Leadership

An MIT dean says this is the best perk to give employees

If you want employees who are less stressed, more productive and actively engaged, the No.1 perk you can offer them is the flexibility to work from home, says Peter Hirst, the associate dean of executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management.

Hirst has seen the benefits firsthand because all of his employees are allowed to work remotely.

He explains that this "tool" not only increases the organization's agility as a business, but it also offers his team the ability to "have more control over how and when they work in order to achieve outcomes that we're looking for."

The dean first implemented the policy at MIT in 2016 after a growing number of employees expressed interest in a more flexible work environment. In response, he sat down with his team to define what flexibility meant to them: Was it how they worked? When they worked? Or where they worked?

"In reality, it turned out to be a mix of all of those things," Hirst tells CNBC Make It. So together, he and his team created ground rules on how they wanted to operate. First, employees were given the ability to work from home, which ultimately saved MIT office space and the costs associated with it. Next, they agreed to make a concerted effort not to send or respond to emails after hours unless it was deemed urgent, a mandate that even media mogul Arianna Huffington uses with her employees.

Hirst also made it a priority to ensure that every job in the office had some flexibility. For example, even employees whose jobs require that they be in the office can work from home at least one or two days a week on average.

But even with this push for remote work, the dean says that having a face-to-face interaction with colleagues remains important. As a result, the team comes into the office on Wednesdays for a group meeting. "That gives us a day that we can organize," he says and it also keeps a "social cohesion."

Employees who can't physically be in the office that day for whatever reason are able to participate fully through a video conference.

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Lisa Werner | Getty Images

Some major tech companies have promoted remote work recently. In 2017, Amazon announced it would be hiring 5,000 remote workers by the year's end and Apple is currently seeking employees for work-from-home positions.

But not all are sold on the idea. Just last year, IBM brought remote workers back to the office and Yahoo eliminated its work from home policy in 2013, reports NBC News.

Meanwhile, Hirst admits that flexible work can sometimes slow down productivity. When the program first debuted, he says, the team wasted about ten minutes at the beginning of each meeting fiddling with technology and making sure everyone was accounted for. But that problem has since been dealt with and he says the benefits outweigh the minor technological issues.

He uses 2016's "Snowmageddon," which ravaged the New England region and shut down offices for days, as an example. Unlike most organizations, his team at MIT took the storm in stride, according to Hirst.

"We didn't have this whole, 'Are we going to declare a snow day" or 'Are we going to make people spend three hours commuting because the weather's bad?'" he explains. "Everyone just automatically [knew] what to do and how to do it."

This flexible work arrangement also benefits new parents returning from maternity or paternity leave, he says, because it allows them to spend more time with their newborn child while working.

The MIT dean notes that he hopes to see more companies adopting remote work because not all jobs require a physical day-to-day presence in the office. On his end, redesigning how his team works has created motivated and fulfilled employees "who are passionate about what they're doing."

"We engaged everybody in it," explains Hirst. "It came down ultimately to a decision that we're going to do this and we're going to commit."

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