Why Video Backgrounds Aren’t Always a Great Idea

Distractions over content?

Key Takeaways

  • A wide range of apps can help spice up online meetings. 
  • Google Meet is rolling out video backgrounds to compete with similar offerings by competitors like Zoom. 
  • Some experts say that video backgrounds can be too distracting for work meetings.
Someone speaking at a virtual meeting in a home office with two computer screens.

SDI Productions / Getty Images

Video backgrounds are trending as a new addition to online meetings, but some experts say they are more of a distraction than a help. 

Google Meet is rolling out video backgrounds that are first coming to the web. Zoom and other services also allow video backgrounds. But can they really liven up dull meetings?

"Video backgrounds are made to attract attention which can make them distracting in business environments," Trends expert Daniel Levine said in an email interview. "I can imagine companies banning them."

Party Time On Screen?

You choose from three options at launch: a classroom, party, or forest. Google says more Meet video backgrounds will be coming soon. 

"Custom backgrounds can help you show more of your personality, as well help hide your surroundings to maintain privacy," Google writes on its website. "With the option of replacing your background with video, we hope this makes your video calls more fun."

There are a growing number of ways to liven things up on video meetings. Zoom also offers video backgrounds. You can even upload your own video with the service. The company is also rolling out a video background feature called Immersive View that could make video calls feel a bit more like an office meeting.

Prezi Video claims to be the first video tool that lets you give virtual presentations within the video screen of a Zoom or recorded video like a newscast. 

Someone laughing on a video call with a virtual background of the Eifel Tower.

Capuski / Getty Images

The creative company BUCK is sticking it to tedious video calls with its recently developed Slapchat app (a Google Chrome extension). The company currently uses the sticker app internally as a means of spicing up the virtual meeting experience. 

It builds on the success of the company's AR camera app, Slapstick, which lets you add animated stickers to surfaces before or after capture. The company's creators define Slapstick as their "playground for pushing the envelope and bending reality." With the release of Slapstick 3.0, they pioneered the first mobile post-capture AR editing experience out there.

Robert Kienzle, a consultant at the company Knowmium, which runs interactive communication workshops, recommends the app Mmhmm to liven up online meetings. It can do things like insert virtual backgrounds or make the speaker transparent or translucent. 

He also suggests the app Miro, which he describes as "a super-powered whiteboard that allows teams to create, collaborate, compete, and communicate during the meeting or on their own time for long-term projects." Miro can host files, embed code, create slide/frame presentations of content, and has a built-in audio and video chat function, too.

Video Fun Can Be Good

Not everyone agrees that video backgrounds and other ways to spice up meetings are a bad idea. Travis Baumann, the founder of InGenius Solutions, an AV installation firm, said that the backgrounds could add personality to meetings. 

Looking over someone's shoulder at a video call with multiple attendees on the screen.

Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

"So when I do use video backgrounds, which I create myself and upload into Zoom, it's intentional—and oftentimes chosen specifically for the person I'm meeting with," he added. "It's memorable and makes me stand out. I haven't done this, but I have heard of people using a video background as part of a presentation, using it to augment their content without having to use the slide deck as the main screen."

One problem with using video backgrounds is that they can eat up bandwidth, Baumann pointed out. 

"Existing filters are already being taxed on everyone's internet while working from home," he said. "Adding a video background to the mix—especially when scaled up to several participants in a video conference—can complicate performance. For instance, I'm on Starlink, so video backgrounds won't always perform the way they're intended to."

Even Levine, the background skeptic, will grudgingly admit to liking some backgrounds.

"My favorite is the guy who was Zooming from what looked like a regular boring room when, all of a sudden, the door behind him opens, and that same guy walks into the room," he said. "He had made that video a virtual background, of course."

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