Working from the couch

Red sofa

Image via Wikipedia

Those days I’m in southern France, in a small (15 sq.meters) flat originally rented for my wife who’s working at the local museum.Even if I’m here to cheer her up, I still have to get some work done, but obviously there is no room for a large desk (nor for any desk actually), an external 24″ monitor, or my beloved wireless keyboard and trackpad.

There is not even a decent table, we have to put our dishes on a stool and eat in the sofa. In those conditions, I’ve been trying two configurations: the standing desk and the lap desk.

The standing desk

Pros

  • trendy
  • good for your back as it preserves the ‘S’ shape of your spine, instead of bending it into a ‘C’ like modern office chairs do
  • looks like a good idea when the only flat surface you have is a 30cmx40cm stand-up kitchen table

Cons

  • 16 hours on your feet is quite a lot of time, especially when you don’t have proper shoes nor proper rubber carpet
  • putting an expensive laptop on top of plastic candy boxes, next to an open window is … stressful

The lap desk

Pros (compared to placing the laptop directly on your lap)

  • comfy, veery comfy
  • prevents lap burns
  • greatly improves wrist position and angle
  • you can move around the house (seated on the couch -> seated on the armchair -> laid on the couch)
  • as the couch/armchair is much softer than the usual office chair, you can stay seated much longer before feeling tired

Cons

  • (not sitting properly in the couch is) bad for your back
  • (being seated too straight in the couch is) bad for your neck
  • (not moving your bum for 4 hours straight is) bad for your knees
  • (not changing your posture for several hours is) bad for your shoulders

As I couldn’t find any affordable cardboard boxes to build my poor man standing desk, I opted for the Logitech N550 lap desk which is an excellent product. It keeps the laptop cool, and the additional speakers have more bass and power than the internal ones. This version is for 14″ laptops at best, the N700 and Comfort Lapdesk are slightly larger, but the foam shape is different (it ends with a ‘^’, while the N550 is like a ‘<‘) and I find it more comfortable this way.

I’ve also looked at different brands and models, but the Logitech are the only ones that I find soft enough and properly engineered, for example, CoolerMaster makes ugly all-plastic stuff intended for overheating laptops, with giant fans, but no foam, no cushion of any kind. Not suitable when you need to work several hours a day.

To avoid neck and shoulders pain, it’s important to be properly seated, and moving around the flat for 1 minute every 2 hours keeps your knees from hurting.

It won’t replace my casual desk at home, but I definitely won’t work with my laptop on my lap anymore, and after one full week in this position, I found that I could work for 4-5 straight hours without notice, like in good days at my office desk. Totally worth it !