I have been pretending not to be in bed while working for more than 20 years, but never got around to codifying my moves until lockdown, when they became useful to others. Before we drill down into specifics, there are some cardinal rules.
First, never let a work call be your first conversation of the day. Your voice is like your face: it takes a while to lose that distinctive, muffled squash of the pillow and oblivion. If you live with others, you can have a general “How did you sleep?” conversation, then an argument; this way you will use the full range of your voicebox, like an opera singer. If you live alone, call your mum or turn on the radio and shout at Nick Robinson – whichever you find the least draining.
Never conduct any business naked. There is a reason they tell you in assertiveness training to imagine that the person you find intimidating has no clothes on: naked people are always on the back foot.
Finally, you have to commit to the pretence. I have been appalled and frankly ashamed to witness my offspring doing their remote learning from bed and forgetting from one 10 minutes to the next whether they’re claiming to be vertical or horizontal. It’s like they were raised by someone else.
This is your major enemy. All soft furnishings have a muting effect, but there is nothing as soft, rounded and goddamn distinctive as a duvet. It’s like taking out an advert made of feathers. But if you ditch the duvet, not only will you probably not be warm enough, you have also made your bed feel temporary and conditional, a place you might leave at any minute; just a holding space between unconsciousness and activity, the opposite of what a bed should be.
It is actually pretty simple: you just need to build a bed-plinth with a stack of big books, and put your computer on that, then the sound bounces off a hard surface and you sound like a managing director.
Ideally, you want to turn your video off as soon as you can, claiming poor wifi or a desire to subvert office hierarchies. (This is a thing now, apparently: only senior staff turn their video on. I would not stand for such a parade of raw power, but it is unlikely that I would ever be senior in any organisation.) Still, you will probably have to have it on at the start, just to prove you have arrived. You can forget about overlaying a fancy background; reality always cracks through. Dress for the office from the waist up, of course, but hopefully you would do that anyway, for morale. Angle your screen so they can’t see a headboard (your bed-plinth will come in handy here). Your bear trap here is the recline: you have to sit up straight. There are very few ways to interpret it if someone is lying down: they are either in bed, or they’re Jacob Rees-Mogg, trying to psych out their opponents by proving that there really is no level to which they will not sink. Neither is ideal, to be honest.
Things happen to you in bed that just don’t happen while you are sitting at a desk. You spill things, and they go on you, and maybe you are still a bit naked. Often they’re hot, and to avoid injury you splosh the thing on to your keyboard instead, and that’s just a disaster of a different flavour. I don’t know why these things never happen to seated people; you’ll have to ask a physicist. Just make sure they don’t happen to you.
Cats might jump on you in any setting, but a decent-sized dog will only ever do that when you’re in bed, so it’s a dead giveaway. Younger children, ditto, so deal with both the same way and just pretend it hasn’t happened. It’s harder if you have your video on or they start barking.
Older children are terrible, because they’re so lazy. They will never come and find you; they will stand exactly where they are and shout: “MUM, WHERE ARE YOU?” and it will be so loud that you have to answer, but if you say: “I’M IN THE KITCHEN/AT MY DESK,” they will eventually go looking for you there, then shout at even greater volume: “NO, YOU’RE NOT! WHY WOULD YOU LIE?” You absolutely have to head this off before it happens, but you will only learn that by experience, so unfortunately it has to happen one time.
Do not be deceived by the success of your subterfuge into thinking that, now you have cracked it, you can work from anywhere. I had a meeting in the bath once. The first 15 minutes were fine – I don’t think she noticed – but perhaps you are ahead of me on the flaw in my scheme: you can exist discreetly in a bath, but there is no way to inaudibly get out of a bath. So I was stuck there for hours. It was awful, like a half-arsed punishment at a lame boarding school.
This content was originally published here.