pass the blame on your children using the Zoom before you did, no one will feel comfortable questioning it."

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