Zoom meeting backdrops have become fashionable! The pandemic got us all into Zoom and then suddenly our backgrounds became interesting. At least I think they did. I do not mean virtual background here (although they are also intriguing), I mean what is present and on view in someone’s room behind them.

As a coach and an academic, I am fascinated by people, our influences, and our behaviours. I love people. Each of us is different and each so special.

Many of us (myself included) position our online meeting backdrops in certain ways because we want to convey a certain image to others

We all want to be seen by others in particular ways. Sales of ‘instant libraries’ have reportedly soared over the pandemic as people have bought books in bulk, presumably to convey a certain aesthetic and show credibility. As someone who loves books, I struggle with this trend. Is it authentic? Book collections are cultivated over years. They show what we read, or wanted to read, at different points in our lives. Book collections hint at a story of who their owner is. If you buy your books in bulk, this richness is lost.

Perhaps I am being too judgmental here. The pragmatic part of me realises that books do look really nice as a backdrop. If the trend is increasing awareness of just how amazing books are, surely that can only be a good thing? Whilst most of us have not bought an instant library, many of us (myself included) position our online meeting backdrops in particular ways because we want to convey a certain image to others.

Culture-shaping satire

The anonymous Twitter account, @bookcasecredibility, created at the beginning of the pandemic, now has nearly 19,000 followers. Their main aim seems to be to poke fun at those who have tried too hard with their book and prop positioning. These folk are pretty funny but they also have a culture-shaping ministry that can be underestimated. Society can take itself too seriously. As people who form society and shape culture, we need these spaces where those gifted in satirical humour can bring us down to earth and help us to laugh at ourselves. And the point is that we are laughing at ourselves because as we chuckle at those in the public eye who have been caught out positioning their bookshelves in a certain way, we are probably seeing a little bit of ourselves in there too.

Which group are you?

It seems to me that there are broadly three groups of people. First, there are those who, perhaps because they are so relaxed (or for some other reason), do not give their backgrounds too much thought beyond ensuring that there is nothing inappropriate on show.

Second are others who take care to position their backgrounds in ways that reflect and convey certain messages about who they are and what they do. This is certainly not a negative thing but the question would be whether this stems from feelings of security and authenticity, or from insecurity and wanting to be something we are not.

The third group is somewhere in between the two. There are probably more groups. You can decide about that yourself.

I sit in the third group, but as someone who started out in marketing communications and cares about presentation, I do really identify with group two. I have also at times cared too much about what others think of me.

My pandemic bookshelves

So, in an effort to be authentic and illustrate some of this, I thought that I would share a picture of my own pandemic workspace! The bookshelves are what people see when they meet with me for coaching or for academic-related work, although I doubt that many of the titles are readable. Here you have a wider view. It is more or less how I left it the other night. I tried not to tidy up or position too much, but it was a temptation! So here it is. What do you think it says about me?

remember to have a little chuckle at yourself!

What do your surroundings say about you? Do you care? You don’t have to. If you do, don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember to have a little chuckle at yourself!

The link to a Telegraph article here should not necessarily be seen as an indication of political leanings. Be wary of over-analysing in the quest to understand more!

I offer professional coaching for growth, realignment, and transformation. For more about me, please see hannahmather.com, or email me at hello@hannahmather.com. I would be delighted to hear from you!