The threat of the ‘Zoombie’ and how to avoid becoming one if you work from home

By Francesca Johnson

Published Jan 9, 2022 at 09:30 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes


It’s Monday morning, you find yourself dragging your body out of bed. You’ve hit the dreaded snooze button, yet again, and somehow managed to sleep soundly through all of your following alarms. With your phone stranded and forgotten by the wayside of your bed, you rustle for a clean shirt to throw over your pyjamas to be somewhat presentable for your first meeting of the day. You bid a tearful farewell to your comfy sheets as you haul yourself up. After what felt like a hazy choreography, you find yourself sitting in a Zoom team meeting. You’ve already scarfed down breakfast—a cup of lazily-made tea and quick spoonfuls of cereal (if you’re lucky). Cut to midday and there you are, still at your desk. Your eyes bloodshot, clacking keyboards buttons hurting your brain, waiting with all your mustered up strength to enthusiastically say bye bye for the fourth time today. Sounds familiar? Well, my friend, you might just be a Zoombie.

Now the word might sound like a bad dad joke, but it’s real, people. It’s the rise of the Zoombies and they’re coming to convert all of us, one team meeting at a time. Being a Zombie is a far cry from being a Zoombomber, which is when someone eagerly hop on to Zoom calls uninvited. On the contrary, Zoombies dread the endless online call meetings and video chats—even with their added perk of fuelling the need to check yourself out on screen non-stop.

A lot of things have changed since the initial COVID 19 pandemic hit—the good, the bad and the ugly have all been revealed, with, let’s be honest, more emphasis being put on the latter two. Office jargon has transformed, mutating to include a whole host of terms that we never would have thought of before. Polyworking, blursday, covidiot and even the all-important question of to ‘bra or nah?’ have become embedded into the nine-to-five experience.

So we have yet another term entering our vocabulary for this topsy turvy time we find ourselves in. Zoombies are the newest work from home danger to avoid and we’re going to explain why—think Night of the Living Dead if you’re staring at a computer screen all day.

What is a Zoombie?

According to the sacred gospel on internet speak Urban Dictionary, a Zoombie is defined as “a person who becomes the living dead by spending all day on video conferences, especially on Zoom.” Sounds like we all might be Zoombies by now.

On the topic, The New York Times wrote, “Anyone who has entered the eighth hour of staring at a co-worker’s pores and wished to be back under the fluorescent lighting of an open floor plan knows what it’s like to turn into a Zoombie.”

Being a Zoombie is essentially the zombified product of Zooming all day, every day at work. The Guardian published a whitty piece towards the end of 2021, where it discussed the nature of our new normal and gave a lowdown on Zoombies and the demise they face at the hands of their homebound desks. The publication labelled them as “the exhausted, zombie-like survivors of back-to-back Zoom meetings.” Again, sounds familiar?

Is it more than just screen fatigue?

Now, I’m all for working from home, as much as the next person. It has all the benefits of slumming it in your jammies, gorging endless snacks and beverages of your liking, and having well-earned breaks during your day without judgement. However, there are some downsides to it too—you know, other than the onset of eyesight issues and tech neck for gen Z and millennials, typically seen in people thrice our age, inherited from hunching over screens and keyboards.

“Zooming recreates all the stress of the office without the mitigating compensation of actual human contact. It’s dispiriting and exhausting,” The Guardian noted. For the Financial Times, Gianpiero Petriglieri, a medical doctor and associate professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, wrote about the Zoombie crisis as it was occurring back in 2020. Describing the picture of horror the world of work used to be, is not so far removed from ours now two years on. “Zoom meetings are like seances of sorts—troubled attempts to reestablish a connection with somebody we have lost and still care about, often disturbed by many lost bodies that we care little for and who forget to press mute. We are Zoombies to each other,” he shared.

“Like fictional zombies, we Zoombies are relentless yet not fully human. Unlike them, we have a heavy heart and sometimes we wear elegant clothes to show up on screen. But our digital projections retain all the constraints of a literal imagination and none of the freedoms of a literary one,” Petriglieri poetically continued.

The chronic signs to look out for in a Zoombie are fatigue and the kind of dazed and confused blind blinking at all faces on the screen that I am sure most of us are familiar with. Word to the wise though, “If you can’t spot the Zoombie in the Zoom meeting, then the Zoombie is probably you,” stated The Guardian.

How do you avoid turning into a Zoombie?

Though many of us have flashbacks to the Zoom call days of 2020, some of us still aren’t out of the woods yet. With more potential lockdowns looming on the horizon—special thanks to all the variants out there—we think it’s best to reflect and remind ourselves of the zombie epidemic and how to survive without becoming one.

Psych Today made a couple of helpful suggestions to avoid the clutches of the Zoombie. The outlet noted that opting for conference calls rather than Zoom for smaller meetings, meaning going audio only, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance could all help. It might even come down to asking yourself the tough tech questions you may not have considered before the pandemic, such as whether playing with your limit for screen time could fight—or at least fend off—the foe. Keeping a routine and making time to go outside daily (no matter how cosy your bed is) is also high on the priority list.

The main thing to remember is to try to maintain as much of an active and healthy lifestyle at home as you would when leaving it to brave the outside world. At least we don’t have to worry about Zoombies eating our frazzled and fried Zoom-filled brains—probably not that appetising.

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