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Zoom-sick? No kidding. Here’s how to be polite about it.

Woman with head in hands

Dr Nathalie Collins says setting boundaries and taking breaks can help avoid digital overload.

The sudden shift to a completely online workday has left many of us overwhelmed and exhausted.

Dr Nathalie Collins, Director, International at Edith Cowan University’s (ECU) School of Business and Law and business etiquette expert has some advice for managing your digital day to bring back the balance.

Zoom fatigue is a thing. As we work from a variety of platforms and the synthetic, dystopian ring toneof Microsoft Teams becomes our Pavlovian trigger, we might wonder why we feel so tired. It is because if you try to transfer your way of working from the traditional mode to the virtual mode, it doesn’t exactly work. If you come at a digitised environment organically, you would never build it the way we work together in person.

So what would you do differently? And, assuming that you have a level of control over your environment to make these changes, what can you do now?

Work asynchronously as much as possible

Staring at a screen isn’t like staring at a person. Being in a live meeting and being in a Zoom is physiologically a different experience. Attempt, as much as possible, to set your own schedule that works for you and allows you to have screen breaks. If you can’t avoid meetings, set a maximum of hours of meetings per day with breaks in between. When you have reached your limit, either make a choice about priority, ask your supervisor to, or let people know you aren’t taking any more meetings that day and they have to move it out.

This might mean that you have to eschew social Zoom meetings to keep your screen time to reasonable limits. It is perfectly okay to say “I’d love to join the Zoom social hour, but it is actually better for me to not stare at you guys for a while.”

Control the “ping”; don’t let it control you

So you’re sitting there on a Zoom call. You have texts coming through, emails coming through, Team chats coming through. Your Yammer is lighting up. Your WhatsApp is on fire and your Facebook Messenger is all over the place.

That’s a lot.

You can simply turn off your app notifications or adjust them to only let through select VIPs. However, what you really have to cope with is your own feelings about it and the expectation for an instantaneous response.

You don’t have to instantaneously respond

Let your people know – if you can’t answer right away, you aren’t on a ventilator, buried under an avalanche of the now copious toilet paper at Coles, or ignoring them. You’re busy, and that’s okay. No one should be panicking if you aren’t instantaneously available. And if you have a job where they are, come up with a code or channel only they use.


Block out times during the day which are quiet for you to do focused work. Time-blocking is a proven practice which (of course!) there are apps for but can be done manually. But more importantly, tell others you are doing it. “I’m dedicating 10-11 am to get through my emails, so I will avoid meetings at this time if possible.”

Listen to others – and yourself

Communicating your needs is important, respecting those of others is too. The more asynchronously we can do things when we work apart, the more productive we can be. Part of that is being responsive to other people, but part of it is listening to yourself too. What are the best times for you to work? What times of day are you going to be the priority?

Forgive others and forgive yourself

This is a new mode of working for most people and even if you don’t get along with someone in real life, it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying or have challenges of their own. So, if you mess up – or someone else does – breathe in, breathe out and move on.


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