Working from home is the best thing to happen to work since the plow: pants are optional, happy hour starts whenever you feel like it, and you can nuke last night's fish with wild abandon. Thanks to Skype, it's easier than ever to join the remote workforce — as long as you're willing to follow a few tips that keep you looking professional.
Assume the Position
So you've got your ergonomic home office all set up, right? Or perhaps you do your best work from under a pile of afghans, Chinese take-out containers, and cats. The couch can be great for solo productivity, but when you're hunched over your laptop the webcam ends up below your face, and your clients get an unflattering up-view of your chin and the contents of your nostrils.
For Skype calls, use a laptop stand (or stack books, pizza boxes, whatever) so that your computer's camera is level with your forehead, with the screen tilted slightly toward you. The head-on view makes you appear friendlier, not to mention less lumpy.
Light It Up
Poor home lighting, combined with the bluish tint cast by your screen, can make you look like Nosferatu after a bender. Good natural light or a few well-placed lamps provide an easy fix and make you look like the boss that you are.
If you can, sit facing a window: the daylight helps eliminate shadows, whereas sitting with the window behind you will make you look like a creepy backlit silhouette.
For more cave-like dwellings (or late-night calls, if you're conferencing with Hawaii), a couple of table lamps will do the trick. Position them behind your laptop and one to two feet to either side, with the bulbs angled toward you so they eliminate shadows under your chin, nose, and eyes. Make sure the bulbs are the same color, and look for yellow or rose-colored hues instead of bright white LEDs: the warm tones will help even out the blue from your screen.
You love rolling straight out of bed and into the "office," but showing up to conference calls looking like Oscar the Grouch will make your boss reevaluate a work-from-home policy faster than you can say "open office plan."
Get yourself Skype-ready in record time by styling your hair and throwing on a shirt in a bright, solid color. Avoid patterns: on webcam, they look busy and distracting. What you wear on the bottom is your business — as long as you remember not to stand up.
If you're the makeup-wearing type, choose a yellow or pink-toned foundation to balance the blue from your screen. A BB or CC cream goes on fast, and will even moisturize your mug while you take care of business. Just add mascara to open up your eyes, and you're good to go. If face gunk isn't your bag, place a piece of white paper over your keyboard: it absorbs the zombie-light from your screen.
No matter how prepped you are, your Skype session can be quickly ruined if you sound like you're calling from your secret headquarters a thousand miles beneath the sea. The mic and speakers in your laptop are most likely low quality and close together, meaning they'll conspire to drown you out. Consider using a USB headset, which separates the input and output enough to provide much clearer sound. It'll run you about $40, but you can go ahead and pass the bill on to your boss or, if you're freelance, write it off come tax time.
A few minutes before you have to face the world remotely, clear the room of distractions: turn off the TV, put the dog and his chew-toy in another room, and clear your collection of half-empty coffee mugs from the table.
On the call, you may be tempted to stare at the screen: after all, that's where the people are. Unfortunately, this casts your eyes down and away from the camera, and can make it look like you're not paying attention. Instead, try to spend most of the call with your eyes on the cam, occasionally glancing down to gauge your colleagues' reactions.
Take It With You
It happens – you're "working from home" (aka a beach in Southeast Asia, or the burrito emporium across town) when a client requests an urgent Skype call. Without time to rush home, you'll need to think on your feet…and Skype from your phone.
Right now, while you're thinking about it, go download Skype for iPhone or the Skype Android App and set it up. Now, in addition to having a free mobile instant messaging client (woohoo!), you're also ready for Skype-to-Skype or Skype-to-Phone calls from virtually anywhere. Note that Skype-to-Skype calls are free anywhere in the world (although data charges may apply) while international Skype-to-Phone calls will run you a minimal per-minute cost or monthly subscription fee. (It's quite cheap, though… so go ahead and hop on that last-minute flight deal to Thailand.)
When it's time to chat, wipe the smug grin off your face and find somewhere quiet with a neutral background: your car is a good choice or, if you're out and about in a city, look for a bank waiting area or hotel lobby. Sit back, rest your elbows on your chest, and hold your phone directly in front of your face
Now relax, speak slowly and clearly into the microphone, and smile: you're on camera! (Even if your bottom half isn't.)
Anna Schumacher has written for Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Esquire, and more. Her debut novel, END TIMES, is out now from Penguin/Razorbill books. Follow her on Twitter at @SchumacherYA.