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Who needs a desk? How to avoid back pain when working from your table, bed and couch

If you don't have a traditional home office setup, don't sweat it. You can fix it for less than you'd spend on the whole shebang.

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Yes, you can work from bed without hurting your back and wrists.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you working from home during quarantine, but without the benefit of a traditional home office setup that includes the desk, the fancy office chair, a nice webcam and all the works, relax. I'm in the same boat, too. I type away on my laptop all day from my bed, my kitchen table and the couch. 

Sure, it breaks every expert rule on ergonomics, but after buying a few accessories, my back, neck and wrists still feel pretty good.

I'm not saying you should do the same -- you'd be better off listening to the experts. But if you're the least bit curious or don't have the space to build and entire office setup, here's the gear I've used and how I use it. Just promise me that if you follow in my rebellious footsteps, you'll also shower and put on real clothes.

Read more: Best cheap VPN: 3 options for working from home in quarantine  

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You could get a true table for your bed (which also doubles as a dining surface), but I went with this really handy laptop desk.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Working from bed: Back pillow, laptop desk

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut offices around the globe, I'd work a few hours from bed on weekends or the occasional days from home, just as a transition until I felt alert and motivated enough to roll out of bed. Now, I need help. My solutions may not be ergonomically perfect, but they're a marked improvement.

Lumbar support pillow: I bought a comfortable back pillow, promising relief from back pain and to fit into my car seat, computer chair or wheelchair. There were tons to choose from on Amazon, but I picked this one from Newgam because it got good reviews and boasted breathability. I use this on my bed and to stretch out on the couch. 

Laptop tray: This particular model is currently sold out on Amazon, but I picked up the LapGear Home Office Lap Desk ($49 and cheaper than a real desk), which has a bean bag bottom for my lap, a cushy gel pad for my wrists, a mousepad and a too-shallow cell phone trough. It's made a huge difference in elevating the laptop and guarding my wrists.

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Using just a trackpad is fine for short stints, but for all-day typing and navigation invest in a wireless mouse and keyboard.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bonus laptop tray: I also bought a smaller, cheaper simpler version for the couch ($30), which has a lip so the laptop doesn't slip down and the shallow phone holder. Did I need two desks? No. I got them both figuring I'd send one back, but a return seemed like too much hassle. Now I keep the smaller one at the couch. Am I glad to have them both at the ready for an instant workspace? Absolutely.

Extra-long laptop charger: I have a 1.8m (nearly 6 feet) extension cable ($19) for the MacBook Air that I use. I do drag it with me from room to room, but it's wonderful because I never have to worry about how far away an outlet is.

Working from the kitchen table: Mouse, keyboard, cushion

I spend the majority of my day (yes, I average more than 8 hours) working from the kitchen table. If I want a standing desk, I'll shift to the countertop. I'm keeping a low profile so far, with little enough gear to store on a chair or in a basket so I can break up my "office" when I want to sit down to dinner.

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I like a vertical mouse because it forces me to keep my wrist straight rather than bent.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Back and backside support: I picked up a SoftaCare seat cushion set with lumbar and coccyx support ($49) because one of my favorite roommates had one for her car and swore by it. So far, I love it, too. The contoured, memory foam top piece for your back has adjustable elastic clip straps that slide over my kitchen chair (or any chair). Then you just toss the ample foam seat cushion wherever and plop down. I can comfortably work for hours so far.

Vertical mouse: I splashed out on a Logitech MX Vertical mouse ($99), which is actually ergonomic. It's dead easy to set up and pairs wirelessly with nearly every laptop, through Bluetooth, cable or a dongle (that's what I use). I've used a vertical mouse for years, but never brought one home. Now I'm wondering how I survived on a trackpad alone all these years.

Wireless keyboard: In the office, I use Apple's Magic Keyboard ($99) because that's what our IT department set me up with and I like it fine, especially how the keys bounce back. For home, I thought I'd try the Logitech K780 Multi-Device wireless keyboard ($80) since it works with Android, iPhones ($699 at Amazon) and tablets. I also liked the sound of a cross-platform keyboard. At the time of writing, I've owned it for less than a day and it's a softer touch than I've been used to. I'm not totally sold on it yet, but I know I need time to adapt.

Mouse pad: I went with a $7 SteelSeries QcK small size mousepad. It's marketed for gamers, but I got it because it's cheap, popular and in stock on Amazon.

So far my work from home without a home office experiment continues. Here's the more ideal way to set up an ergonomic workstation, five common ergonomic mistakes you definitely want to avoid and more gear to consider when filling out your home office.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.