There's a fine line between having a flexible work schedule and a flexible work location--and some people are willing to take a pay cut for one of these benefits.

A majority of the 7,000 call center job applicants studied by economists Alexandre Mas of Princeton University and Amanda Pallais of Harvard University said they would not accept lower pay for the flexibility of setting their own hours. But the study found that the ability to work from home was so important to workers that they were willing to accept on average 8 percent less pay for the privilege. The average person was also willing to receive 20 percent less to avoid jobs with an employer-mandated nontraditional schedule. Nearly half of applicants said they would turn down this type of job, even if it offered a 25 percent salary bump.

The trouble is, assessing whether a person is up to the challenge of being able to work from home or setting his or her own hours is almost impossible to discern at the hiring stage. The biggest risk of letting someone, say, work from home is that productivity could fall off as a result. And since you don't know if that'll be the case at the outset, how then do you attempt to give flexibility-loving individuals what they want?

The winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics have some advice. While the research of Harvard University's Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is often used to structure CEO pay, it provides some valuable insights into how companies can most efficiently translate job performance into pay and benefit structures for all employees.

Here are three low-risk ways to inject flexibility into your flexible workers' pay structure.

1. Balance fixed pay with performance incentives.

To prevent paying full freight for a flexibly-located or -scheduled employee who winds up as a resource drain, base some pay on productivity benchmarks. Holmstrom's work implies that it's best to set aside a portion of an employee's potential pay for a time when his or her performance can be better evaluated. Good performance is a win-win, and bad performance means that allowance can be put back into the company.

2. Measure performance against peers.

Besides breeding some healthy competition, comparing performance to peers better accounts for factors beyond your employees' control and avoids punishing them for broader market downturns. Instead, if workers are given the same resources and training, individuals' abilities will be revealed over time. High-risk industries that can't afford employee churn and uncertain costs should provide more fixed compensation. Lower-risk industries can afford to try out offering performance incentives on new employees to reward the best and weed out those who can't cut it.

3. Leave room for uncertainty.

Hart's incomplete-contract theory states that because performance is difficult to predict and unexpected events arise, contracts must lay out a method for decision-making in case of unforeseen circumstances. That's why it may be pertinent to negotiate with a new hire to revisit bonuses or benefits after some time has passed and the employment arrangement is more predictable.