If you want to motivate your team to work a little harder, there is no shortage of options. Bonus schemes, training opportunities, and a variety of luxe perks could all do the trick. But you already know the issue with those possibilities--they cost a lot, and you're short on cash.

But don't worry, you're not out of luck. The Executive Education program at MIT Sloan School of Management recently tried out a new, entirely free, and simple to implement employee benefit, sharing the encouraging results of their experiment on the HBR blog.

Flexibility is free

What is this magical perk? Just a new, much more flexible, policy about when and where employees could do their jobs. MIT Associate Dean Peter Hirst explains the new program in four points:

  • Everyone is encouraged to work remotely at least two to three days per week
  • Wednesdays are "work in the office if you physically can" days
  • You don't need to work a strict 9-to-5 schedule, but be mindful of regular business hours and don't expect others to match your unique working hours
  • Don't feel that you need to be connected 24/7

Less stressed, more productive, more trusting

The Executive Education program gave this new policy a six month test run and then surveyed employees to see how it worked out. It turns out it was a success on many fronts, Hirst reports.

First, spared a grueling commute into Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few days a week, staff were unsurprisingly less stressed. That's happy news for employees, but also good news for the program's bottom line, Hirst points out.

Less road rage also means "healthier and happier employees who take fewer unplanned sick days. In its 2014 survey on workplace flexibility, the Society for Human Resource Management found that one-third of companies participating in the survey saw a decrease in absenteeism after they implemented flex-time policies," he writes.

Second, in a place like Boston that's frequently subject to terrible weather, the program led to healthy gains in productivity, as employees no longer had to battle snow and ice to get to work. But even if you live somewhere balmy, other studies have shown that flexible hours actually encourage employees to work more, not less.

The final, and to Hirst's mind most surprising, benefit of the new regime was a huge increase in employee trust. "When first launching the program, I hadn't thought of how the program communicates the trust we have for our staff," he explains. "It's easy to forget how traditional work practices like required office hours can often come off as a lack of trust for employees' ability to get the job done. When surveying our staff, 62 percent recorded an improved feeling of trust and respect."

Another totally free way to motivate your team

Adding a little sensible flexibility seems like a profitable and enjoyable way to motivate your team without spending your dime. But according to research, it's not the only way. Here's another suggestion for a totally free way to increase your team's motivation.