Winning at WFH: Tips for choosing the best desk for your home office
PUBLISHED: 11:11 10 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:37 10 November 2020
This latest lockdown calls for a better desk - and better posture. Richard Burton investigated...
Working through Lockdown One meant swapping the cafes for the garden. All those places I’ve written about before which would accommodate me in a corner for a morning in return for three lattes and a decent brunch were suddenly off-limits.
But the sun came out and so did I. The laptop went on the patio table and, when I needed shade, moved to the little metal bistro table under the trees. And when the kids ran riot, I used the kitchen worktop.
Days of what we now refer to routinely as WFH were easily accommodated. This time it’s different. Lockdown Two means locked in and nowhere to go. No hot-desk with my name on it, cafes or garden tables where I can Zoom with squirrels in the background.
I don’t have a home office because, for a long time, I haven’t needed one. I don’t even own a desk, and there lies the problem. Whether it’s the conservatory, corner of the dining room or the guest room not allowed guests, I do need somewhere to call a workplace.
One publisher forced to downsize and sublet his office, emailed all contributors and said, if you want a desk, it’s yours. We’ll dismantle, you just need to collect. A few took him up on it, breaking down and reassembling cheap, functional melamine eyesores in conservatories and playrooms.
That didn’t work for me. I didn’t want to disrupt the house for the sake of four weeks. But I did need a desk, functional enough to keep me in business, small enough to be unobtrusive and flexible enough to be useful when this is all over.
When I moved in a few years ago, I managed to pick up a fabulous marble and wrought iron console table from one of those companies that supplies film sets. I did think about taking the vases and antique clock off that and using it.
But it faced a wall which is a turn-off for me and to move it would have blocked off half the room.
In other times I would have done what I once did when styling-up a rental flat and find something small and period-looking I could strip, rag-roll and inlay with embossed leather. I found one outside a second-hand shop near Watford Junction. About 3ft wide, caked in lacquer and with a wobbly leg.
I got it for a tenner because the drawer was locked and they couldn’t open it. I was thinking I’d do a break-in-and-patch-up job as I only wanted it to support the phone and sit there pretending to be an early 20th century “piece” in oak. As it was, I found the key taped to the underside when I upended it to slide into the back seat.
That would have been ideal. That or one of those Louis Philippe writing desks, gleaming in waxed cherry or polished mahogany and usually found putting in a shift as a side table in a wide hallway somewhere posh.
The Edwardians produced writing tables for this sort of thing. A vintage school desk would do as long as it wasn’t primary-age and I’ve occasionally come across the odd bonzai farm table that looked sturdy enough to double-up in times of crisis.
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I did wonder about one of those drop-leaf dining tables. It could sit against a wall with photos on it and be pulled it out when needed, like Agatha Christie did back in the day. Or even the plainest, simplest computer desk that folds flat, leaving 15mm of veneered MDF to slide under the sofa.
The online retailer Bluespot Furniture have created a home working range which includes desks with a depth of 600mm rather than the standard 800mm, to suit smaller spaces.
They have long extolled the virtues of separating work and leisure spaces, particularly for those often-forgotten work-from-homers, students.
Their blogger, Anna Scott points out: “Many students often choose to study from the comfort of their sofa or bed.
“However, working from these places, rather than a desk, is likely to be impacting your energy levels, as well as your sleep pattern – both of which are key to succeeding with your studies.
“Studying at a desk allows you to separate your work and sleep time. Often working at a desk can be more productive and can help ease the stress and anxiety felt when essay or assignment pressure is too much. With a desk, you can also ensure that your bed is left as a relaxing and peaceful space that will encourage you to sleep.”
John Brandon of the business magazine Inc.com recently wrote that the so-called Generation Z don’t like, want or need a desk, “especially since they barely use a laptop anymore and often prefer phones. When they do use a laptop - and because it’s always with them and they prefer to work anywhere a power outlet is available - they open up the lid and start working”.
He adds: “Since most were raised in a chaotic environment of video games, Netflix, and smartphones, they are used to working anywhere and tuning everything out.”
Luckily, many manufacturers are on to the desk dilemma so there’s a lot of choice, from those that double nicely as everything from dining to coffee to dressing tables, many finished to a high level of elegance. Function coming as an added extra.
Back pain expert, Nichola Adams, is more concerned about how people actually use them than what they look like. She’s currently helping staff at a Hatfield company work effectively from home and trying to prevent them repeating the mistakes of one client who used an ironing board for a desk (well, it was height adjustable), or another who sat cross-legged on the floor using a coffee-table.
“It’s so important to use a desk and to choose the right one,” she said. “Any desk that allows you to set up your laptop correctly is beneficial. It needn’t be big, just big enough for a laptop, keyboard and mouse.
“There are some fantastic folding desks available these days as well as small desks to fit your space. And it will make a huge difference to the health of your back.”
Nichola, who runs a consultancy called Inspired Ergonomics, said: “Opt for a tabletop that has a relatively thin ledge, at least at the middle of the table. If it’s too deep, then you won’t be able to sit high enough that your arms can be level with the top of the table. Antique desks with a drawer look great, but they were designed for writing and reading papers, not for our modern way of working.
And she adds: “Check there’s space under the desk for your legs. Avoid anything with bars under the middle of the table. Go for the four-legged variety.”
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