NEW YORK • For years, sleep experts have held one piece of common wisdom above all else: that devices have no place in the bedroom.
Yet, since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March, millions of Americans have defied that guidance and begun working precisely where they sleep. They are drafting legal documents, producing events, holding client calls, coding, e-mailing, studying and writing, all from under the covers.
This was not always the plan.
Early on, many of them invested in desks and other equipment meant to make their homes as ergonomically sound and office-like as possible.
When New York City shut down in March, Ms Vanessa Anderson, 24, set up a small desk for herself in her living room. She was working for an agency that manages private chefs and wanted to keep some semblance of separation between work and sleep.
“For a while I was really committed to not working from my bedroom at all,” she said. In May, she moved her desk into her bedroom for more light. “My bed was just sitting there, taunting me.”
She set ground rules for herself: She would get in bed only after 2pm, but that start time shifted earlier and earlier. Come July, her bed had become her full-time office.
Ms Anderson has since switched jobs – she works in e-commerce for a spice shop now – and works remotely only part of the week, but still from bed. Talking to others, she has discovered how commonplace the practice is.
“I’ve been on calls with people where we were both in bed. At the end of the call, it’s like, ‘How’s the pandemic going? Oh, you’re in bed right now, too? So am I.’ “
Working from bed is a time-honoured tradition upheld by some of history’s most accomplished figures.
Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces from her canopy bed.
Former British prime minister Winston Churchill, a notorious late riser even during World War II, dictated to typists while having breakfast in bed.
Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth and Marcel Proust drafted prose and verse from their beds. “I am a completely horizontal author,” Truman Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”
Along with fuelling creative thinking, the bedroom can be a refuge from the chaos of home life.
Parents retreat there to hide from their home-bound children. Others are fleeing roommates.
“I think one of the things we’re learning is that we’re all in tight places figuratively and literally, and especially if you have a roommate or spouse, there just isn’t enough real estate in your home to have the privacy to get your work done,” said singer and songwriter Sam Stephens, 35, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Working from bed may also be symptomatic of collective malaise.
“I spend way more time working from bed even though I have a computer, office chair and desk,” said YouTuber Abelina Rios, 26, in Los Angeles. “I think everybody is feeling depressed from the pandemic, and when you’re depressed, one of the harder things to do is to get out of bed.”
Ms Liz Fosslien, 33, author of No Hard Feelings, a book about how emotions affect work, brings her computer into bed with her every morning, wireless mouse and all. “I use my mattress as a mouse pad,” she said.
Her advice to anyone doing the same these days is: “Don’t beat yourself up for it. It is easy to be like, ‘Ugh I’m in my pyjamas, I haven’t washed my hair, what am I doing’, but it’s really about the quality of your output.”
A primary argument against using devices in bed is that it can further erode the boundaries between work and home, and disrupt your sleep cycle.
But even Ms Arianna Huffington, media executive turned sleep evangelist, has found herself working from bed since the pandemic hit. “I think it can work great for people, but it’s critical to have certain boundaries,” she said.
She suggests keeping your nightstand clear of clutter and ensuring that you have a hard stop on work hours where you get out of bed and store your electronics in another room.
“I highly recommend a real transition,” she said.
“I have a hot shower and bath to wash away the day, change what I’m wearing, have a different T-shirt for sleep. I love beautiful lingerie. It makes you feel like, ‘Hey, you’re going to sleep’.”
Proponents of desk culture have argued that there is no way someone can be productive from bed.
“I don’t know anyone who works actually in a prone position, but I know tonnes of people who work in bed (my husband, for instance). I think they’re all a bunch of lazy, bedsore-prone, rapidly deteriorating slobs,” writer Susan Orlean told The New Republic in 2013.
“Or maybe they’re much, much happier (and smarter) than the rest of us.”
But what many home-bound workers are realising during the pandemic is something chronically ill and disabled people have known for years: that working from bed does not mean you are lazy or depressed.
In fact, it is perfectly possible to hold down a job remotely from bed, provided your employer is flexible about remote work.
“We have data showing time crafting is good for happiness, if you’re able to work from anywhere and you choose to work from bed, this is one example of time crafting,” said Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley Whillans. “Picking where to work and how to get work done can improve employee satisfaction.”
Ms Tessa Miller, 32, author of the book What Doesn’t Kill You, about her struggles with chronic illness, has been working from bed since she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 23.
“I think that the pandemic is highlighting all these things that chronically ill and disabled people have been doing for a long time, and now everyone is doing them as well and working from bed is one of them,” she said. “I know a lot of highly productive, intelligent, talented people who have to work from bed as a necessity.”
Those with chronic illness or disabilities say they hope that, much as the way the pandemic has made companies more open to remote work, the stigma around working from bed will also be broken.
“I hope one of the things that comes out of this is it reveals you can still do good work from your bed, or bathtub, or living room sofa with a heating pad, and I hope that will create opportunities for people who are chronically ill or disabled in fields they maybe didn’t feel welcome in before,” Ms Miller said.