In the decade or so that he’s worked from home, author, consultant and podcaster Kevin Rizer has learned a thing or two about the right and wrong way to work remotely, advice that he’s laid out in his book “Always Wear Pants: And 99 Other Tips for Surviving and Thriving While You Work From Home.”
Rizer, the founder of Emmy’s Best Pet Products, an e-commerce site that sells products in the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan, hosted the Private Label Movement podcast, for which he interviewed people of note in the e-commerce world. In addition, Rizer often discusses finding passion and purpose in work in international speaking engagements.
“Always Wear Pants” focuses on what Rizer calls the six pillars for surviving and thriving while you work from home: mindset, environment, productivity, purpose, community and connection, and action.
Rizer, who suffers from hearing loss, also offers advice on how employers can help workers with hearing or visual deficits thrive in the post-pandemic world. This conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Remote Report: I know your title was meant to be tongue in cheek, but have you had to remind people to wear pants?
Kevin Rizer: I don’t have anything against people who don’t wear pants, and I also don’t say that you have to wear a certain kind of pants. For example, right now, I’m wearing basketball shorts. If I were to be on video and stand up, I wouldn’t be embarrassed. I wouldn’t become the newest viral sensation. So the title was just a fun way to explore [the question of] if you’re going to be working from home, what are the most important things, what are the things that you want to make sure you take care of, and thing number one to me is always wearing pants.
RR: What was the biggest surprise that you learned from working from home? Mine was that you wound up working more hours than you did in the office.
KR: I often work more hours than when I worked in the office. The other big one, besides overwork, was loneliness, and that one surprised me a little bit because I’m somewhat of an introvert, just naturally. And so, to me, the thought of being able to stay home and get my work done and earn a paycheck without having to go out into the world every day was quite appealing.
Still, several months in, and after several stretches of a week or more at a time of not seeing another human being — I was single when I started working from home — I woke up one day, and I realized, You know what? I’m pretty freaking lonely. And that surprised me.
RR: How did you deal with the loneliness?
KR: Just because you’re working alone doesn’t mean you have to feel alone. And so, when it’s safe to do so, I’m a big proponent of getting together with colleagues or with other people.
That can be for a coffee in the morning or it can be for a happy hour after lunch. You can do a virtual happy hour if it’s not safe to get together, or if long distance makes it impossible to connect in person with colleagues.
RR: Remote workers feel guilty if they aren’t working all the time. How do you combat that issue?
KR: That’s one that a lot of us that have found ourselves working remotely have struggled with. We feel the need to maintain that always-on, always-working kind of attitude or outlook when we’re at home. We’ve got to start finding other ways to measure success and to identify success. The time clock is such a relic of yesteryear. It’s time that we start finding other ways to measure productivity.
RR: What are your thoughts about hybrid workforces?
KR: I think that we should avoid the temptation to do hybrid just because we’re against remote work. In other words, I feel like there’s a lot of companies right now that have been straddling that line in trying to decide whether to bring people back or whether to keep them at home.
This summer, the Delta [variant] explosion kind of threw all of those plans in the air, and you saw companies kind of walking them back.
RR: Many surveys show that workers want to continue working from home but that businesses want them in the office. How do you reconcile these differences?
KR: I think the employees win. Depending on which survey you look at, somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of workers are considering quitting their jobs next year. Not all of that can be attributed to the friction between going back to the office or staying home.
RR: What are some policy changes that companies can make to ease the burdens of remote workers with disabilities?
KR: In addition to clearly defining policies of inclusion and accommodation for disabled workers, companies should take it one step further by providing training for managers and leaders on how to best assist team members who need those accommodations. Too often, this type of training stops at the HR level and does not extend down to those most likely to interact with workers on a daily basis.
Workers who face disabilities are accustomed to getting creative at finding unique ways to solve problems. This ingenuity and creativity, applied to the workplace, can be a great asset for an organization that is willing to make accommodations.
Companies can lean heavily on technology to aid workers who are differently-abled. Adaptive screen readers assist those with vision loss and help them navigate online. Voice-to-text generators assist those with hearing impairment as well as those who need additional time to process information.
RR: What modifications have you made to your workspace to accommodate your hearing loss?
KR: I use bone-conduction headphones, which allow me to be able to hear ambient sounds in my environment, as well as whatever sound is coming from my computer. This is especially helpful for things like the phone ringing or the doorbell, which I wouldn’t be able to hear were I to wear standard over-ear headphones.
RR: Do disabled workers face additional challenges with video meetings?
KR: Yes, differently-abled workers may face additional challenges with video meetings. Deaf individuals often rely on reading lips, which is impossible, for example, in a forum where the participants have cameras turned off. Technology can also ease these challenges, however. There are apps that provide for live captioning of online meetings, and others that will take notes of what is said, and by whom, for a written record of the meeting.