Why you shouldn’t work from bed (and a guide to doing it anyway)

The lure of bed is hard to resist for any home worker. Or it may have become a necessity

With children home schooling, or in a cramped flatshare, your bed may be the only place you can get any peace. Photograph: iStock

With children home schooling, or in a cramped flatshare, your bed may be the only place you can get any peace. Photograph: iStock

 

Everybody who knows what they’re talking about will tell you not to do it, but the lure of bed is hard to resist for any home worker. Or it may have become a necessity.

January is Health Month in The Irish Times. Throughout the month, in print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2021. See irishtimes.com/health

With children home schooling, or in a cramped flatshare, your bed may be the only place you can get any peace (although many people living and working with chronic illness will be rolling their eyes at the idea that working from bed has only just been invented).

Ten months into the on-off lockdown, more of us are doing it than ever. “We’ve found that up to 40 per cent of people who have worked from home during lockdown have worked from their bed at some point,” says chiropractor Catherine Quinn.

You know that you’re not supposed to have devices in the bedroom, that your bed is only meant for sleep and sex, but it’s January, and the world is grim

Of course, you know that you’re not supposed to have devices in the bedroom, that your bed is only meant for sleep and sex, that good posture is easier at a desk (Quinn says bed-working can cause or exacerbate back pain), that you don’t need to be encouraged into even more sedentary behaviour. But it’s January, the world is grim, and many of us, even if forced back under the covers by circumstances, will have discovered the joys of working from bed.

Far from being indulgent and indolent, the practice may spark creativity and productivity – memorably, Samuel Johnson, Edith Wharton, Marcel Proust, Florence Nightingale and William Wordsworth all worked from bed. Contemporary writers, including Monica Ali, do, too. View it also as a rebellion against the corporate ridiculousness of standing desks, or worse, those with treadmills. They seem very 2019.

Still, it can be healthy to create some boundaries between work and rest. I delineate the two by getting washed, dressed and then climbing into my boyfriend’s side of the bed. (He has better pillows, which we’ll come to, and I don’t have to worry about spilling crumbs on my side.) I have regularly worked from bed for about a decade, and this is what I’ve learned about what you need to get started.

Consider a tray table or laptop stand

It may change your working life or it may become a piece of useless clutter. “It’s important to keep your laptop in front of you at eye height to avoid any strain on your neck,” says Quinn. “There are some fairly cheap laptop stands you can purchase to use at home, which will help provide support when working in this position.” I know Quinn will disapprove, but they don’t work for me. I like to sit cross-legged, so the fold-out legs of a tray table get in the way. I swapped it for one that looks like a tray stuck to a beanbag, which was fine for a while, but became stained with drink-spillage.

Sometimes, I use a pillow with a coffee-table book on top as a makeshift version, but most of the time I do without. It’s probably not great for your laptop’s air vents (or your neck), but it feels much less restrictive – I want to feel free and comfortable, not trapped under furniture. A table that you roll over the bed is an option, but feels like an extreme investment for bed-working, and a bit too “hospital room” for me. (Ikea does a metal and glass one that doesn’t whisper “convalescence”.)

Don’t use your tray table for drinks and snacks

See stains, above. Use your bedside table for cups of tea and snacks, or get a small side table (a folding one feels less permanent). You could use a high-sided tray to keep on the bed next to you for drinks, but you will still end up with spillages at least once a week. Don’t be tempted to get a mini fridge or kettle – you need to be regularly up and moving around, and getting out of bed is hard. Hunting for snacks is my main motivation.

Keep a basket by the bed

This is your “desk drawer” and where you keep chargers, pens, notepads and emergency biscuits. The point of using a basket, rather than keeping everything in a bedside drawer, is that it’s mobile (a carrier bag would do, but is less attractive). If you’re the sort of person who enjoys working from bed, you’re probably the sort of person who would also enjoy working from the sofa (or someone else’s bed) for an occasional change of scene. Some tasks are better done from a desk or table, so don’t label yourself only a “bed worker”. And it is helpful to remove your work basket from your room when it’s time to go to sleep.

Get new pillows

You can buy ergonomic cushions and back supports that may work for you. For a while, I tried reclining against a V-shaped pregnancy pillow, but I kept sinking backwards into it until I was wearing it like a wimple. I like to be upright, with arms free, so in my view a few simple, firm pillows or cushions should be all you need. You probably have these in the house already – borrow from other people, or the sofa. “Beds don’t have the same support as a desk chair,” says Quinn. “Make sure your lower back is fully supported by using pillows and sitting up against your headboard.”

Change your position

“Our bodies love variation, so my top piece of advice is to try to mix up the position you work in,” says Quinn. “If you work from your bedroom, consider using your chest of drawers as a standing desk, for example. It’s also great to incorporate movement into your day, so try something as simple as a 10-minute yoga routine in the morning, doing one work call a day standing up or popping out for a 20-minute walk over your lunch break.” I know the point is to get up and move around, but working in bed doesn’t have to mean being supine and stationary – I move around and stretch fairly constantly.

Think about your working environment

The danger with working from bed – apart from potential long-term back pain and accidentally falling asleep – is you can become too relaxed and start to fester. I get washed and dressed before going back to bed to work, and my bedroom is clean and relatively tidy. A towering unread book pile, and the sedimentary layers of clean-enough clothes on a chair is not going to be a pleasant workplace. You might be spending upwards of 16 hours a day in your bedroom – open the windows.

It’s worth having lovely – and plain – duvet covers. I find patterned linen distracting and busy. If you wouldn’t buy a desk covered in roses or imperial stormtroopers, get something neutral for your bed. A throw or rug will do, even if you only use it when you’re working. It will also create a boundary. “These visual cues will help you get in the mindset for either work or wind-down time,” says Quinn.

Ensure you have a good power supply

An extension lead is handy so you can have a laptop, phone charger or lamp plugged in. Alternatively, you may need to invest in longer charging cables to reach a plug.

And good wifi

Does the wifi reach the bedroom? If not, there are ways to boost it. I get a better signal in my bedroom than much of the rest of the house.

When I interviewed Paloma Faith, we were both in bed. Interviewing the writer Kate Mosse from bed recently (me, not her), she said it was “very French, you’re kind of receiving people in your boudoir”. This is definitely the feel I’m going for – not slattern. – Guardian

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