Zoom background themes: An actually fun icebreaker for your next staff meeting

This low-barrier staff activity has kept the Pixo team connected for two years and counting.
Zoom grid with 15 people in a remote meeting with pictures of donuts as their background
Donut underestimate the power of Zoom backgrounds to bring your team together.

Introduction

Two people in a Zoom room with movie stills as their background images

Pixo went remote in March 2020 with the rest of the world, and we’ve since tried many ways to stay connected while working dispersed. One thing that stuck: a Zoom background theme for our weekly staff meeting.

How it works

The day before the meeting, I email everyone our agenda and the week’s background theme. Sometimes the theme is clearly connected to our agenda (related to a project or team), the time of year (seasons, holidays), or staff milestones (weddings, babies). But usually they’re completely random and often related to personal favorites: foods, music, movies, you name it. I come up with many of the themes myself and also get suggestions from others.

For those who want to participate, they find an image that fits the theme and upload as their background (by going to Zoom > Preferences > Background & Effects > Add Image). Then, as we all enter the meeting and cameras turn on, we catch glimpses of our teammates’ favorite junk food, 90s sitcoms, dinosaurs, or diner orders. (No one on our staff currently requires accommodations for visual impairment, but in that case, we’d provide descriptions for these images.)

Why it works so well

Why it works so well

The Zoom background theme connects everyone each week with a common (and often silly) thread. The topics offer fodder for casual conversation as we ease into our agenda for the week. Occasionally, someone will share a great backstory about their image, like a trip they took in college or that one time a bag of Sour Patch Kids turned on them. The conversation leads to unexpected places and new inside jokes — and often continues after the staff meeting in Slack. People can also opt-in without saying a word, or pop an anecdote in the Zoom chat. The barrier for participation is low, which is especially welcoming for new staff, and it’s always optional. It’s been a natural and creative way to find out more about each other, and we’re still learning new things after two years.

Zoom grid with 25 people in a remote meeting with different board games as their background images
Mall Madness, anyone? Staff show off their favorite board games as Zoom background images.

Sometimes it flops, and that’s fun too

Sometimes it flops, and that’s fun too

Not every background theme is a homerun. “What’s your favorite tree?”, for example, was a flop for some reason — but the fact that no one was into it made it memorable. More often than not, people do participate and still talk about the ones they liked the most (like “your favorite color” day). Expect the unexpected!

Try our favorite themes

At Pixo, we make a point to check the pulse with staff, even with fun things, to get feedback and gauge what’s working. In our end-of-year staff survey, we asked which background themes were their favorites, so here it is: a list of proven Zoom background themes to try at your next staff meeting.

Bar graph showing votes for favorite Zoom themes
Our top nine favorite Zoom background themes: greatest TV show, candy, breakfast cereal, Lego, TV sitcom growing up, ice cream truck treat, book recommendation, dinosaur, 80s movies.

Conclusion

We’ll continue the tradition in 2022, so we’ll have even more suggestions in the future. See you in your favorite sci-fi novel or dream beach vacation in meetings to come!

Last modified on May 18, 2022