Reclining will be the next workplace revolution, writes Tom Hodgkinson
We’ve been hearing a lot about working from home lately, about the trials of converting the kitchen into an office, or the advantages of building what the Financial Times recently labelled “architect-designed garden spaces” but which most normal people used to call sheds.
But what about working from bed? Surely that’s the next step, and in fact the answer to the problems of finding a quiet space away from delivery men and children, where all your needs are in easy reach and you can recline in a posture suitable for creative thought and peaceful reflection. Let us call it WFB, in the modern manner of three-letter acronyms (AKA TLAs).
What’s more, with WFB, you can drift off into a hypnagogic state after lunch without having to move.
Working from bed has a long and noble history. The Idler’s patron saint, Dr Johnson, was well known for it. He would lie in bed all morning, sometimes later, reading his favourite book, The Anatomy of Melancholy, or just thinking. Although Johnson tended to beat himself up about this apparent laziness, the bed-time he put in produced the thoughts he would later write down when he finally roused himself to literary activity.
Florence Nightingale famously went to bed in 1857 in her Mayfair home, possibly exhausted by the effort of having invented modern nursing, and stayed there till her death in 1910. She was enormously productive in her prone state and wrote piles of letters, reports and books on nursing. John Lennon loved his bed and famously worked from the Amsterdam Hilton for a week. Proust was clearly bed-ridden and Paul Bowles (1910-1999), darling of the Beatniks and author of The Sheltering Sky, worked from his bed in Tangier, his home for 52 years, where he was interviewed for this magazine by Marcel Theroux in 1993.
But you don’t have to be a pop star, a novelist or a pioneer in the treatment of disease to work from bed. Now, while I am of course aware that dustmen, delivery drivers, builders and a very large host of other occupations do not have this option, surely an insurance broker, coder or lawyer could spend at least part of the working day reclining on a bank of puffed-up pillows, with laptop, cup of tea and a pile of books close at hand? Why not?
I’m planning a feature on WFB for a future issue of the magazine and would be delighted to hear your thoughts and reflections on the subject.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
The bed, of course, is the perfect place for any creative endeavor. I’d like to call your attention to the French Symbolist poet, Saint-Pol-Roux, who, according to André Breton, used to place a sign outside his bedroom when he retired at night that read, “Poet at work”. This is the kind of greatness I aspire to. What geniuses have lived before us! Why try to work consciously in bed? Why not sleep and call it work? Dreams are far superior to completing any spreadsheet demanded by antagonistic bosses in offices, remote or otherwise.
John Buchan wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps in bed. That’s all.
Back in 2011 I was commissioned to write a confidential report for a well-known manufacturer of vehicles. It ran to many thousands of words and was actually one of the best paid bits of work I’ve ever done – and I wrote most of it from my bed (which is actually no more than two mattresses on the floor, one on top of the other) so arguably not a proper bed at all! As you might expect, my writing equipment was a bit more advanced than Florence Nightingale’s – it was a Mac laptop, with WiFi connection to t’internet.
Everything seemed ‘ticketyboo’ until a few months later when my trusty MacBook suddenly died and could not be revived. Fortunately, with help from experts, I was able to extract all its most important contents, but as a computer and writing device it had permanently expired. At some point I mentioned to one of these experts that I’d done a lot of work with the Mac in bed and they said something along the lines of “That’s probably what killed it”. Turns out you should NEVER work with a laptop on a soft surface like a cushion or a pillow, because it stops the all-important cooling by the near-silent fan to take place. I do actually have one of those neat trays-with-little-folding-legs made of wood, of the kind on which you might be served breakfast in bed, but I didn’t use it for my great oeuvre. I just had my laptop on a pillow…..If I’d used the wooden tray, my MacBook might have survived the ordeal… So let that be a warning to you! Beware of placing laptops on soft cushions or pillows – whether on your lap in a chair, or just sitting up in bed – don’t do it!
– Paul Blezard
PS As enny fule kno, “Prone always means lying face downwards. Supine also means lying down, but always on one’s back.” I think even the capable Ms Nightingale would have struggled to produce much work while lying face downwards…
Even though it’s not always productive, I love WFB. As a freelance translator, all I need is my laptop and an internet connection (for research, fact-checking and procrastination), so it’s WFB at least as often as it is WFKT (working from the kitchen table). My favorite posture is sitting cross-legged and the bed accommodates this nicely. My stereo is close by, as is an old-fashioned tea trolley with pens, candles, essential oil diffuser, space for tea things… and if I really need to make it look like I’m working at a desk, I also have one of those narrow, roll-away tables from Ikea that’s just wide enough to be rolled over the bed.
May I recommend you have a chat with the writer Philip Hoare about Working from Bed? He will often go for a midnight, or very early, swim in the sea near his home in Southampton, before getting back in bed to write. If the quality of his books (RisingTideFallingStar especially) are anything to go by, it’s a routine that works well for him.
I have always worked from my bed – I call it the Boffice (bed office).
I LOVE working from bed, it has been an ambition of mine, partly because I just want to spend my life lounging against fat cushions, but also because I loved Mrs Beste-Chetwynde in Decline and Fall and she did all her business from bed.
I have a sofa/daybed in my writing room in Tuscany which in the hot summer months I open up and cover in cushions and books and, with a fan placed in a strategic place, lie back and write and read and run courses and teach classes and all sorts!
Another classic reference for working from bed in the novel Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov published in 1859. According to Wikipedia, “Oblomov is the second novel by Russian writer Ivan Goncharov. Ilya Ilyich Oblomov is the central character of the novel, portrayed as the ultimate incarnation of the superfluous man, a symbolic character in 19th-century Russian literature. Oblomov is a young, generous nobleman who seems incapable of making important decisions or undertaking any significant actions. Throughout the novel he rarely leaves his room or bed. In the first 50 pages, he manages only to move from his bed to a chair. The book was considered a satire of Russian intelligentsia.” A novel well worth reading as the winter nights draw near!
Having worked from home for 20 years in IT, both in the UK and Australia, I have always had to be incredibly structured in working from my desk. But during lockdown in Melbourne I have been scheduling an hour or two of calls from my bed. I even managed to avoid Zoom-type viewing calls, by blaming lack of bandwidth on children learning from home, so I can stay prone.