is sitting on a couch for video calls unprofessional?

A reader writes:

I have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and love working from my couch. I have always done all my meetings and other virtual calls from the couch as well, and no one has ever mentioned it as a problem. But I am about to start freelancing, and I’m wondering whether doing meetings from a couch makes me seem less professional, or might potentially turn folks off or lead them to question my judgment? It’s a fairly nondescript beige couch, but it’s pretty obvious it’s a couch. (I also have an equally comfortable cushy matching armchair which I’d happily switch to, but I assume that wouldn’t make any difference.)

It would definitely be a bit of a challenge and an annoyance to figure out a new office chair setup elsewhere in the house, so I’d rather not do it if the vast majority of people are unlikely to notice or care. And I honestly feel like I do my best work when I’m most comfortable! But if it’s likely that some significant number of clients or potential clients (even if they’re in the minority) will think less of me when they see the couch behind me, I feel like I should probably bite the bullet and make the change. (The other option, of course, would be a virtual background, but I feel like virtual backgrounds themselves often look less-professional/distracting, with different objects flickering in and out of view from time to time, but maybe my perspective on that is off.) What do you think?

The couch is fine.

Full disclosure: I also work from a couch.

But even if I didn’t, I’d tell you the couch is fine. Lots of people work from couches or armchairs or the kitchen table, and it’s not a big deal. Work where you’re comfortable! There’s nothing inherently unprofessional about upholstery.

I don’t recommend taking video calls from bed — or from a pillow fort — but a couch is fine.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

    1. Xantar*

      You’ll have to drag me out of my pillow fort by force!

      (Preferably after breaking it down with a pillow trebuchet)

      1. Beth*

        I would bring in soft toy sappers to attack your pillow fort, but I suspect they’d just become anolther part of the fortifications.

    2. Redheaded Stepchild*

      I just got a new direct manager and I’m thinking of starting our first 1:1 in a pillow fort – best to set expectations early.

    3. Chief Bottle Washer*

      Actually I use the teams blanket fort background exclusively for internal (not external) calls. My colleagues get a kick out of it.

    4. ScoobyDon't*

      Already built mine, and I’m going to read comic books by flashlight during me team meeting tomorrow.

    5. TPS reporter*

      I keep picturing the pillow fort as looking like an igloo. In which case you should be wearing a parka and speaking through a walkie talkie on the zoom, like you’re on an Arctic expedition. Just go all the way with it.

      1. Gnome*

        Now I’m imagining that, but then there’s the part where my mutt crashes the party/igloo and zoom bombs everything… Which is probably more hilarious than the cat sniffing the camera.

        Definitely need a pet friendly pillow fort.

    6. Allura Vysoren*

      My company rarely does calls with video. There’s really nothing *stopping* me from doing my calls from a pillow fort.

  1. Nesprin*

    Zoom backgrounds are incredibly distracting, especially if your haircolor and background are a similar color. Hair flickering in and out of existence is very distracting.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yes, geez, I was trying to watch a town hall and the presenter’s entire hairdo (which was a rather large ornate bun) kept appearing and disappearing as she was talking. So distracting.

      1. to varying degrees*

        Ooh, but it could be an interesting drinking game. As someone who had to go to government meetings all the time, sometimes you need anything to liven them up.

      2. many bells down*

        Yeah if you have curly hair the virtual backgrounds “smooth” the edges and give me a weird hair helmet. Can’t stand them.

        1. Tuba*

          I’d never judge said hair helmet. I have curly hair that’s also frizzy. It’s heat resistant, and a reasonable blow out is over 60 min every time. The ability to have a blurred background means I save hundreds of hours and dollars on hair products. This is truly the number one reason I work from home.

    2. never mind who I am*

      When I realized I’d be doing a lot of meetings via Zoom I got myself a green screen and chose some of my favorite (personally taken, so I have copyright) photographs for backgrounds. I also have a photo of my cubicle at work that I use on occasion.

      1. Bread Crimes*

        I had to get a tapestry to hang behind me on the wall–a simple and fairly abstract landscape–because Zoom kept trying to color correct me against a very bright white background, and was making me look flushed (or sunburnt (or drunk!)) in contrast, since I’m already, well. Pretty pale. It was not a good look.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          See, Zoom can’t figure out how to color correct me against Landlord White, so it just assumes I am also the wall, except for my eyes. And freckles.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            Does this mean if you close your eyes people in the meeting can’t see you at all? Surely there’s a strategic way to deploy this…

    3. Jen*

      I’m SO GLAD that other people find Zoom backgrounds distracting! A lot of my coworkers use them and I HATE them. I’m always super distracted watching their hair fade in and out and wondering what’s behind them that they’re trying to hide.

      My coworkers get a nice view of my living room, with cats walking behind me occasionally, on meetings. (It makes me keep my living room tidier, too!) When I am meeting with clients, teaching workshops, etc., on Zoom, I have a screen that I put behind me with Renoir paintings on it. (I use it to block the view of my desk on the weekend, too, since my workspace is a corner of my living room.

      1. nobadcats*

        I herd a team of cats in copyediting. I ALWAYS tell them, “unless I tell you otherwise, there is NO need for you to be camera-ready. So show up to the meeting in your cat ears headband, dinosaur costume, Hello Kitty t-shirt, undies, and bunnie slippers. It’s okay! No one can see us!” Personally, I have small stickie note over my camera. Not having video on saves us from lag during meetings (the worst!).

        Zoom backgrounds are just awful. My co-irkers get a nice view of my reference bookshelf, the giant copper pan my grandpa made, and me being bleached out by the sun because all my windows are southern-facing.

        Sometimes, my cat makes an appearance, but only as she’s on her way to her bed on my desk.

    4. Wordnerd*

      I admit I find them fascinating more than distracting, but my favorite oddity about virtual backgrounds is when people are wearing over-the-ear headphones (as opposed to just earbuds) and I can see tiny slivers of their un-blurred backgrounds through them.

    5. Esmeralda*

      I’m kinda judging you here. People have all sorts of reasons for which they might need a background (I use a blurred background): the actual background is more distracting or unprofessional, the computer/camera can only be located in that one spot (living quarters are small or shared or that’s the only location that’s reasonably private or away from noise, desk/chair have to go in that spot due to disability, etc etc)

      I personally find the flickering from others’ virtual backgrounds distracting briefly, but then I just focus on the person’s face and what they’re saying and it’s then less bothersome.

      1. Kacihall*

        I use a blurred background because my back is to a co-worker’s back – her screen is occasionally visible. We deal with sensitive info, and while it is HIGHLY unlikely anyone would take the time to screenshot and be able to see any legible info… not worth it. Plus it’s distracting to me if I can see her moving around behind me. (I wish I could work from home. But we are very butts in seats driven. And I’m waiting til the end of the year to look for a new job to take full advantage of actually having met my deductible.)

        1. Phryne*

          My college workplace has a school for training hearing impaired translators (both realtime typing and sign language) and there, blurred backgrounds are pretty much compulsory in digital meetings. One of my direct coworkers is helping them on a project and he is learning all these different rules there. Backgrounds must be blurred because there are always several sign language translators in the call, and having all different backgrounds with movement and all is really distracting and makes communication more difficult.

        2. WillowSunstar*

          I use blur for most of my backgrounds. Should be fine in most instances, and isn’t distracting the way a brightly colored/outdoosry/etc. background can be.

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        I use a blurred background for Reasons and none of my colleagues are anything but amused when suddenly half a cat appears and then fades back into my space bubbles or whatever.

    6. AnonyAnony*

      Going against the grain here – I personally don’t find the flickering distracting at all. I work remote and 99% of people I meet with use a blurred/virtual background. I guess I’m so used to it at this point I barely notice it, if at all. But I hear what y’all are saying.

    7. topcat*

      Yep. I work from a sofa, and far more important than your choice of seating is being properly lit, properly framed, and looking generally professional in terms of hair/neckline etc. For men and women.

      Blurring out the background or using a virtual background is also an easy option with most videoconferencing services.

      Probably best to avoid the virtual bunny-ears, though!

    8. Quinalla*

      It can be distracting yes, though I understand anyone who wants to/has to use them. I use the blurred background feature as my camera doesn’t do well with a background. Blurred background means that there is privacy for my family that is often walking through, etc. because of my desk’s location, but I find it much less distracting that the green screen backgrounds.

      I’ve had a few people commenting on seeing their reflection on my glasses, that is way more distracting apparently, but I have the blue light filter so it causes big monitor reflection. Oh well :)

      But I agree, couch/chair/etc. is fine as long as you are sitting. If you are laying down on the couch, not professional for video calls :) Bed and pillow fort not professional for most jobs anyway.

    9. Phryne*

      Maybe, but in education, (college) they are pretty much the standard (well, on teams, not zoom in our case, but still). It is one thing your co-workers seeing the state of your lockdown-living room, bedroom corner or heater in the attic, quite another for hundreds of students to get that look into your life.
      Most of our team use backgrounds that are pictures of the inside of the college buildings so there is still some connection with the school.

  2. TechWorker*

    I admit I took an (internal) call sat up in bed today.. tbh I can position camera s.t. only my head/shoulders and a white wall behind me is in view so I think it looked fine! But perhaps others can still ‘tell’ idk

    1. Siege*

      I actually had to do a three-day training in bed last year. My landlord needed to do major work in my bathroom (water was running down the wall in my downstairs’ neighbor’s apartment) and because of distancing and noise it was only possible for me to work in the bedroom since it’s the only room with a door that shuts other than the bathroom. He wasn’t consistently in my apartment, and it was at least something where most of the time I could use the toilet. I decided to ignore the bed since I at least had the virtuous knowledge that I was sitting *on* my (very obvious) bed but I wasn’t *in* bed and also I will never see these people again since it was a national training.

      1. Fikly*

        In the early days of the pandemic, I had a coworker who shared a studio apartment with her partner, and they both were suddenly working remote. When they both had meetings at the same time, she ended up in the bathroom, with her shower curtain as background. I winced on her behalf, that could not have been comfortable.

  3. Another JD*

    I think it depends on your audience. I’ve seen other attorneys attend Zoom court from the couch, and it just feels too informal.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Yeah, I advise my clients to try to attend video hearings from a desk or table, and I would side-eye a lawyer attending from the couch.

      Personally, I would never take a client call or consultation from the couch. If someone’s paying me for my time, it’s courteous and shows that I’m taking their matter seriously if I’m sitting up at a desk, not curled up on the couch.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I think that, although a couch definitely allows you to curl up more than a desk chair, one can still sit up straight and look alert on a couch. I taught remote school from a loveseat for months because it was the only option that worked with my house and family members I had to share space with. I always sat “criss cross applesauce” while I was teaching because that helped me have a straighter back and look more “on”. (It also depends on the couch. The sofas in Victorian times were certainly not very amenable to curling up!)

        1. bamcheeks*

          I think it’s less about sitting up straight than it is about camera angle. If someone sits on the couch, their laptop is probably on their kne or a low coffee table, and you get the weird “looking up their nose” shot. I probably wouldn’t notice someone being on their couch if they had their laptop on a riser so it was roughly equal with their eyeliner.

      2. Delta Delta*

        I did a day-long trial from a couch in a hotel room via remote court. I was able to position a little table such that you couldn’t really tell I was on a couch, and could just see the wall behind me. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked because the couch itself wasn’t visible.

      3. Kate Oliver*

        I agree. I work in a formal consulting department and it would be looked down upon if I took a call from my couch. We are expected to look as professional at home as in the office.

    2. Hamster Manager*

      I agree, this is VERY dependent on your client base. As a freelancer, you need to cater to their tastes a bit more than you do as a salaried person, at least when you’re starting out. If you’re getting the sense that your clients aren’t taking you seriously, try switching to a table with blurred background just for on-camera meetings and couch it up the rest of the time.

      I agree is *should* be fine, but in 5 years of freelancing for many different clients and with many other freelancers, I can’t recall a single person who was clearly on a couch in calls (creative industry) so just something to keep in mind.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Eh, I don’t think it’s that unusual. I’m also in a creative industry and I see couches on calls often enough. Audience really does matter, though! I typically do chair/couch when it’s internal folks and people I know. When it’s client facing, I usually sit/stand at a desk until I’ve felt out the relationship AND ideally I’ve seen them do something similar. (But honestly most of that is vanity, I don’t like my angles on comfortable furniture. Most of my clients do not care.)

    3. NYC Taxi*

      Agree, I feel like the couch sitter isn’t taking the meeting seriously. You can tell from body position if someone is on a couch or sitting at a desk despite what they think, and I think it looks sloppy.

      1. BubbleTea*

        This attitude is extremely harmful to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities that mean they’re not able to work from a desk. I spent quite a lot of time working either in bed or in the bath (not meetings obviously) when I was dealing with a chronic health problem. I could choose between focusing on my work while comfortable, or focusing on my pain and fatigue from sitting upright. Guess which one resulted in better work?

        1. (Not So) New Here*

          While, yes, there may be a medical reason for sitting on a couch, the LW is seeking to build a client base as a freelancer and potential clients won’t all consider medical conditions when interviewing a potential consultant. They may view sitting on a couch as sloppy – regardless of the reason – and it’s useful for LW to know that. I confess that I would also find it off putting if someone looked disengaged, including slouching and regardless of what they’re sitting on. I would hope to focus on their expertise but unconscious bias is a thing and important for LW to consider in this situation.

      2. Mid*

        I slouch like a gremlin regardless of where I sit, so I don’t think professionalism is necessarily portrayed by what you sit on, but rather how engaged you are with the meeting. And, many people don’t have a lot of other options, even now. I can sit at my dining table with a solid wall as a background, or my couch with a solid wall as a background, but my desk has the least appealing/most distracting background, and when my cat decides to be a vocal participant in meetings, sometimes I have to take a meeting in my bedroom so I can keep her out of the way.

        If someone was, say, visibly half asleep during a meeting, slouched and not at all engaging with the conversation, that’s one thing. But where someone sits doesn’t really determine if they’re “sloppy.”

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      Last year, our annual conference was totally online and one of the presenters dialled in from their couch. The actual couch was fine (no objections to that, or to folks presenting from couches in general) but there was a blanket thrown messily over the back of it that made it look just a bit too informal for an academic conference, and which was also a bit distracting. So just make sure everything around your couch looks tidy to minimise visual distractions.
      For normal video meetings, though, I really couldn’t care where/how people sit!

    5. Malarkey01*

      I second know your audience and industry. Internal calls, meeting with my team- incredibly okay to be on a couch. It would be really noticeable and frowned upon with a client meeting or senior leadership.

      I personally would start off more formal and then adjust.

    6. The OG Sleepless*

      I was on a jury this summer and a witness testified via Facetime from his car. From the driver’s seat, with his seatbelt on. He was driving when they called him, he had to pull over, and there were several seconds of “can you hear me now?” I was really unimpressed.

    7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, as a freelancer myself, I would never take a call from a couch. My work chair is perfectly comfortable, and I really don’t think it looks pro to be lounging.

      Alison is perhaps well established enough to get away with it, but someone just starting out as a freelancer may need to exercise more caution.

  4. itsame*

    If you use the blur option on your background people might not even realize it’s a couch, but beyond that I think the only real concern is to make sure your couch setup is leaning more towards reception area of an office than place I lounge and play video games after work. (Aka you’re not slouched down into the cushions, the area is tidy, and there aren’t wayward messy blankets/dishes/open DVD boxes/etc. in view)

    1. Mel*

      Yes, I also use blur. It’s not as distracting as a virtual background, and it doesn’t make me feel like I’m inviting people into my home.

    2. OtterB*

      I use blur also. Used to use one of several backgrounds before that was available. I admit I can’t manage to set up a location at home that doesn’t have clutter behind it.

  5. KoiFeeder*

    I took a few video calls from the bed post surgery, but that was because those calls could definitely have been emails and I was annoyed with that teacher for insisting on them. Couch is almost certainly fine, I invested in a comfy desk chair personally because my couch is not particularly ergonomic.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      That reminds me of the person who posted on Reddit about being denied an exception to the a mandatory on-video class…she took the video from her hospital bed where she was getting cancer treatment.

      She got the nurses in on it too, so they helped arrange a bunch of scary-looking equipment in view (as if getting cancer tmt wasn’t scary enough) and the teacher was mortified, told her she could get off video, student said no she thought about that the teacher said when she had initially asked to be excused and found she agreed with the teacher about how important it was to interact on camera.

      Cherry on top was the teacher’s supervisor (or someone like that) was also on the class and wanted to talk to the teacher afterward.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I got sepsis during my senior year midterms in high school, and I can say with great confidence that all members of hospital staff are down to clown on teachers and school administrators that try to pull this sort of thing.

  6. CharlieBrown*

    But isn’t part of being an executive that you get a big office with lots of comfy furniture that often includes a couch? If it’s okay for them, surely it is okay for the rest of us.

    I can work anywhere, but I really do my best work when and where I’m most comfortable. And I’m thinking I may need to add a sheep to my home office, as well.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OP is just starting out as a freelancer, she’s not a well-established executive in a big firm.
      I think the difference is key here.

  7. Afac*

    A personal anecdote: I stopped zooming from a couch because I am completely incapable of not slouching on my couch. Whether that’s just my dimensions relative to my couch’s dimensions, I don’t know. But it was not the most flattering view of me, and in some meetings I felt that mattered, if only for my own self-image.

    But I don’t think I would critique someone else for making a different decision, especially if their posture was better than mine.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Oh, yeah, my couch encouraged the praying mantis ergonomics. I don’t have to be too terribly concerned with my image right now, but I do have to be concerned for my back.

      1. Afac*

        I like me a couch that is big enough I can stretch out and curl up on, but on zoom the couch makes me look like the clown character in that kids show “Big Comfy Couch”. I was simultaneously tiny but all face, hair, and double chins.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      This is where I land…posture and position/steadiness of the camera. If the laptop camera is now positioned with a view up your nose, or wobbles on your lap while you are on the couch, it might be worth it to move to a solid surface like a table.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I used a freestanding laptop stand (the no-longer-sold Ikea DAVE) for remote teaching from the sofa. It let me adjust the height and kept the camera stationary.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, I feel like I wrote this letter – this has been on my mind! The couch is definitely less formal and when I sit with my laptop on my knees, I’m aware that the camera jiggles more – so yes, it’s less professional for times I’m trying to go above and beyond for a good first impression. But if it’s another internal meeting I’m going for it. I’m using a laptop and usually also typing on that same device so wobbles are inevitable.

    3. DragoCucina*

      In previous, previous job I was on a morning cable show every month promoting library programs. The best tip I learned was to always have a small pillow behind my back. It helps prevent the chair/couch slump.

      I still do it for formal online presentations. It improves my posture.

  8. Ginny*

    As someone who used to work from a couch regularly, please just be careful about working from a relaxed position. I was having frequent headaches and had to visit a physical therapist whose first question was: do you work from a desk? I switched back to a formal desk and no more headaches. I still miss the couch work life, but it wasn’t good for my neck.

    1. Nikki*

      This was my first thought reading this as well. It’s so much easier to have bad posture when working on a couch vs. a desk or table and it can lead to some really bad problems.

  9. Glacier*

    I love working from my couch and did for years during the pandemic. I recently got a stand up desk which I use on occasion but the couch still calls my name. I have a painting behind me so its not apparent that I am on the couch but I wouldn’t be worried about others knowing I am on the couch. That’s part of the beauty of working from home is being more comfortable The generic teams backgrounds can be nice to look at but only if you don’t move as things can disappear. Our company actually created some custom backgrounds with our sites in the pictures. I rarely have video calls without people outside my organization so if you are working with clients or the public you may want to appear more corporate but you could take cues from co-workers if you are feeling uncomfortable.

  10. kiki*

    I think the biggest concern I’d have about the optics of zooming from a couch is making sure your camera angle is good and that your laptop is on something sturdy. I had a coworker who would zoom from their couch, which was totally cool, but their laptop was on their lap. The angle was weird and unflattering, we all were staring up their nose, and the camera was unsteady.

    1. Plumbum*

      This is easily remedied by a cheap “breakfast in bed tray” laptop stand. I didn’t have a desk for over a year working from home, but had one of these either on the coffee table or across my lap to make the laptop perfect videocall height.

      1. Aerin*

        I invested in a nice one with a drawer because it was on sale, but yup, a solid “couch desk” helps a lot. I can even use a USB external monitor with mine!

    2. mlem*

      Underrated observation! It’s not confined to couches, of course — one of my team’s members seems to have her work laptop on a very low desk — but it seems more common there.

    3. Leilah*

      I had a zoom call the other day with a student who must have had the laptop on their knees….the whole picture was mildly wobbling at all times and I truly got seasick whenever I tried to watch her screen!

  11. Tio*

    I don’t think a couch is a problem as long as you’re sitting with decent posture. If you’re on it and and slumped over, you’ll seem more unprofessional. It can be easy to fall into the habit, so keep aware

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This is my take on it as well. Sit up straight and have the laptop on a hard surface that won’t wiggle when you sneeze.

      1. Atomic Tangerine*

        I have an employee who practically lies down on the couch during team meetings…and looks really bored. Which, whatever but the most amusing part is she wants to be promoted to manager someday.

  12. Blarg*

    I have a desk, and a wall I painted behind it that I call my Zoom wall.

    My cat, however, has FEELINGS about me working from the desk. Loud feelings. Also, the couch is just so much more comfortable.

    I explored getting a couch-like chair that would be big enough for the cat and me but fit under the desk, and … wow is there a market that’s not being exploited. There are things that are the right length, but have huge arms. And things that are longer than the desk. Pinterest totally failed me, as I couldn’t figure out a query that didn’t just get lift top type coffee tables, or massive banquette seating that would take up more room than my apartment has.

    So now I sit on the couch and look at the Zoom wall. Everybody wins.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      There are definitely couch-centric table things that will work — try “Couch table Tray” for your search and you’ll get a bunch of options that would hold a laptop (but not a whole lot else). You could also see if you could find a bed table (like the ones at the hospital) that would lower enough.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I spent five years working from home out of a butt-and-a-half armchair, because I inadvertently taught my dog as a puppy that she should be in my lap during the workday and she’s 50 pounds full grown, so we negotiated a custody arrangement whereby she got half the chair and I got half. I always sit cross-legged, given my druthers, which helped – so at various points, I either sat in the front half of the chair, or turned it sideways to the desk, sat cross-legged up against the arm, and propped my keyboard on the arm of the chair instead. I am not, you might say, a spectacle of good ergonomics. Luckily I’m also mostly indestructible.

      I have contemplated trading in the armchair for a couch, since I now have that dog and also a six-month-old Great Dane so a butt-and-a-half is not enough, but all the couches I find either have terrible reviews or are grossly out of my price range (or both). Plus both dogs have bogarted the chair anyway, so I just hiked up my desk and stand at it now :P

    3. Sloanicota*

      Haha the reason I switched to the couch, away from my dinner table, was because the dang cat would NOT stop walking on camera at the table, which was somehow more intriguing to her – “what is Person doing just sitting in there looking at light box? Must investigate.” My couch is where I watch TV so she’s used to that and sits nicely on the arm rest.

    4. Gnome*

      I have a squishy ottoman next to my chair for the cat who otherwise has footsteps on my keyboard types of feelings.

  13. Same*

    I work from my couch. No TV is on, but I’m on the couch with my laptop on the coffee table. With my dogs. That’s what works for me!

    Enjoy your couch.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I work from my couch for Zoom meetings with a very long HDMI cable attached to the TV so it can be my second monitor (when viewing presentations and whatnot). I love it!

  14. Alex*

    I work from a couch 100% of the time. With big pillows in view.

    As long as there’s no house-mess in sight and I’m wearing clothes and I’ve brushed my hair, I consider myself good enough for a Zoom call.

  15. Nancy*

    I have video calls from my couch all the time because the only other options are the floor or my bed. No one has cared. There are ways to hid the fact if you need to. I don’t use backgrounds because I hate them, but I can angle the screen so it is not that obvious.

    1. Nancy*

      I also sit up, keep my laptop on a the coffee table instead of my lap, and wear a professional looking top. I move the pillows and blankets from the couch and it is already against a blank wall so there is nothing else to see.

  16. LaDiDa*

    One of my great annoyances with video calls is that people who are worried or have a really messy or questionable background don’t use a virtual background or at the minimum the blur function. If you are at all worried, just use one of those.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, my “office” is also a storage area with piles of sewing stuff. I work from a chair at a desk, but my background is a mess. I resent the implication that my background needs to look like a Martha Stewart minimalist house when I am only using part of the space for an office.

  17. Avril Ludgateaux*

    Team “don’t find virtual backgrounds distracting at all and prefer them for the illusion of privacy and discretion”!

    Current membership: 1

    But all are welcome!

    I would not be put off by somebody working from their couch, but I might be distractingly curious about it (is it comfort? is it lack of space or preparation? is it better lighting? better wifi signal?) whereas I’m accustomed enough to virtual backgrounds and their clipping issues that I can completely tune it out. I wouldn’t judge the candidate negatively either way, though.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Not all virtual backgrounds are created equal – I don’t like them in general, but some are pretty ok and some are very distracting. I think part of it is which computer program it is, but also if your hair/clothes are close in shade to whatever’s behind you it gets much worse. Low light also seems to make the clipping far worse.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        My university has a step and repeat background with our name and mascot and I find it super distracting.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I prefer a blur over most backgrounds – but agree that your setup makes a big difference in how distracting backgrounds are in general.

      3. BubbleTea*

        Not all computers are created equal either, some graphics cards can’t handle the virtual backgrounds as well as others (mine isn’t really any use for that).

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I don’t really find them too distracting either, though it does depend on some things:

      1) blur is less distracting than replacing the background with a still image. This is because there’s not such a harsh delimitation and movement (such as a person passing behind, or even just a mesh of hair moving) won’t just appear out of nowhere. Human brains are really attuned to notice movement, and sudden movement coming out of nowhere is startling.

      2) Using a still shot of one’s own desk, or a “fun” background can be more distracting because people will spend brain power thinking about the background (is it a background or is it real? wait, I thought he was at home today…, wait, what IS that?…). Also avoid backgrounds with writing. Use something boring and not confusing. Unless having your background be a conversation piece is the point, which can be ok in some situations.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Ha I had this, one team member had a very convincing fake background and then she walked out of her Zoom window into another colleague’s Zoom window, because it turned out she was actually in the real office and sitting at the next desk to her. It really confused my brain for a moment!

  18. mlem*

    I think it 100% is going to depend on the field and the nature of the call.

    As others have noted, video court might not be the best setting to take calls from a couch; in some fields, a couch might seem too fussy and uptight; in my software job, I’ve occasionally taken video calls on the couch (when my neck can’t take the “proper” desk/chair setup anymore) without concern, but I wouldn’t have a one-on-one with my great-grandboss from the couch.

  19. Justme, The OG*

    I’ve done Zoom meetings (for class) from my car. Parked, of course, and using Wifi from the place where my kid had an extracurricular activity. It’s fine.

    1. Eater of Hotdish*

      Thank you for doing this while parked. I used to have people come to Zoom tutoring appointments literally while driving.

      I mean, they were taking a required course for our grad program asynchronously, which is always more challenging, but they couldn’t quit their day jobs to go back to school, so I get that time was tight. But still, I told them to pull over or make an appointment to meet with me later, rather than Zooming their way into a ditch or something. D:

      1. Nightengale*

        I have had people show up for telemedicine visits for their child while driving a moving car. I mean it worked OK when the patient was a teen who could hold the phone and do most of the talking. But when the patient is a young child. . .um. no we aren’t going to do this.

    1. BellyButton*

      I am currently building a house and have been living and working in an RV on 30 acres for over a year now. I AM SO OVER IT!

    2. Sandra Dee*

      I have been working from a small teardrop camper off and on during the summer. It is nice to get outside and take a quick walk to the beach to refocus my brain. I have another co-worker that works from various camping adventures. Totally a know your audience situation.

    3. Jay*

      We’re mostly retired. My husband does some consulting work that requires teleconferences and one day this summer he decided to dial in from the beach. He used a headset and a background so no one knew – until he turned his laptop around at the end of the call to show them the water.

  20. Bosslady*

    I’ve taken a lot of calls from people obviously sitting on their couches, where you can still just see that they are sitting up, and you are mostly only their head and shoulders. The meetings go fine and they seem professional. I’ve also taken a few weird calls where I could see someone lounging, covered with a blanket, or lying down or on their side. I asked if they were well and in one case she was sick, but the others just seemed unprofessional and weird.

  21. NoRoomToWorkFromHome*

    On the rare occasion I have to take a video call from home, I don’t have much choice but to take it from bed (or the floor). I live in a three room apartment (bedroom, bathroom, open area that acts as kitchen/living room/partner’s office). My partner works from home full time and has a job that consists mostly of video calls, so I can’t be in that room, I assume the bathroom would be worse, leaving me with on the bed or sitting on the floor beside the bed.

  22. Badger*

    Just make sure you’re aware of your surroundings. I had a colleague who turned on the background (so you technically cannot see what’s there), but at the edges that you can see when somebody moves you could make out a pile of laundry and random other stuff strewn on the couch next to him. I wouldn’t recommend that.
    Yes we all have chaotic flats but you look much more professional when you make sure to move that out of frame.

    Also make a gut check (or maybe ask a friend) if you are so far reclined that it subconsciously looks like you don’t care about the conversation. Doesn’t have to be the case! Not even if you have to recline for health reasons. I believe it’s all in the angle of your camera vs. your body.

  23. learnedthehardway*

    I do video calls from my armchair (when they’re early in the morning and I don’t want to wake up the rest of the family); from my desk (with background blurred so my messy office isn’t as noticeable); and from whatever is available (when travelling – last month, I sat on the bed of my parents’ guest room).

    If I feel it necessary, I just tell people that I’m in X unusual spot for whatever reason.

    One of my clients regularly does her video calls from her car (while parked). She doesn’t need to be in the office and does need to be on the road, so she does what works for her.

  24. Pants*

    I work in tech so there are already more relaxed rules. One of my coworkers works exclusively from her couch. I work exclusively at my sit/stand desk, mainly because I use a 34″ monitor and need to have several windows open at once. I can’t do it on that tiny laptop screen. Also hate the laptop keyboard. I have a 2 piece split keyboard.

    This is my first tech job and I started out with blankness behind me. My boss encouraged me to do whatever I wanted so I filled the bookshelf behind me with things that basically tell you who I am in knick-knack form. Before calls officially start, people ask me about things behind me quite often. It’s not a pillow fort but it at least has personality! (I do blur when necessary.)

    1. Jay*

      I don’t blur or use a background. The wall of my study behind me has a number of framed art pieces including a large-format photo of a baseball stadium. People often ask about it….and since I root for a team that a lot of people love to hate, that can lead to some interesting conversations.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yep, I have plenty of stuff behind me and I don’t blur. None of it is inappropriate and if my camera on, there’s so many people in the meeting you probably can’t see much of anything beyond my head anyway.

  25. 3lla*

    During my cancer recovery I took all my meetings from bed. A few people noticed. They all still deigned to work with me. (I admit I had the mother of all excuses, though.)

  26. lilsheba*

    Doesn’t matter. A desk, a couch, kitchen table, whatever. You’re at home and it needs to be where you are comfortable or in some cases where it’s possible, and others will have to deal.

    1. Roland*

      Others don’t actually have to deal, they can just not use OP in the future. OP is wise to be asking this question, regardless of what the answer is.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. Many things outside of our total control reflect on us, and we should at least be aware of that.

      2. lilsheba*

        Actually they do. You’re at home, you get to be where YOU want to be. And what works best for YOU. Not them.

        1. Roland*

          What exactly do you imagine is forcing potential clients to work without someone they (rightly or wrongly) deem unprofessional? Money is made in the real world, not in the imaginary world you wish for.

        2. Bagpuss*

          I think you have missed the fact that OP is starting to freelance so is trying to win clients.
          Of course people can’deal’ but in that scenario it’s very easy for them to deal by choosing not to engage her.
          And that is likely to be true to some extent in many cases- you are unlikely to be fired for working from the couch but if it means you are perceived as less engaged or less professional it may mean that you are less likely to be given promotions, given more internal opportunities etc.
          It’s very much about knowing your audience and market.
          I don’t think working from the couch is inherently unprofessional but I think it is entirely reasonable for OP to think about perception and how it presents

  27. Aerin*

    I had a couple of meetings with HR about allowing me to continue to work from home rather than return to office because I’m dealing with long covid. Taking those meetings from my couch because I don’t have the energy for a full day at my desk certainly helped make my case.

  28. Student*

    I am way too busy judging whether your meeting could’ve been an email to judge your background on a video call.

  29. HannahS*

    Agree with team “depends on your audience.” I sit at a table for seeing patients but on a couch for meeting with colleagues. Some industries require more formality, so I’d guess as long as you’re in keeping with the norms you’re probably fine.

  30. NB*

    I think it’s fine to work from the couch. My only caution would be to try to keep your laptop still while you’re on camera. Sometimes people shift position or the laptop jostles when they type.

  31. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I think you are fine. One thing is to make sure that your laptop is set on a table or something and you are not balancing it on your lap. You can very easily jostle the computer while you are typing and it can be a little dizzying. But I wouldn’t hold it against anyone.

    I do know of people who have really comfy armchairs or wingbacked chairs that they use as an office chair. And really, if someone has a problem with where you sit or how your office space is set up, that a them problem not a you problem. And would you want a client that is so nitpicky and structured?

  32. acl*

    OP doesn’t need to invest in a desk chair, any chair will do. I think it’s the background that counts. A wall with artwork, bookshelf, plants. Whatever she has.

    For Zoom meetings, I set up in my dining room with artwork behind me. I have a desk set up, desk chair, downstairs, but the background is, shall we say, casual.

    In OP’s place, I’d start out a little more formal, and see what others are doing. If they’re in easy chairs, in their kitchens, etc., then OP can Zoom from the couch with confidence.

  33. Currently Bill*

    If you’re leading the call or presenting on the call, it’s probably better not to do it from the couch. It’s not that it’s too casual. It’s more about speaking ability. Sitting straight up or even standing will make it easier to have a more effective speaking presence since you’re not scrunching down your lungs like you might on the couch.

  34. TootsMagoots*

    I took an interview from my very professional looking couch on Friday with a lovely painting behind me. Everything looked great. Until my dog decided to jump into my lap and give the interviewer an eyeful of his freshly groomed backend. Always a troublemaker.

  35. nightengale*

    I’m a pediatrician so obviously “professional” is a bit different than corporate

    But I have been seeing telemed patients from my couch since the start of the pandemic. (Was just telemed for awhile, now I am in the office 3 days a week.) I have a large Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy next to me on the couch to remind everyone I am a pediatrician. It’s not the same as the bins of dinosaurs, blocks and books and fidgets I have at the office, but it keeps up the flavor.

  36. RedinSC*

    The only thing I will say about video calling from a couch. Don’t have your laptop on your lap and have it move around. One of my staff members does that. I’ve told her the laptop needs to stay stationary because we were all getting motion sick trying to focus on her.

  37. TootsNYC*

    I have a colleague who attends Zoom meetings from her couch, and I assume that she actually works at a desk, and goes to the couch for the meetings because the background is better, or it’s more comfortable to sit there.

    1. I.T. Phone Home*

      This is exactly my situation. I sit at my dining room table to work, but relocate to the couch for meetings. From my normal working position, you’d get a view straight into my kitchen. I don’t want to think about whether I cleaned up after lunch or whether my kid is walking through the background to get a snack. I don’t judge other people’s backgrounds, but it would be a little busier and a more intimate look into my household than I want.

      My couch is backed up against a neutral wall, so nothing distracting behind me and the kid can go anywhere in the house without stepping into the shot. I put the laptop on a riser on the coffee table so it’s the right height and stable. If I need to multitask with an email or a document, I plug in a cheapie USB keyboard and mouse that I put on my lap out of frame so that I’m not leaning into the camera at a weird angle or jostling the camera, although If I’m just taking notes I still use a pad and pen. It sounds elaborate when I type it out, but the riser was about $30 and the keyboard was $15 and everything else is just my normal furniture.

  38. The Loaf*

    I had a colleague who was lounging on her couch during client calls, including calls where the CEO was present. She was reprimanded and I agreed with it. Couch calls with your team are fine, and even some external partners, as long as you are sitting up, have your laptop stabilized, etc. But this colleague was full on laying down with her laptop on the arm of her couch. Not ideal.

  39. Pikachu*

    I wish we could go back to the days where we were not expected to join conference calls with video all the time. It’s exhausting. My former company was partially remote from its founding in the late 90s and we all got along with phone conference lines and webex or joinme for screensharing just fine.

    It certainly is helpful for many types of meetings and roles, but there are just as many where it adds no value at all and, if anything, is more of a distraction.

  40. OP*

    Thanks so much to Alison for answering and all the commenters for your feedback! I appreciate the reminders about not having the laptop on my lap (I do tend to do that right now, but will be more strict about avoiding it moving forward) and being conscious of my posture. And seeing that there are a few commenters who do seem to see this as a potential issue, maybe I’ll think about a secondary setup with an actual chair, at least for initial client meetings where I’m trying to make a good first impression. Thanks again!

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