179. In this age of Zoom, I find it surprisingly hard to improve on my virtual setup

Welcome to the Innovation Nitty Gritty series. Here, the devil is in the details, and this is where I geek out and go deep on hands-on innovation. The thoughts I share range from being world firsts to “Oh, I just discovered this — I’ll share, in case others also have struggled with that particular problem”. So if you prefer the big picture and conceptual talk, stop right there. If you want the nitty gritty, read on!

Seen from this angle, my workspace setup looks nifty enough!

Since Spring 2020, many of us have gone full swing digital. In the beginning, that meant learning how to use new tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and so on. Then came the wave of panic, hilariousness and awkward laughter. Things that normally weren’t part of our working lives suddenly invaded them.

Kids, dogs, and the occasional naked husband were now a staple of 2020 meeting life.

While there’s still plenty of that going on, there are many who have shifted gears yet again, though. Because if our webcam setup now counts as our “extended work clothes”, we might as well put some effort into it. Better lighting, more expensive webcames, nicer backgrounds and some attention paid to what our new virtual office spaces look like.

Luckily, there’s plenty of help to be found. The internet is full of help, tips and step-by-step guides on how to make your work space look just a tad more inviting and high class.

The annoying thing is that it’s a lot easier in theory than in practice.

That’s the subject of this blog post; I’m going to take a detailed look at some of the issues I’ve had with improving my setup, and share some insights. Perhaps this strikes a chord with you, and if so, feel more than free to learn from my mistakes. After all, innovation happens in many spaces, and the home office space is definitely one of those, that’s seeing a lot of action right now. So, without further ado, I bid you join me on a journey of woe and suffering!

If there’s one thing the pros agree on it’s this. Lighting matters. It matters a LOT. But from there on, it’s quite tricky, because while that’s a great tip, it leaves much to be desired as to specificity. And yes, I know, there are plenty of kind souls, who have shown us all sorts of brilliant ways to do this, but there’s so much that’s down to what you have and what the actual conditions are like.

Because, annoyingly enough, it turns out that light doesn’t really behave like it does in some lovely youtube tutorial.

Oh, your wooden ceiling creates a whole new problem for any light that bounces off it? Well, that’s just great. And that off-white colour that you think is nicer to look at than plain white? Turns out that it messes up reflected light too. And don’t even get me started on what the window does!

Let me just say this: I’ve got small lights and big lights. Ring lights and soft lights. Low temperature stuff and high temperature bulbs. I’ve tried softboxes and backlighting. And even though it’s not terrible, it certainly isn’t amazing!

It’s now both a ring light AND a shirt hanger! Innovation of the highest order.

I have friends, who have amazing setups, and my envy for them is endless. Lovely corners with posters, beautiful bookshelves and sweet angles that show off their winter gardens or Turkish fruit trees. That’s great, and it looks like a million, when done right.

But not all of us have that luck.

My office is wonderfully spacious, and has room for both my computer setup, a work table for Siv (my better half) and a big mattress, where our two year old daughter can watch My Little Pony while daddy is working. There’s even a nice view of rooftops and fields, and when it’s windy I can see the huge tree in our garden sway through the second window. I couldn’t ask for more.

When it comes to how it looks in a virtual meeting, though, there’s much to be desired. The slanted walls make it look like an uncomfortable attic, and while the floor area is just shy of 20 m2 (200 sq ft), it looks quite small on screen. And yes, I know that it doesn’t help that I have moving boxes in plain sight on the photo — but I do tend to hide them when trying to impress someone!

Those slanted walls, though… damn, they’re a nuisance.

I’m playing with the idea of getting a shelf system of some kind to have behind me, to create a sort of “background wall” for my regular Zoom meetings.

And while I’ve trawled the web for reviews and tips and have spent hours mulling over what I should get, I’ve found that the webcams I know own have one thing in common:

  • They’re so automated that I can’t do anything about their auto functions. This might seem nice, but it is a bit frustrating to turn up the power on my lovely new ring light and see the webcame auto-adjust it down…
  • They have nothing that even resembles a standard when it comes to things like light temperature and optimal conditions. Add to that differences in view field (is it 88°, 108° or some other arcane measurement?), in cord length and in attaching options and you’ll start to feel dizzy.
Same lighting conditions. Cameras placed next to each other. The difference is hardly noticeable, right?

This, I learned today. December 28th, 2020. Roughly nine months after Denmark was locked down for the first time. Now, I may be slow and not always that tech savvy (ironically, in my work with innovation this is not a problem — it’s rarely about being tech savvy), but this was ridiculous. I’ve seen my Linkedin feed bombarded with all sorts of articles and videos and how-to-guides related to digital meetings, but not one article titled “Don’t buy a new webcam. Your phone is so much better!”

I’m sure that those articles are there, but they haven’t exactly flooded my wall.

Yet, today, I found out that by downloading a ten dollar app for my iPhone (EpocCam Pro) and going through a simple installation procedure, I could turn my iPhone into a functioning webcam in less than five minutes.

It was simple, cheap and fast. AND it works. So if you’ve got a second rate webcam (or even a first rate one!), I’d advise you to check this out.

Granted, I look like I’m already half asleep, but the quality is decent and the room looks kind of ok.

I’ve had no problems there, though. I’ve been doing podcasts for many years, and my trusty Yeti microphone works quite well. It would be great if I spent some effort on more serious sound design for the office, but that’s for some time in the future, when I have the luxury of being able to bring on someone who knows their stuff. For now, it’s more than good enough.

When we left Copenhagen and moved to Bornholm, and I got this fancy new room to use as an office, I did have a bit of trouble with the room dimensions being different, but a few quick adjustments and tests and I was ready to go. Many of the newer webcams come with decent microphones, though, so unless you’ve got the space and the inclination, I’d say you’re fine without a pro microphone setup. My old podcast (which ran from 2013 to 2016) was recorded on an iPhone 6+ and the sound there was decent.

Free youtube video tutorials are great.

Articles are great.

There are tons of wonderful (free) resources out there, but if there’s one thing that’s hard to beat, it’s having a specialist on the other end of that Zoom call, who not only tells you what to do in general terms, but in specific ones as well.

This is true for anything. And that means that it’s true here, too. General advice vs Specific help is nothing new.

So if you’re one of those cool cats, who has helped a bunch of friends with their digital setups, I think you’ll find that there is a market that’s ready and willing to pay you money for your services. And if you’re one of those, who — like me — is struggling a bit, even while devouring all the helpful content you can come across, I’ve got one final tip for you.

The moment your dog/kid/naked husband enters the picture, nobody notices if your video quality is bad.

The only type of flying with Emirates that any of us get to do at the moment.

Claus Raasted is an Innovation Strategist, and recently wrote “The Innovation Cycle”. He serves as the Director of the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is a Coach at McKinsey & Company and is a founding partner at the Global Institute For Thought Leadership. He also has a past in reality TV, but these days, who hasn’t?

www.clausraasted.com

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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