This popular new perk may convince employees to delay retirement, says new Harvard study

Jorge Guillen | Twenty20

The option to work from home has become an increasingly desired perk — and companies are paying attention.

In 2017, a Gallup poll collected data from more than 195,600 US employees and found that 43% of Americans worked remotely "at least sometimes."

That same year, the US Census Bureau reported that 5.2% (or 8 million) employees were based entirely at home. That share was up from 5% in 2016, and 3.3% in 2000.

But a new form of remote work is starting to gain popularity: Working from anywhere (WFA), in which workers can live and work wherever they choose, whether it be in the US or an entirely different country.

Unlike most work from home (WFH) programs, the option to work from anywhere adds even more value by granting employees geographic flexibility. For example, a WFH employee can spend their lunch hour running errands, while a WFA employee can do that and also move to a location closer to family and/or with a lower cost of living.

WFA may convince employees to delay retirement

So far, only a small handful of U.S. companies have implemented WFA programs, such as UnitedHealth Group, SAP and Akamai. However, about 95% of remote jobs in the U.S. require a person to be based in a set location.

But researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University suggest that more employers may need to offer greater geographic flexibility if they want to attract and retain top talent — specifically, those with greater tenure and experience.

In a new study, the researchers analyzed the effects of a WFA program initiated in 2012 among patent examiners (highly educated and specialized professionals) at the US Patent & Trademark Office. They looked at productivity data for those who switched from working from home to working from anywhere.

The results revealed that examiners' work output spiked by 4.4% after transitioning to a WFA program. Researchers estimated that the 4.4% increase amounts to $1.3 billion of value to the U.S. economy each year, because of how much more economic activity could be generated for each additional patent.

...more employers may need to offer greater geographic flexibility if they want to attract and retain top talent — specifically, those with greater tenure and experience.

But what was most interesting, the researchers noted, was that workers "who had been on the job longer — that is, those older and closer to retirement age — were more likely to move to retirement-friendly coastal areas of Florida and Texas than their lower-tenured peers," while still choosing to work. (The appeal of these locations makes sense, since they're arguably better suited as pre-retirement destinations.)

While this correlational finding isn't predictive, researchers suggest that offering a WFA policy could significantly yield career-extending benefits to both employees and organizations. How? By encouraging valued senior employees to remain in the workforce longer.

Most young Americans (ages 18 to 29) expect to retire at 63. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 36% of those who are now between 65 and 69 will remain part of the labor force until 2024.

Of course, many would call it a dream to retire early, but depending on factors such as one's health and financial situation, there are benefits to working past retirement age. Delaying retirement (even if for just a few years), for example, can significantly increase your eventual retirement income.

More supporting data

A number of studies have also supported the notion that increased workplace flexibility plays a role in delayed retirement decisions. A 2017 report published in BMC Public Health found that flexible work arrangements were among some of the most important preconditions for working beyond retirement age.

Moreover, a two-year study from Stanford University found that among the many benefits of working from anywhere —including the decrease in employee stress and increase in workforce diversity and productivity — it can also prolong the careers of older workers.

According to the Urban Institute and ProPublica, more than 50% of workers over 50 are likely to be out of a job at some point in their career. Luckily, flexible work arrangements can have a positive impact for older workers who keep their skills current when it comes to evolving technologies and remote work models.

Is a WFA policy right for you?

To be sure, not every profession lends itself to a WFA program. But if your job can be done from anywhere, the study suggests that whether you're close to retirement age or are still young (but simply planning ahead), it's worth considering delaying retirement and discussing the possibility of working from anywhere with your employer.

"A WFA program can be very beneficial to self-starter employees who consistently deliver high productivity without on-site supervision," Jim Brown, a financial and retirement consultant, tells CNBC Make It. "In-house copywriters, web designers, bloggers and customer service representatives are some professions that can be effective for WFA arrangements."

Brown, 53, says working from home would "absolutely" play a role in convincing him to delay retirement, "as it affords me the best of both worlds: I can take advantage of the geographic and scheduling freedom of retirement while also remaining professionally connected and intellectually sharp."

Dustin McKissen is the founder of McKissen + Company, a strategic communications firm in St. Charles, Missouri. He was also named one of LinkedIn's "Top Voices in Management and Corporate Culture." Follow him on Twitter @DMcKissen .

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