The reality of working from home isn't on Instagram

Girl working on her laptop at home
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There's a multitude of reasons to be angry with social media companies. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest exacerbate bullying in children (and adults, quite frankly), help spread racism and intolerance, and have potentially undermined democracy. That's all terrible, and certainly worthy of discussion, but right now what I want to talk about is desks.

I never much thought about desks when I worked in an office - I sat where I was told - but as someone who now works from home, my office environment is fully under my control. I can change the temperature, use any desk I can afford, and cover that desk with plants without any complaints from bosses.

That assumes space for a desk. In my last tiny flat, as I've written previously, I didn't have a dedicated office space. Decamping to the suburbs of south-east London gave me an entire room dedicated to churning out words such as these, but once again I'm moving. The new place will have a dedicated office in the spare bedroom, but for various reasons we also need a backup desk space.

I could simply plonk my laptop onto the dining table. But in this age of Ikea hacks, cheap furniture, and Instagram inspiration, surely we can do better. Tapping on the appropriate hashtags, I've been scrolling for ideas. But just like Photoshopped selfies and carefully angled travel snaps that cut out the hordes of other tourists, the home decorating community of Instagram needs a reality check.

There are plenty of Instagram influencers with ideas for a home office, but these people clearly don't actually use a computer to make a living. Perhaps one in ten has a monitor, and desktop computing rigs are never to be seen. Instead, prettily framed slogans abound, urging the home worker to "make today awesome", as well as coffee cups that never leave a ring on the desktop, plants that look healthy and lush, and chairs designed for looks rather than ergonomics. Forget routers, dual monitors and keyboards. If there's a computing device of any sort, it's an artfully arranged laptop or tablet, set at a jaunty angle without a mouse or power cable.

Looking to Instagram for reality is surely a fool's game, but someone out there must have a modern desk setup that can help. Here's what I want: a flat surface on which a monitor can live. When it's in use, it's comfortable to work at. When it's not in use, it can be tucked away. Ikea has a version, but it not only lacks a fun Swedish name - it's disappointingly called the PS 2014 bureau - it looks basic and dull. When the desktop is folded up, the monitor is indeed hidden, but you're now staring at a large white and wood surface that's not any nicer than a monitor.

The other idea I've come up with is fitting a small monitor to an arm next to the dining table, so it can fold out to a comfortable position when in use, and tuck away against the wall when not. This is clearly bonkers, and my husband makes faces when I suggest it.

What I want is a desk from the past, like a Victorian-era roll top desk. Like that, but one that fits a monitor, manages cables and maybe holds a keyboard. Or perhaps a fold-out desk of the type that used to be built into mid-century modular storage shelves; back when all you needed for a desk was paper and pen, people still knew enough to tuck them away.

The Victorians and my grandparents had better options for home desk setups than I do - and they didn't work from home. Figures from a Virgin Media study last year suggested that 31% of Brits work from home at least once a week. Those millions of people shouldn't have to turn their homes into offices, with monitors and ergonomic-but-ugly chairs cluttering up the place, nor should they be forced to hunch over a laptop at the kitchen table.

Whoever invents - or reinvents - a clever desk that hides away monitors and keyboards while still letting me be productive will win not only my money, but a heavily hashtagged Instagram post, too.